The incoming driver pairing for the Woking based British team known as McLaren, could at best be described as being mediocre.
Gone is Fernando Alonso, the self confessed ‘Spanish Samurai’, and allegedly one of the best things since sliced bread. Gone is an seriously rated young talent from Belgium who was systematically demolished by pure favouritism by McLaren management for their Spanish number 1.
And please don’t argue with the fact that Stoffel isn’t highly rated, lets not forget he’s picked up a coveted works drive with Mercedes Benz, racing in their brand new, and arguably more real world relevant, Formula E team for 2019.
Incoming we have the Spanish ex-Red Bull driver Carlos Sainz Jr, and new boy with the rather Star Wars esq first name, Lando Norris. Certainly it’s been a while since a such a unproven driver line up has graced one of the most successful teams in F1 history.
Indeed, it seems such was the desperation for McLaren to land somebody with even a hint of credibility in their driver line up, they went the extra mile to convince the Spaniard to join up, obviously playing on the fact that the new boy Sainz would be directly replacing his hero Fernando Alonso. And that extra mile effort was hilarious!
According to Sainz, McLaren claimed to him they knew exactly what went wrong in 2018, and decided to present their evidence in the form of a presentation, probably in Powerpoint (very George Russell!).
“I didn’t see a lot of scratching heads,” says Sainz, explaining what happened before signing on the dotted line.
“I saw they more or less had a very clear picture of what has happened, why and the way we need to improve.”
“So already when I got here, they made me an explanation and presentation of what happened.”
Oh dear, presentations, selling the drive, setting goals, it seems the American corporate ways of ZB in are now in full effect at McLaren, with all the usual BS marketing stench.
Watch Stroll’s rocket launch start
So where did it all go wrong at McLaren?
Many many lines of text have been written by many knowledgable and long established scribes of our favourite sport, and I’m not going to go into a lengthy discussion here today on the history of that particular subject matter.
Suffice to say in recent times, Zak Brown has been the single most worst thing that McLaren have allowed to happen. The American’s obvious fan boy loyalty to Fernando Alonso has left the team in utter no-mans land now the chosen one has upped sticks and left F1 for good.
Add to this Zak’s ditching of a works Honda engine, preferring Alonso’s request for a Renault lump, clearly eying up short term gains that support his soon to end career time line. Indeed Renault were never going to be more than a stop gap, who are openly concentrating on their works team, away from focusing on customer teams after the burning received from the Red Bull years.
But perhaps the truth of the matter is that McLaren never really stood much of a chance. Since the FIA’s decision to move over to full hybrid engine formula, the biggest dominant organisation in the history of the sport has arrived and not let go of the sport’s dangly bits.
Carlos Sainz confirms this by admitting that “McLaren have the tools [to return to the top] but I still think that Mercedes has set a new bar to everyone.”
“I think every team that is not Mercedes right now is playing catch up because they have set a new benchmark to all the teams of F1, the way they need to work and perform to get the level they are, which is simply incredible at the moment.”
Carlos is being too kind. The sole reason that Mercedes have dominated to this extent is due to a budgetary commitment way beyond anything else, capitalising on an early development lead started long before the 2014 hybrid regulations came into force.
As is typical in any big rule change, the teams leading before the change often do worse after the new regulation come into force due to the requirement of resource required to battle at the front. 2009, we saw the previously Championship contending teams of Ferrari and McLaren struggle to get on the podium against new boys Red Bull and Brawn GP.
Then in 2014, Championship winners Red Bull Renault and Ferrari again failed to compete regularly at the front, whist the mediocre Mercedes works team were quietly plotting their domination of the hybrid era as far back as 2010, pouring huge resources into R&D of ERS and and test ICE’s.
Alas, the biggest chance for non manufacturer teams to catch up and surpass the leaders of Mercedes and Ferrari today, was lost after the decision to retain the engine formula in 2021 happened earlier this year. There is to be no shake up of the grid anytime soon, and Sainz realises this saying “That is why there is not a lot of rush” when talking about getting to the sharp end with McLaren. They know it’s pointless to plan for it whilst manufacturers dominate with infinite purse strings. McLaren are simply not that rich, and to be frank, they never were as rich as the big boys today.
But Sainz does concede that “there is a commitment to improve McLaren and to make it first, a solid midfield car and then do a step”,
“that is our short-term/mid-term plan and hopefully one day this team, and hopefully I am still here, goes back to where it belongs.”
And sadly Mclaren fans, that is the truth of the matter. Carlos Sainz is young, but even he alludes to the fact that he might not be around if McLaren will ever return to the front of the grid. Long live Ron Dennis?