McLaren play down expectations as they begin life after Lewis Hamilton

2013 F1 season preview

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Jenson Button, McLaren, Jerez, 2013There’s no mistaking the biggest change at McLaren this year: Lewis Hamilton’s departure is an obvious blow to them.

But the impending loss of Paddy Lowe, who will almost certainly be spending the year on ‘gardening leave’ prior to a switch to Mercedes, is another setback for the team.

Without Lowe the onus of the development work falls to Tim Goss. Although McLaren were understandably eager to stress the importance of Goss’s work on their most successful recent cars, losing an engineer of Lowe’s experience is a major blow.

It will be felt even more keenly as the team embark on a season with a car which appears to be more ambitious than their rivals’ – one which team principal Martin Whitmarsh described as “uncompromising”.

On leaving the team last year Hamilton spoke of how he’d been impressed with their plans for the MP4-28 and would miss having the chance to drive it. While most teams have produced cars which are clear evolutions of their 2012 designs, McLaren felt the need to go further with theirs.

“If we started this year with the 27, last year’s car, with a few changes to it, if we’d developed that car through to 2013, I think we’d start with a very good car at the first race,” explained Jenson Button at the second test.

“Whether it would be better than the 28, I don’t know, but I think it would be a very strong car. But I think after three or four races you’d realise you are at the end of the development curve.”

“For us it was important to change the curve over the winter so we could see a new direction in terms of development throughout the year.”

When Button reeled off a rapid lap using hard tyres on a dirty Jerez track on day one of testing, McLaren’s rivals sat up and took notice. But since then its pace hasn’t been as apparent and the team lost considerable time in testing making set-up changes.

Sergio Perez, McLaren, Circuit de Catalunya, 2013While still hopeful the car will turn out good in the long-term, a degree of pessimism about their chances at the start of the season has set in: “It’s a long season, 19 races, it’s about being strong over the whole season, not just the first couple of races,” Button added.

“I am still hoping that we’re competitive in Melbourne, it’s a circuit I love and have gone well at before in the last few years. I hope we’re strong there. But there’s a possibility that teams that kept the same car as last year and developed it can also be strong.”

That view remained after the final test. Team principal Martin Whitmarsh said: “It’s important to remember that our MP4-28 is a new and uncompromising design that we intend to develop aggressively throughout the year.”

“Undoubtedly, it has great potential ?ǣ and we fly to Melbourne determined to show well and to score points that should establish us in good stead for both the drivers? and the constructors? world championships.”

Car performance was the one area where the team were usually strong in 2012. Operational problems early in the season and unreliability towards the end of it wrecked their championship chances, and remedying those will be as much a priority as producing a quick car.

Car 5: Jenson Button

When Button joined McLaren in 2010 most people were probably not expecting Hamilton to be the first man out. But he’s off to pastures new and Button is now the incumbent welcoming a new team mate.

His last race alongside Hamilton showed he could be every bit a match for Hamilton on his day. But there were too many off-days in 2012 as he struggled with the vagaries of the early-season tyres. He is confident that won’t be happen again this year.

Button’s other main deficit to Hamilton came on Saturdays, when he was regularly out-qualified by his team mate, though the gap between them was often slight.

“Apart from two or three extraordinary qualifying performance by Lewis, Jenson was always very, very close in qualifying,” observed Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery. “He might not beat him but he was very close. And that surprised some people in the three years they were driving together.”

Nonetheless it’s clearly an area where he needs to raise his game this year. But with the 2013 generation of tyres likely to produce races with more pit stops, it may prove to be less of a disadvantage for him.

Car 6: Sergio Perez

“We could have won it!” exclaimed Perez within moment of taking the chequered flag at last year’s Malaysian Grand Prix. He’d just scored his first ever podium finish – and Sauber’s best result as an independent team in nine years – but he wanted more.

He’s been handed the opportunity to do just that with his promotion to McLaren. And to his credit, he’s been unflinching when it’s come to stating his expectations for the year ahead, saying that race victories and championship success are what’s expected of McLaren drivers.

But he faces a steep learning curve in an environment where his driving will be scrutinised for the slightest mistake. There was no shortage of those from him last year, particularly after the McLaren deal was sealed and he misfired to the end of the season without picking up a further point.

Perez’s progress will be one of the season’s most interesting storylines. McLaren are not averse to hiring unproven, junior talents and have the facilities and experience to get the best from them.

But it’s down to Perez to establish himself as the next Lewis Hamilton instead of the next Heikki Kovalainen.

McLaren MP4-28

McLaren championship form

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McLaren in 2013: Your view

How will McLaren fare in 2013 having lost Lewis Hamilton and Paddy Lowe? And will Perez make the most of his break with a top team?

Have your say in the comments.

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Images ?? McLaren/Hoch Zwei, F1 Fanatic

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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44 comments on “McLaren play down expectations as they begin life after Lewis Hamilton”

  1. If there’s one team that knows how to strike back from a car disadvantage at the start of the season, it’s McLaren, just watch 2009 and 2011. Then again, if there’s one team that can masterfully throw a championship away despite having the fastest car, it’s McLaren; just watch 2012.

    1. Paradoxes.

      1. Irony, rather. Lol.

    2. @kingshark exactly. Looking at the graph, the team has had so many ups and downs…

    3. That is exactly what they do, isn’t it @kingshark!

  2. wow…in the last 21 years Mclaren has only 1 WCC…not a great result for a team called “the second most great team in formula 1″…they need to win a WCC and quickly..

    1. @nomore – Red Bull and Ferrari I suspect will have something to say about that! But indeed, it doesn’t accurately reflect on what a great team they are (despite the fact I detest them in their current guise)!

    2. could have been 3, not for hamilton errors in 2007 and 2010. could have been 0, if timo glock wasnt so slow on the last lap of the season in 2008.

      1. Amazing how despite the errors of which you speak in 2007 and 2010, in both of those years he managed to defeat the reigning world champion (Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button).

        But don’t let logic get in the way of your irrational reasoning…

      2. Despite his excellent driving and massive point haul, obviously Hamilton was to blame for 2007 and 2010 WCC not being delivered. Especially 2007… I mean who else photocopied those Ferrari drawings resulting in the points? Must have been Hamilton surely? No brainer really UKF1rules.

      3. This is arguement has no sense.

        Cause then if Kimi didn’t commit his errors or Ferrari had issues in 2007, that championship would have wrapped up way before Brazil. Same with 2010 and Alonso, and any other driver in the running for that title.

      4. McLaren didn’t deserve any titles after what happened with Spygate in 2007, so it was all very well Ferrari and Räikkönen won the titles in my view. 2010 was Vettel’s deservedly so, as he probably lost the most of anyone.

        Regardless, there’s no point reminiscing on the past; McLaren simply need to do better in the future.

        1. Murali Dharan
          10th March 2013, 9:23

          In spygate McLaren have been in the wrong. So, they didn’t deserve the WCC that year. Sooo glad that Kimi won that year’s WDC and not Alonso. Because despite turning informer on McLaren, seeing that he is the one who was addressed in those mails with the Ferrari data, he didn’t deserve it either. Two wrongs don’t make a right. The FIA should have known that…

  3. Daniel (@collettdumbletonhall)
    8th March 2013, 19:52

    This team baffles me so much. They can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory better than anyone else. They have the capabilities to be the best team on the grid but they can seem to quite get there and it is such a dissapointment really. Shame…

    1. Daniel (@collettdumbletonhall)
      8th March 2013, 19:53


  4. Fast times and low public expectations to me that looks dangerous for the other teams, whereas fast times and high public expectations usually means running on fumes with illegal bits to rope in sponsors.

    1. davidnotcoulthard
      9th March 2013, 7:32

      Running fast doesn’t involve “Illegal bits”, You only need to drain your fuel tank.

  5. I have a gut feeling (and no more) McLaren will not live up to the expectation that they are playing down: the car looks difficult to set-up, and with Button on-board as a lead driver tha could be an issue for them. Perez is an unknown quantity but I’m not convinced he can handle the pressure of being expected to win (although I stand to be corrected on that).

    I’m convinced they will win a race nonetheless, if any team can make a comeback from a slow start it’s McLaren. But I think overall they’ll fall behind Ferrari yet again…

    1. I think they have a good package and, at least, one proven good driver in Jenson Button. He’s not the best out there but he can win races with a competitive car.

      However, nothing better than wait until next week to see.

      1. @jcost – fast yes, predictable no (at least for now) it seems. But absolutely, next week can’t come soon enough!

    2. At least I like their philosophy for their developement, now they are expected to win more in the second half of the season … and that could prove decisive if they are not to far after the start.
      I don’t expect Perez to win right away or to contend for WDC, and Button, well like usual, that will depends if he gets the tyres working really, if it’s the case and the car is there, he has as many chances than anyone else for WDC

    3. A-Safieldin (@)
      9th March 2013, 8:29

      @vettel1 agreed

  6. I predict that McLaren will struggle to sort out the MP4-28 early in the season, eventually get it right, finish like a steam train, but it will all be too late. Red Bull and Ferrari to fight for the title.

    1. So like most seasons for McLaren…

    1. Very good posting…

      1. @nick-uk – I think it might have been in reply to me!

  7. It’s the usual dance – everybody is trying to lower expectations for themselves, while going on about how strong their rivals are. I don’t know who’ll win down under, but I expect the MP4-28 to be the best car this season.

  8. Ferrari had some troubles at the beginning of the season, as we all know, and this could well have been because of the pull-rod suspension. So it’s plausible that McLaren will have fallen behind the likes of Red Bull, and possibly Ferrari too. However, McLaren has a fantastic development rate, and if there are a few problems, it will be sorted out by the time Barcelona arrives.

    They may not be the quickest out of the box, but I expect McLaren to have the best car for the majority of the season.

    1. @jamiefranklin – I wouldn’t go as far to suggest your last point, but spot on otherwise!

  9. I can’t be on Keith’s trail regarding his observations for several reasons. First one is the way McLaren operates on Engineering level. They have a strong kohesion among and within Engineering departments with no high profile Engineer leading the whole Team. We can see the opposite Example at RBR. It is my Opinion that it was the very Reason why Adrian Newey couldn’t thrive in an Environment like that. It is a Climate that can submerge a Genius to Mediocrity but at the same time draw up some great things from those not exposed so much. Maybe that’s the Reason why they’ve lost so many Championships. They missed ‘that something’ to get to the Top of the Hill, more than once recently. On the other hand, System like that is never shaken by changes in the Personnel. That’s not the way how it operates! It is designed to withstand it with minimised impact.
    The other reason is a big change in the floor design of the car. I wondered so much why they were so stuborn not to adopt it. All well performing teams followed RBR in doing so. Probably the main reason is the System I described above. Good thing is: They got it now. I’m sure they are puzzled ‘a bit’ regarding Setup issues. However, there is no doubt in my mind they’ll sort it out and have a quick Car if not the fastest.
    In my Opinion Test results are irrelevant. Chassing good Times in Conditions unable to deliver working Tyre temperatures is stupid and useless. That’s the main reason why the Test was so inconclusive. Melbourne will give us the Answer where they really stand.

    1. It is a Climate that can submerge a Genius to Mediocrity but at the same time draw up some great things from those not exposed so much. Maybe that’s the Reason why they’ve lost so many Championships.

      I think you’ve raised some excellent points, but I don’t think this one holds true. McLaren’s design department has generally been very strong these past few years, but the operation of the team itself at the race weekends is where they have flattered. Too many times has there been a McLaren pit-stop blunder or a technical/mechanical failure, and that is where they have shot themselves in the foot as far as championships go. You’d think looking at them sometimes that Red Bull were the senior team compared to McLaren…

      1. @vettel1 join you on that, the problem wasn’t the car last season, they probably had the best package on the whole season, just disastrous operations …

      2. *faltered, argh!

        @jeanrien – they definitely had the fastest car on average and a very on form Lewis Hamilton. But what they achieved with that advantage just shows how badly they missed out: Hamilton never won two races in a row (despite being the class of the field on qualifying), yet Vettel won 4 in a row when his car was up to speed. So as far as maximising potential is concerned, McLaren fall behind badly…

      3. It’s how I see this Team. I wish I’m wrong on this one ;-) As someone posted before: “paradoxes” & “irony”. My personal Experience of McLaren Team is burdened by measuring them as a Team who failed to win one Race in the Season of 1988. ; at the same time forgeting they’ve won other 15.
        They deserve more Success for their Effort and resources they have. I wish them all the best.

  10. Guess Macc will always be amongst the front runners. Never totally dominant but sometimes seemingly ahead of the pack.

  11. Sandbags, sandbags , sandbags ….. We need more sandbags for these testings !!!!!

    1. If these teams are sandbagging, what’s the point of testing at all? Do we really think that McLaren and Red Bull didn’t once do a qualifying run to test out performance… wouldn’t that be pretty silly just for the sake of playing down expectations?

      I actually think the race pace of the McLaren looks pretty good, but if they haven’t got a fast 1 lap car, when combined with their drivers they could be starting many GPs from the middle of the pack.

      1. Paul Barrass
        10th March 2013, 0:28

        I don’t think sandbagging is the right word. When you’re building a race car, (I’ve never built a car, but the theory is sound :-)) the last thing you do is qualifying pace runs. The mechanics want a good idea of how the car is operating, and the drivers want to feel confident of handling. Once that is there, then if you have a good driver, then you can expect them to be able to bang in a good run without worrying too much about the car. It’s all about a softly, softly approach until everyone is as happy as can be. One of the things worth noticing is that those Mercedes times of this year came right at the end of testing, which to me is not so indicative of there pace in comparison to others, but that the team as a whole were confident in there car and wanted to give it a little push.
        Presumambly this will have given them a little bit more information over rivals on single lap heating and wear in the new tyres, but the other teams won’t really miss this as they’ll pick it up at Oz on the circuit they will actually be qualifying on, and I suspect that a few of the cars haven’t really showed their potential pace. Ferrari, Lotus and, of course, RBR, springing to mind…

  12. I like Perez. There’s some Gilles Villeneuve in him. And hope by the end of the season he finishes above Button.
    Personally, I would love to see only Ferrari and McLaren fight for the title. Miss those days. Prost vs Senna. Schumacher vs Hakkinen. Kimi vs Lewis. Two sport car manufacturers tearing apart the competition.

    1. davidnotcoulthard
      9th March 2013, 7:37

      He’s James Hunt……minus the cigar.

  13. If they’re effectively running two teams, one for this year and one for 2014, why don’t they put Paddy Lowe to work on the 2013 car?

    No doubt there’ll be parts and ideas that carry over to 2014 later in the year. But surely it’s better use of his skills than the most over-engineered garden in the world.

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