Place Your Bets On McLaren Winning The 2016 F1 World Championship
In amongst the disappointing machinations that preceded McLaren’s decision to appoint Jenson Button to race alongside Fernando Alonso at the Woking squad next year, there’s been little discussion regarding the team’s chances in 2015 and beyond. So here’s my prediction: like Mercedes was in 2013, McHonda will be the surprise package in 2015. And they’ll win in 2016.
The sensible money is on Mercedes and, specifically, Lewis Hamilton, to continue to dominate in to 2015 at least, particularly following recent rumours that Honda’s new power unit is both thirsty and underpowered, but let’s take a moment to consider the facts that surround that assertion.
First of all, it was in May 2013 that McLaren announced that it would be using Honda power in 2015. April 23rd 2013, phone rings in Woking: “Hi Ron, it’s Yasu. We fancy knocking out an F1 engine, can we put it in your car? Things went pretty well last time... yes, we know they’ll be the most complicated engines on the planet, but we reckon we’ll be fine. Yeah? Great. Knock us up a press release and we’ll announce it next week.” I don’t think so.
Secondly, the FIA announced the change to the new manufacturer-attractive road car synergy-optimised engine formula (my attempt at Ron speak. Google it.) all the way back in 2011 and, at the time, the governing body said that it was aware of five manufacturers working on the new engine regulations. Three are in the sport now and one of the other two was Cosworth... it really doesn’t take a genius to guess who the fifth was.
It’s a fairly safe assumption therefore that Honda has been working on its new engine for the best part of three years, all while not having to worry about supplying and developing a V8 with KERS, then a V8 without KERS, then a V8 with KERS again like Merc, Ferrari and Renault have. Add on to that a year of watching the other teams race the new engines, gaining access to critical information about fuel consumption, cooling, turbo technology and more that was either top secret, unknown or both prior to the first test of the 2014 season, and you’ve got a pretty compelling case for the idea of Honda arriving in 2015 with a glittered turd being total nonsense.
Just as important as the work on the engine itself is the integration of that powerplant’s philosophy in to the design of the McLaren chassis; which will have been going on for just as long as Mercedes HPP was working with its chassis and aero teams prior to the 2014 season.
Formula One is now ‘officially’ a power formula as much as it is aero, and that’s where Ferrari in particular lost out in 2014. Ousted engine designer Luca Marmorini has claimed that he was told to sacrifice engine performance for aero gains suggesting that, all other design and management balls-ups aside, the Scuderia had failed to realise the importance of outright power in the new style F1. Even if Honda and McLaren were walking a similar path prior to the start of 2014, you can bet your bottom dollar that approach will have been changed in the face of Ferrari and Renault’s struggles and Merc’s success: power rules.
There has also been some high profile staffing changes at McLaren, possibly the most important of which will be the sacking... sorry, resignation, of Sam Michael. The albatross around any F1 team’s neck; Michael became Technical Director at Williams in 2004 and, after a solitary win at the end of the year; the team wouldn’t score another victory until 2012... less than a year after he left for McLaren, where he has helped preside over two of the worst years in its history. Quite a record.
There have been appointments as well as disappointments in the months that followed the return of Ron, and the restructure under Eric Boullier (who, let’s not forget, saw Lotus to two pretty successful seasons in 2012 and 2013: a team which collapsed this year) has been extensive: the biggest coup probably being the signing of Peter Prodromou as Chief Engineer from Red Bull.
McLaren is positioning itself for a year of learning in 2015, which will see race wins as well as blow ups, with a view to dominating the 2016 season in the way that Mercedes did 2014. They have the drivers in place; they have the management and the technical leadership: this is the start of the McLaren renaissance, so get a tenner... perhaps that should be an Ayrton... and put it on the Woking team now.