McLaren’s three turbulent and outright embarrassing years with Honda came to an end with the British team signing with Renault instead for 2018. But has the gamble to Renault power proven to be more of a success?
This is the first part in a four-part series that’ll take place over the course of the F1 2018 Season. The 2nd review will take place after the German GP, the 3rd review taking place after the Russian GP and the 4th at the season finale in Abu Dhabi.
The answer after just 5 races in 2018 is Yes.
McLaren’s 2018 Pre-Season testing however painted a very different picture, a picture the team had seen many times over the past few years and contradicted the answer. Due to the late switch to Renault engines for the upcoming season was followed by reliability problems with the new car in testing with McLaren having admitting that their upgrade schedule is behind schedule.
After the Azerbaijan GP, in which drivers Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne scored points in, the 3rd time they had done that in only 4 races, the team had already scored 6 more points than their 2017 total of 30pts. Plus, the team were ahead of Renault in 4th by a single point.
Although, there was cause for concern after the Bahrain GP. Toro Rosso, who now have Honda engines were able to finish in 4th with Pierre Gasly at the reigns. In just two races with Honda, Toro Rosso were able beat McLaren’s best result of 5th, achieved just 3 times over the course of 3 years.
In F1, most of the talking and action happens on race day, on the Sunday. So in many cases, depending on the race circuit, Qualifying is not as important on some tracks as it is on others. Having said this, McLaren have scored points at each race despite starting outside the top 10. Not once had a McLaren car reached Q3 so far this season.
Having stated after the Bahrain GP, Alonso said “We need to understand what’s the gap to those in front and improve, because for sure we had a difficult weekend, more than expected.”
After the Chinese GP, McLaren targeted the Spanish GP, round 5 of 2018, as the race where they will start to form a clearer judgement on their 2018 car with big upgrades planned.
This was followed by the removal of Tim Goss as the chief technical officer. This was part of the team “undergoing a review of its technical operations as part of its programme to return the team to success”. Coupled with it’s poor qualifying performances, this has led McLaren to realise that they have a wider problem with their design department.
Racing director, Eric Boullier said the problems were caused by McLaren being too ambitious with what they thought they could achieve while switching engines.
McLaren ran the upgrade package in Spain running a new nose design and new barge-boards. This helped the team to finally break the barren run and get a car into Q3. Alonso eventually qualified 8th and then finished 8th with Vandoorne retiring marking the first retirement for McLaren so far this season. Although, with Renault’s Carlos Sainz in 7th, Renault gained 2 more points than McLaren to move the French team to 4th just one point ahead of McLaren.
The season ahead
After 5 Rounds of F1 2018, McLaren are well and truly in the fight to finish “best of the rest” in 4th behind the leading trio of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.
It’ll be tough but I think just manageable for Alonso and Vandoorne to hold off the likes of Renault, Force India and Haas but getting near the top 3, that might have to wait.
What is most certain is that McLaren have made a positive start to the season and as a fan it’s great to see them back fighting competitively every race in the mid-field.
Total Points from each Race
- Round 1, Australia: 12pts
- Round 2, Bahrain: 10pts
- Round 3, China: 6pts
- Round 4, Azerbaijan: 8pts
- Round 5, Spain: 4pts
McLaren Stats Rounds 1 – 5
- Best Qualifying: 8th, Spain
- Best Finish: 5th, Australia
- Total Points: 40pts
- Wins: 0
- Podiums: 0
- DNFs: 1