While the Formula 1 field takes a well-earned moment to rest and recharges its batteries ahead of the second half of the season, the RichardsF1.com team has taken the opportunity to review each driver and team and their performances over the first eleven rounds of the season.
Today we look at McLaren’s radical transformation, featuring the return of Ron Dennis and the arrival of Eric Boullier and Kevin Magnussen before it welcomes Honda power in 2015.
Before the season had even kicked off, there was radical change in McLaren’s ranks. Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh was ousted in a bloodless coup by McLaren Group chair Ron Dennis, who quickly confirmed the appointment of ex-Lotus team boss Eric Boullier.
There was also change in the driving line-up: out went the underwhelming Sergio Pérez and in came its protégé Kevin Magnussen, who got the nod to join 2009 World Champion Jenson Button.
The team made no bones about this effectively being a transitional season, its final year in a twenty-year partnership with Mercedes-Benz before the highly-publicised return of Honda. Its trident-nosed MP4-29 was launched amid much interest, particularly given the team’s lack of a title sponsor following the departure of Vodafone.
The major sponsorship deal announcement remains – apparently – on ice, and that’s not exactly been a catalyst for a massive upswing in performance, despite being blessed with the best engine in the field. Even though it broke its podium hoodoo with an eventual double-rostrum finish in Australia (Button was bumped to third after Daniel Ricciardo’s disqualification), the silver cars remain very much mired in the middle-to-lower reaches of the top-ten.
Caught between trying to make a purse out of the sow’s ear that was the 2013 MP4-28 and prepare for 2014, this year’s car has suffered as a result of the team having to split its efforts. While it’s one of the most reliable in the field, it lacks downforce, a handicap that Button and Magnussen have repeatedly complained about.
Currently one point behind fifth-placed Force India in the Constructors’ Championship standings, moving up one spot in the ranks is really the best it can hope to achieve for the remainder of the year – such is the massive points and performance advantage that Mercedes, Red Bull, Ferrari and Williams enjoy further up the standings.
All the while, the team has to tread water and prepare for Honda’s return in 2015 – that being said, the Japanese giant’s comeback year is highly unlikely to be smooth sailing…
RichardsF1.com Rating: 6/10
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Consecutive years in uncompetitive machinery has got to be massively frustrating for the grid’s longest-serving driver, whose 2009 World Championship triumph with the Brawn GP team must feel like an awfully long time ago.
But the Englishman – who was rocked by the sudden death of his father, John, in the pre-season – has remained quietly dignified, putting his shoulder to the wheel in trying to make the best of a bad situation.
His podium finish in Australia was a great starting point, but it didn’t become the launchpad he would have hoped for as their rivals quickly caught up and overhauled them.
Three consecutive failures to finish in the points spanning Bahrain to Spain prompted a hurry-up from Dennis, who hinted that he’d have to do more if he wanted to keep his seat when Honda arrived next year.
Button responded with a fine qualifying and race effort on home soil – an absolute bogey circuit for him – and his points run has continued into Germany and Hungary.
But for an appalling strategic blunder in Hungary, he could well have been in the mix for another podium slot. As ever, it’s a case of what might have been…
RichardsF1.com Rating: 7/10
The second-generation F1 racer swept onto the Formula 1 grid after romping to the Formula Renault 3.5 Series title. His junior series performances rather mirrored that of his father Jan – who made his F1 debut with McLaren in 1995 – but unlike his forebear, Magnussen Jr’s performances have been more impressive.
His debut Grand Prix was sensational, finishing on the podium with a steely drive that belied his relative inexperience.
But that was ultimately the high point, as the following races saw several missteps – hitting Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen was a worrying pattern – as he perhaps struggled to adjust to life in the midfield after several years spent at the front of the grid.
But he’s since settled down. He qualified strongly in Austria and Germany as part of a run of five successive points’ finishes, with the run coming to an end at the Hungaroring when he crashed out in qualifying and then fell victim to McLaren’s dodgy weather forecasting in the race.
There’s still some polishing needed to turn him into a potential World Champion, but he’s largely shown to be made of the right stuff. McLaren would be incredibly foolish to ditch his services after their years investing in his pre-F1 career.
RichardsF1.com Rating: 7/10
Images via XPB Images