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F1 2016 MIDSEASON REVIEW: MCLAREN MAKE GAINS

RealSport look at how McLaren have fared in the second year of their reunion with Honda.


As we hit the summer break it’s time to take a breath from what has been a relentless season and look at how the teams have done so far in 2016. Today we look at McLaren.

Following a reunion which promised much but offered very little in 2015, the McLaren-Honda partnership has started to gather steam in 2016, and slowly move up the grid towards a position where we would usually be accustomed to seeing the illustrious McLaren name.

While the team have yet to better their best result from 2015 (5th in Hungary), their two former World Champion drivers, Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button, are finding themselves in contention for points much more often, and have more than doubled their points tally if we look back to the same time last year. Fighting for the lower points however, is not where either Button or Alonso really want to be at this stage of their careers, so they will be hoping that Honda’s incremental power and reliability upgrades to their power unit can continue to propel them up the grid as the season goes on.

DRIVER BATTLE

 Fernando AlonsoJenson ButtonStoffel Vandoorne
Australia

Q: 12

R: DNF

Q: 13

R: 14

 
Bahrain 

Q: 14

R: DNF

Q: 12

R: 10

China

Q: 12

R: 12

Q: 13

R: 13

 
Russia

Q: 14

R: 6

Q: 12

R: 10

 
Spain

Q: 10

R: DNF

Q: 12

R: 9

 
Monaco

Q: 10

R: 5

Q: 13

R: 9

 
Canada

Q: 10

R: 11

Q: 12

R: DNF

 
Europe

Q: 14

R: DNF

Q: 19

R: 11

 
Austria

Q: 14

R: 18

Q: 5

R: 6

 
Britain

Q: 10

R: 13

Q: 17

R: 12

 
Hungary

Q: 7

R: 7

Q: 8

R: DNF

 
Germany

Q: 14

R 12

Q: 12

R: 8

 

 

So far this season it’s quite hard to separate McLarens two world champions. Fernando Alonso may have scored more points than Jenson Button, but one of Button’s DNFs came in Hungary, when both cars had made it into Q3 and were both looking good for solid points finishes. When both drivers have finished, the honours have been equal as to who has finished in front of who. The only place where a major discrepancy can be seen between the two is in qualifying, where Alonso leads Button 8-3, although this could be expected given what we know about the two drivers. Alonso has always been regarded as an excellent all round racer, whereas Button’s strengths have often been tipped more towards race day, with his ability to adapt to changeable conditions and manage his tyres and other components leading to strong Sunday afternoon performances. We need only look to his head to head record with Lewis Hamilton in their three years as McLaren team mates for evidence of this.

Another factor to consider in the driver battle at McLaren is Stoffel Vandoorne, who sat in for Fernando Alonso in Bahrain when the Spaniard was ruled out on medical grounds following his big crash in Australia. Vandoorne made an immediate impression in the Gulf State, scoring the team’s first points of the season and out qualifying the vastly more experienced Button. The team are going to want the young Belgian in the car at some point, if only to stop him being poached by one of their competitors, but as many commentators are fond of telling us, three doesn’t go in to two, so something will have to give come the end of the season.

TEAM PERFORMANCE

Considering their dire 2015 performance, 2016 is definitely a step up for McLaren. The car itself looks easier to drive, allowing the drivers to push more, and incremental engine upgrades have helped to propel the team up the grid to a point where they are now challenging for points as opposed to challenging Manor for who would be backing up the field. The latest update at Silverstone was followed by the strongest showing of the year so far in Hungary, and while Honda bosses concede they are still trailing F1’s other engine manufacturers, the gap at least appears to be closing.

The team still need to up their game in terms of reliability, as 6 DNFs so far, while an improvement over last year, is hardly encouraging, and since their performance gains, these issues are starting to cost them points finishes. On the whole though, and with recent encouraging hires to their technical team, the team are starting to regain the slick composure in their racing operation that was once characteristic of their title winning years.


LOOKING FORWARD

As previously indicated, one of the big questions facing McLaren is the identity of their 2017 driver lineup, with the team keen to get Stoffel Vandoorne in the car as soon as possible. At the moment, and barring any decision by Alonso to call time on his F1 career if he is unhappy at any point with the look of future development, it looks like it will be Jenson Button that will be making way. Williams have previously shown an interest in resigning the driver who they gave a debut to way back in 2000, but with their performances dipping in the past year after a brief return to the sharp end of the grid in 2015, Button may see this as swapping like for like, and as a driver at the stage of his career where he wants to be challenging for wins every race, F1’s most experienced active racer may well decide to call it a day.

While McLaren’s gains have been obvious to see over the past year, they now stand at a crossroads in terms of development. Honda brought an upgraded engine to Silverstone, and are keen to push on with development, but whether they will ultimately decide to roll out incremental improvements this year, or wait and build to a more significant step forward for 2017 remains to be seen. Their drivers certainly believe they are on the up however, with Alonso believing that with the right upgrades this season, McLaren could be fighting for 4th place in the constructors standings, and then push for race wins in 2017, following a rules shake up which could play into the team’s hands. This is certainly a more optimistic outlook than we have heard previously, but whether this is something Alonso is trying to convince himself of to maintain his motivation will only really be seen as this/next season plays out. Here’s hoping though, the return of McLaren to the front of the grid would definitely be a welcome sight for many fans around the world.

 


Nick Brown

By day I work as a Audio Technician in Liverpool, UK, but when I'm not doing that I'm Formula 1 Editor for RealSport!

I've followed Formula 1 from about 8-9 years old, taking in the battles of the likes of Hill/Schumacher and Hakkinen/Schumacher, all the way through to the modern day battles of Hamilton and Vettel. I am a McLaren fan, so the last few year's haven't been great, but at least Fernando Alonso has given us a few things to smile about in that time!

F1 2016 MIDSEASON REVIEW: MCLAREN MAKE GAINS

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