Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Engine Blood Ranks The 2018 Contenders: 2. McLaren? Really?

HISTORY: One of the biggest names in Formula One for donkey's years, founded by the legendary Bruce McLaren way back in '63 and first topping the podium in '68.  Seventies success followed with Emerson Fittipaldi and James Hunt, but the eighties were McLaren's decade, with Niki Lauda, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna utterly dominating, including 1988's near shut out with 15 out of 16 races won.

A collaboration with Mercedes would follow, with McLaren essentially being their works team for twenty years.  More championships followed with Mika Hakkinen and Lewis Hamilton, but they were hit by allegations of cheating and eventually found with Ferrari's technical information, sold out by a bitter Fernando Alonso.

The "shit, quiet engine" era of F1 has been particularly unkind to them, especially with Mercedes going out on their own.  A resurrection of their partnership with Honda was a total disaster, and they've been mired at the back ever since.  Renault are providing engines this year, so it is hoped that they can get back on track...


From McLaren, as published on BBC Sport.
McLaren are actually using their racing colour of papaya orange this year, which comes as a bit of a shock to those of us who associate them heavily with Marlboro sponsorship in the seventies and eighties.  Of course, like many of us, Formula One has had to knock the cigarettes on the head, so that'll never be re-actualised.

Bonus points to them for going with it though, unlike last season's unwelcome compromise of black and the wrong type of orange.  This also gives the teams more colour diversity, which is great for us squinty bastards.


2. Stoffel VANDOORNE (BEL)
14. Fernando ALONSO (ESP)

Stoffel - who I keep wanting to call "Stouffer" and picture as a blue cat hand puppet - is a hot prospect, and McLaren have been good at identifying those, and then discarding them callously when their chassis underperforms - see Kovalainen, Magnussen (father AND son) and Perez.  Bizarrely, they know they do well when they stick with them - Hamilton being the prime example - so perhaps they need to work on their HR department.

What to do with a problem like Fernando Alonso?  The man who broke the Schumacher streak, but has underwhelmed ever since; a prima donna of near Hamiltonesque levels who shops his own team to the FIA when he wants to get out of his contract; and yet...  And yet.  So nearly an Indy 500 winner on his debut last year, praised by his peers and clearly a motivated and ambitious driver.  If he can be leveraged, still a fantastic asset, albeit one on a rapid wane.  One feels it may be now or never for a third world title, and that it's likely to be never.

LAST YEAR: 9th in Constructors' Championship, 30 points.

2. Stoffel VANDOORNE (BEL) - 16th, 13 points, best finish: 6th.
14. Fernando ALONSO (ESP) - 15th, 17 points, best finish: 7th
22. Jenson BUTTON (GB) - not classified, 0 points.

A very "meh" season.  The only wrinkle of intrigue here was the semi-retired Jenson Button jumping into Alonso's seat (and apparently urinating therein) for the Monaco Grand Prix.  It is likely to be the former world champion's last ever race in Formula One, and it ended in accident damage after pitching a fellow driver into the barriers.  Not an auspicious ending to his fine career, we fear.

PROSPECTS: Strong McLaren = strong Formula One.  We hated these guys during periods of domination, but you know what?  Weirdly, we miss them being where they traditionally were.  They're iconic, they're historic, they're so much better than this; if they've made a car that forces Alonso to start caring again, they'll be much further up the table.

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