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.