What’s gone wrong for McLaren?
Written by Apostolos Papageorgiou, Edited by Ishani Aziz
McLaren are one of the most historic teams in Formula 1, only second in wins and years of participation to another legendary team; Ferrari. But unlike their Italian rivals, the team from Woking failed to step up to a race winning status in 2022, losing some ground to the front runners and undoing the hard work of the past three seasons. But does this mean they are destined for midfield mediocrity, or can they claw their way back to the top where they belong?
McLaren are, of course, synonymous with the sport and with names like Emerson Fittipaldi, Niki Lauda, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Mika Hakkinen and Lewis Hamilton having driven and won championships for them. They also helped Mercedes win for the first time in 40 years, thanks to what later became a very successful engine supplier partnership, while also making Marlboro a prominent sponsor in F1, courtesy of a title sponsorship that lasted over 20 years. Despite that, the British team has suffered various performance slumps over the years, like the late 1970’s, the mid 1990’s and most recently, from 2013 to 2018.
The difference between those examples and this year however, is that up to this point, the team seemed to be on an upward trajectory. From 2019 onwards, McLaren have not finished lower than fourth, while also scoring eight podiums and a very deserved win at the 2021 Italian Grand Prix, at Monza. This year they have achieved a podium at Imola, thanks to Lando Norris, but other than that, nothing has happened to suggest they can be a serious threat to the top three teams, but also that they can constantly challenge for points. In short, instead of making a jump to the front pack, McLaren has actually lost its status as the midfield’s leading team.
What's worse is that their rivals, Ferrari, the team Mclaren spent last year battling for third place in the constructors championship, are now challenging for the title. So why couldn’t McLaren do the same? Well, to begin with, McLaren simply lack the budget and the facilities of the big teams, like Ferrari, immediately putting them on the back foot. Aside from this, they also struggled with the car in the pre-season tests and subsequently in the opening races, due to reliability problems that cost them valuable time trying to solve them, instead of understanding the car better. Of course there is a case to be made about Daniel RIcciardo’s performance, who hasn’t been all that comfortable with the car ever since he joined the team last year.
So is McLaren doomed to be stuck in the midfield for the next few years, like they have done in the past? Not exactly. It may take time, but the core team consisting of CEO Zak Brown and team principal Andreas Seidl, along with others like technical director James Key and executive race director Andrea Stella, are more than capable of driving the team forward, as they have done in the past few years. The team is also upgrading its facilities, which includes building their own wind tunnel, which should level out the gap they have to the top teams. As for Ricciardo, he seems to be more comfortable with the car, though time will tell how true that is.
Of course all this isn’t going to happen this year, but rather the next couple of them. This is the first proper setback of McLaren’s resurgence, but there are plenty of things indicating the team from Walking will soon be back on the path of recovery and become a true championship contender once more.