#F1 Features: What went wrong with McLaren 2012? Part II

Brought to you by TheJudge13 reporter Adam Macdonald

…continued from Part I
 looking at how the house of cards all fell down for McLaren in 2012.

2012 – The wheels all fell off

Hamilton reiterated to the associated press throughout the winter how he “was in a better place now.”  A pole position at Melbourne showed this with Button lining up 2nd behind him.  Perhaps the sign of things to come was the poor luck Hamilton had with the safety car, gifting Vettel 2nd position in the race after Hamilton had been slow off the line.  3rd place was no disaster, as would be the case in Malaysia and China as well.

The first of a long line of problems for McLaren as a poor pit stop in Bahrain cost him vital time, leaving an 8th place finish the best that could be achieved.  This was the first of many mistakes and incidents of poor fortune which ultimately cost Hamilton the chance of challenging for the 2012 WDC.

The problems were fuelling in Barcelona causing disqualification from qualifying, being taken out by Maldonado in the closing laps of Valencia, retiring in Germany after a puncture left him down the field in last, being taken out by the reckless Romain Grosjean in Belgium, a broken anti-roll bar prohibited his progress in Korea, retiring from the lead in both Singapore and Abu Dhabi and being swiped off the track by Nico Hulkenberg in Brazil.

Un-McLaren like mistakes cost the team throughout the year as Jenson Button struggled with setup of the car throughout much of the mid-season.  A 2nd place in Germany was the only big points finish Button managed before the summer break following the 2nd place in China.  Almost 5 months with only a single top 5 finish was not up to the Woking standard.

To top it all off, they finished behind Ferrari in the Constructors’ Championship, which it would be hard for anybody to argue was not a failure given the car that was at their disposal.  Their only World Champion in 10 years broke the news he was to leave the setup for the 2013 season, making it in many respects a year to forget.

Who was to blame?

Sam Michael, Ron Dennis, Martin Whitmarsh or the McLaren philosophy in general could all be culpable.  The fraction between Hamilton and Dennis was widely reported in the media as the ‘boy’ flew the nest to become a ‘man’.  Sam Michael and Hamilton clearly had not got seen eye to eye on a few things, especially after Hamilton tweeted confidential telemetry information after the Belgian qualifying.

Martin Whitmarsh seemed blocked on many occasions in what he wanted to do managing the team his way.  He was the one who defended Hamilton and went to great lengths to see him retained.  Blaming a man who is in a position without the powers it should hold seems unfair.

Going along those lines, the recent move we have seen with Dennis being reinstated as CEO and ‘the big boss’ of the team was something which was always going to happen at some point.  Perhaps, Perez was walking into a situation which was going to be very difficult to achieve in.  It certainly put the team (read Whitmarsh) in an unamicable position in Bahrain (2013) of reaffirming to the media the team’s stance of not having a No.1 driver when Jenson had hinted and acted like he should be, following his Mexican teammate’s punchy performance after being told to up his game.

Back to 2012

It seems that the problems of McLaren 2012 started long before the season had begun.  Lewis already felt as though he was “not loved” with the technical errors creeping in as well.  Pit stops being less than reliable, tactical errors during race weekends, poor car development causing retirements and an unreliable car were all the product of McLaren losing their cutting edge.

This was probably reason Paddy Lowe was convinced to jump ship as Adrian Newey had done so years before. Those reasons, as well as the large pay cheque that would follow and the chance to leaves the shackles that confine those who work at Woking.

2014 will be an interesting year for many teams, not least McLaren.  With a new leader, a new rookie entering the fold, new engines and a new supplier coming for 2015 it will be pivotal.  Ron Dennis is a strong leader who relishes the chance to make a decision and make tough choices.  His stlye of leadership could be what has been lacking all along.

Martin Whitmarsh is someone who lived by different principles as a team principal.  It now seems clear that the teams’ policies did not mix well with Whitmarsh’s style of management.  Whether the problem was the team’s rigid philosophy or the now departed team principal’s softly softly approach is really down to you?  Either way, the story of McLaren in 2012 was the culmination of these factors to make the perfect storm.


24 responses to “#F1 Features: What went wrong with McLaren 2012? Part II

  1. “Martin Whitmarsh is someone who lived by different principles as a team principal. ” < < < I definitely agree that MW seems to be a different breed and "too nice" for the role of T.P. (at least based on totally superficial public impressions lol) but would be interested what the author thinks are the most relevant "different principles" by which MW lives. Cheers.

  2. I used to think that MW absolutely favored Button, else why the long strange detour trying to develop the car to Button’s liking in 2012. But then I hear after the fact how hard MW wanted to keep Lewis (rightfully IMHO) and I just begin to wonder what the hell was really going on in Woking.

    • But then, Withmarsh knew that button could easily get lost with his setups hence they needed a fast benchmark to be certain the car was going in the right direction. Despite the fact a lot had gone against Hamilton within the team, he still had a lot of respect for Button and was not too bothered if he finished behind him every now and then. And this respect also meant less likelyhood of them having something like button had with perez.

      The actions of Withmarsh all through the 3 seasons Button and Hamilton were paired, was akin to an attempt at devaluing Hamilton with respect to Button.

      Hamilton was consistently suffering from pit errors, Button was having problems heating the tyres thus qualifying poorly. Mclaren stopped developing the car in an effort to try solve Button’s problems.
      Hamilton was able to qualify within the top 4 consistently, only to be hampered by very poor pitstops and strategies. Had Withmarsh simply said, Mclaren found it unacceptable and made the effort to sort it out quickly, fans and followers would have been reassured, but Withmarsh instead said, he was more concerned about why their car was slow rather than the pitstop errors.
      Next Withmarsh goes on saying, “Mclaren has failed Button!!!!!”
      I found that statement troubling coming from a team head, and it showed he had too much interest in Button than the morale of the team.

      No doubt Withmarsh does appear nice and I’d often admired him long before he became team head. His methodologies however, leaves much to be desired. He is simply a confused man, trying to be nice but failing completely when unable to go against his compulsion.

      • yes, Lewis did suffer the failed pit stops and lack of reliability but I would be staggered to think that any of that occurred on purpose when incompetence would be a much better explanation. I could even see making the argument mathematically that moving Button from P8 to P4 consistently would be better for WCC strategy than moving Lewis from P3 to P1. What they neglected was that they didn’t invest in the consistency necessary for him to be there before they focused on Button, but perhaps that is down to Button having the political savvy from years of experience, t

        • Argh, stupid mobile devices, political savvy, the only area where Button clearly outshone Lewis.

          What really interests me is the extent to which the development of the road car interfered with the F1 operation. I know they will claim it didn’t at all, but given the size of the company I can’t believe it wasn’t without some significant impacts.

        • I agree on the road car broadly impinging on their resources. The same happened in 1994-5 as they changed engine manufacturers as well.

          But, they should also have backed Lewis as number one from early-mid 2012. If he’s winning races, then Button can finish anywhere, and they’d still be making progress in both championships. Sorting out the pitstops is relatively easy when compared to fixing the car/setup with technical analysis, for the reward in points and immediate gain.

          Were they left behind after Malaysia? Until then, they had the best package.. is it that others switched theirs on finally and they wanted to keep up? Button really should have been leading the championship after Malaysia (hitting Karthikeyan under pressure from Lewis), and it all seemed to go downhill for him from there.

          • Completely agree that Lewis should’ve been backed as number one driver, but mathematically 8th to 4th is a gain of 8 points, whereas 3rd to 2nd is a gain of 3 points. And I would bet it should cost a lot less to go from 8th to 4th when one of your cars is already there, as opposed to from 3rd to 2nd.

            Which is likely why the pursued developing the car according to Button (which is really what I don’t get) when instead they should have focused on keeping pace with Lewis and adapting his set up to work for Button, since he clearly had the car dialed in during the early part of the season.

            Add to it the utter catastrophe that was their pit stop procedures, and it is truly staggering how much potential they threw away that year.

          • @Mattpt55. Which is exactly what confounded viewers. To then hold back development of an already fast car because one driver was confused with his setup was corporate heresy. Lets not forget, about this same time, Massa was having problems also with his Ferrari, and the team carried on with development whilst still helping Massa fine tune his feel for the car.
            When Withmarsh came up with the disingenious statistic of Button outscoring Hamilton over 3 seasons, it was all to obvious the priority was not winning championships, but creative accounting.
            Withmarsh’s biggest failing in the end, was becoming a fan of his driver instead of his boss.

  3. To easy blaming Whitmarsh, he tried to keep Hamilton at all cost, had the guts to hire Perez, and was making serious work of bringing Alonso back to Woking, all this with his hands tied.
    The courting of Alonso is what finally got him sacked I think, Ron Dennis comes across as the most rancorous man ever to walk the face of the earth.
    Malicious, narcissistic, arrogant control freak!

    • But someone who is after results and performance excellence.
      Withmarsh was chasing a trickling of points, just to fill the statistics books of scoring points in consecutive races. Dennis would have tossed all that rubbish out of the window and gone for a win.

      • Ron Dennis went through a period of 8 years without winning a title with McLaren, almost twice as long as Whitmarsh, and the cars were falling apart on the long straights more then once, just ask Kimi 😉

        • Back then there was no engine development and rev freeze which have made the engines ultra reliable. Withmarsh’s failings were not as a result of not winning championships or races, it was losing focus. Kimi’s spectacular suspension failure was as a result of taking the risk to go for a win. Under Withmarsh someone took the decision that they’d just make things harder for themselves everytime.

        • The strange thing is that we can look back and see how all these teams have lost championships in the last 15 years.. McLaren should have won more WCCs, Williams contended in 2003, McLaren also should have WDCs from 2005 and 2007, and Ferrari also dropped the ball in 2008 and 2010 (possibly 2012 as well).

          The only team not really dropping it is Red Bull (only 2009 caught out with the DD).. we can speculate on their resources being greater than the others but at the end of the day they keep wrapping up the championships.

          If Ferrari drop the ball in 2014, from having the advantage, then that could be the fourth in a row, and fifth consecutive RB triumph. But I have a suspicion that Mercedes have an advantage so far, hence they veto’d the weight limit rise to keep it. Hamilton vs. Rosberg could still give the title to Red Bull however.. will Mercedes enforce a number 1 driver without Brawn there to do so?

    • That last sentence could also be used to describe the italian hero, enzo ferrari. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. NIce boys dont get world champion.

      • Disagree, Enzo Ferrari was a complex man, impossible to label, and full of contradictions, but also sensitive, passionate, sincere and wise.
        Maybe he appeared tyrannical, and distrustful, but at the same time he was brave, resilient, and passionate.
        Enzo Ferrari readily acknowledged his faults, a quality that suggests true humility.
        I don’t see Ron Dennis doing that.

        • I remember Ron Dennis in 2001 telling anyone that would listen how “certain” teams were using traction control.

          The FIA had decided – with the teams – that it would be re-introduced at the Spanish GP that year and he made it clear that the red team would suffer from then on as the playing field would be leveled out and the guilty teams would fall back into their proper order.

          Result? Mclaren fell back from the front two rows and Ferrari became even more dominant than before.

          Ron Dennis was never asked on TV, or by the media if he had changed his views. One particular journalist who I came to despise was Matt Bishop at F1 Racing and Autosport before that. He was quite simply incapable of being a balanced observer of Ferrari and Schumacher and it is no coincidence that he works for Mclaren now.

  4. “Ron Dennis is a strong leader who relishes the chance to make a decision and make tough choices.”

    How the hell do you explain David Coulthard being there so long? He was the ultimate number two and anyone who truly believes that Mclaren are an equal team hasn’t really been watching them closely.

    In 2008, at Hockenheim, Mclaren told Kovalainen that Lewis was faster than him, yet not one word of shock from the media.
    I doubt that Montoya is particularly enamored with Ron’s leadership qualities and he was one of the first who understood how the Alonso v Hamilton duo was going to work out because he understood that whatever Ron had told Alonso would be over-ridden by his love of Lewis.

    • I agree with the DC part and Hockenheim 2008. Just because it was done at the hairpin (looking like a mock overtake), while Massa’s was on the straight (i.e. blatant, as he could have let Alonso past at the next corner some laps earlier if he had known he would have had to) I think led those who probably wouldn’t notice such issues to wake up and smell the coffee. The same thing could be said for a lot of things in life.

      DC was indeed the number two.. with only 2001 being the lead, when Hakkinen had decided to throw in the towel.. always thought he was particularly unlucky in Spain with the half a lap from a win retirement. 2002 as well, but Kimi came in (and led from 2003), almost winning in France. They were only 3rd best that year as well, as Ferrari were dominant (tyres? also in 2004).

    • And in addition to that, Jerez 1997 and Melbourne 1998 point to Hakkinen being the favoured driver. Yet it was Coulthard that won in Melbourne and at Monza in 1997..

  5. Everything went wrong with this team. Hamilton saw the writing on the wall and jumped the ship. Even back in fall of 2012, I laughed at people who were speculating that Hamilton is jumping ship because the Mercedes engines (and car) are supposedly going to be the best in 2014 (there was absolutely no good reason to believe that story in 2012). Hamilton simply jumped the ship because of how badly and how many times the McLaren team screwed up in 2012. Do not discount the poor performance of McLaren in 2013 as some kind of freak one-off engineering accident. The decline started in 2012, and Lewis could see it better than anyone else.

  6. Excellent pair of articles, Mr. Macdonald!

    While I admire their drivers and some others on the team, I’m not a fan of this team, primarily due to their leadership (starting with the guy at the top, Ron Dennis).

    It will be an interesting year for this team, in any case.

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