In the past 10 years, McLaren have had many great drivers of the 21st century driving their cars. Mika Hakkinen, David Coulthard, Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button have all passed through the doors of the Technology Centre in Woking, a superb factory with excellent facilities. Built through the strength of McLaren's history and their brand value which today sees them placed as one of the biggest names in Formula 1 with sponsorship from the likes of Vodafone. Yet in this past decade they have seen a drinks company win twice as many championships as them, Ferrari cement their place as the sport's most successful team and only have Lewis Hamilton's 2008 drivers title as a show of achievement.
A sensationalised opening paragraph but one designed to trigger some thinking over what McLaren have done in recent seasons. We almost expect the silver and rocket red cars to be in the mix come the season opener yet for all the might they have possessed they have actually underachieved. With two world champions in the cockpits at present they have drivers capable of winning and certainly hungry to do so. Yet 2010 seen a promising opening half of the season eventually fade away as they found themselves out-developed by Red Bull and Ferrari.
Jenson Button is a very relaxed man these days after taking the title in 2009 but remains determined. However he is now into his thirties and seems very happy in the McLaren environment and may well be content to finish his career with the team. It's well known that Lewis Hamilton has been with McLaren for most of his life, let alone his career. However he is a man used to winning throughout that career and since the drama of Interlagos in 2008 he has rarely had a race winning car at his disposal. When he has had the opportunity to win he has usually taken it. Hamilton has shown in these past 2 years that his raw speed and ability to drive a car to the limit is clear.
Would he really leave McLaren? It seems hard to imagine in the colours of any other team on the grid. Without his Father at his side trackside this year Lewis became more independent in race weekends and certainly showed plenty of frustration in the heat of the moment such as Melbourne and Monaco when he disagreed with the tactics of his team. The Finnish website Turun Sanomat, well known for good connections within the McLaren team, even went as far to suggesting that Hamilton was on the brink of walking out on the team. I find that a bit far fetched to believe, they say things boiled up after the summer break but of course Lewis had a great win at Spa and the gesture of taking his whole team out bowling in Japan does not seem to suggest a driver totally at odds with his team.
However should 2011 not involve race wins the picture could change. McLaren have taken a radical approach to their 2011 car, something which was needed because the MP4-25 struggled on many tracks. Testing has seen many reliability issues and whilst times are hard to read it has been said by many watching in the cars in Spain that the car looks hard work to drive. Early days but for now Red Bull and Ferrari seem to be more solid and quicker with their evolutionary cars. Hamilton is contracted to the end of 2012 but whether the potential of an open seat at either of those 2 teams would tempt the British driver remains to be seen.
McLaren really need to get things together though. The resources are there and so are the drivers. It's a fierce battle between the teams but McLaren need to deliver a machine because if they do they have 2 men who can produce the goods and a pitwall which showed many times that it is one of the best when it comes to the operational side of things as well as strategy, something which could be key. Button has shown this trait as well and his smooth driving style could pay dividends with the Pirelli tyres. Hamilton could revel in the more flexible strategies with his overtaking skills and showed how to put KERS to good use in 2009. A big year lies ahead for the Woking team...
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