2014 F1 car launches – McLaren MP4-29

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There is a mood of change and a renewed drive over in Woking at the moment. Senior management changes and impending new technical arrivals.

After a nightmare year in 2013, changes were inevitable, and many McLaren fans have been awaiting today’s launch with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. This year needs to be all about a statement of intent for the impending arrival of Honda works power in 2015. And in the meantime, the likely hood is the Mercedes power unit will be the match of its rivals.

I have to say, I quite like the thought of McLaren running no big sponsor this year. It might actually help the brand strengthen.

Equally the MP4-29 I think looks like a really purposeful car. Business like and despite the ridiculous nose tips, the lower swoop looks much more like a McLaren to me. I’d have preferred to see an orange livery at least for testing (reinstating a McLaren tradition for testing from years past).

I have to say, having grown up in the era of Williams and McLaren, I’d love to see a strong performance from “Team Ron”. I’ll post some pictures and video from the Jerez test next week.

For those rattling the cage of McLaren next year, we might just see the fightback starting in Tuesday.

McLaren Infographic on the MP04-29
McLaren Mercedes MP4-29 Infographic
Source: McLaren.com

If you’d like technical evaluations of today’s launch car there are many great resources online (you can’t go wrong with Craig Scarborough and Matt Somerfields blogs for quality explanations).

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John Button – a great Motorsport dad

It was with great sadness that I heard of the passing of John Button.

A very popular man across the paddock, he’s been a steadying and continuing influence over Jensons’ career

It’s a great credit to John that people right across the paddock have stated his great ability to know when to stay in the background.

If I had a pound for every time I had heard from a Motorsport buddy about the negative influence many a young drivers parents can have on their sons career I’d be fairly well off to day the least.

From the overpowering influence of those trying to live their dreams through their offspring, to the chap that thinks he can engineer his son or daughters car better than the highly qualified teams around them, Motorsport has seen them all.

The great thing for any parent is to see their child achieve a target or a lifetimes ambition,. If we can be thankful for anything, it’s that John got the time to enjoy Jensons world champion year.

Not only that, but seeing his young JB pull off some of the great wins of the modern era.

I witnessed first hand in Barcelona just how many people in the paddock had time for John, watching him take about 15 mins to get from one end to the other. Stopping to talk to people who he’s come to know over the years.

He was perhaps a lesson to all of us that are lucky enough to be parents. Sometimes your greatest gift is knowing when to push and intervene but equally, when it’s time to sit back and let them get on with it.

It’s a lesson that many Motorsport parents could take heed from.

So we will see many glasses of red will doubtlessly be raised to John later in the month when F1 gets back down to business at Jerez.

Rest in peace John, you will be sadly missed.

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MP4-28 – a blot on the landscape

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Now anyone that has ever been to Woking will accept its a pretty ordinary place.

Having worked there for some 4 years, a walk around the town centre always felt a little bit like the docking/customs station for planet earth from the movie “men in black”. Yet all is not ordinary in leafy surrey.

There are three world leading centres of excellence in Woking, and all 3 hold the moniker of McLaren above the door. I’m of course speaking about the well publicised McLaren Technology and Production centres, and the less well known (but top class) McLaren special operations division.

Which makes the 2013 F1 performance all the more difficult to understand.

If you had a checklist for F1 success you’d ask for
* leading engine – check (Mercedes hpe)
* brilliant facilities and wind tunnel – check
* great technical staff – check
* financial backing – check

All started well, it seemed in the first test for 2013 with the McLaren pace raising a few eyebrows. Indeed so convinced was I in the pace of the car I told my good friend Mark Gallagher over a coffee (I’d just returned from Catalunya final test) that McLaren must be sandbagging.

And the rest, as they say, is history. A tough year for all those involved, the MP-4 28 a car that responded badly to changes.

In the excellent Autosport 2013 annual review, a quote from Tim Goss (TD at McLaren post Paddy Lowe) really speaks volumes about the potential leadership challenges ahead

“Each of the projects was well-researched but you tend to do it in isolation. And when we pulled all of that together and ran that in the tunnel for the first time it just didn’t click”

In any profession, the success or failure of any system is in its integration with other parts. So as a business system is only as good as the end to end process, Formula 1 design can be no different. The sum of the parts has to work together, and as a “system”. It’s the basis on which Redbull and most Adrian Newey design teams have achieved their success to date.

I’m sure 2013 is a temporary blip, with Martin Whitmarsh stating he felt the panic button may have been pressed mid 2012 when the required level of downforce points wasn’t being achieved on aero. Indeed Ron Dennis was pushing to reinstate an updated MP4-27 early in the year.

So when the covers come off the MP4-29 on or around the 24th-25th January, let’s hope the blip is forgotten.

The If I was Bernie team will be at the last couple of days of the test live in Jerez, hangovers permitting. It’s shaping up to be a very important year for F1. And we fully expect McLaren to be back in business prior to high profile arrivals in 2015.

Even Nostradamus wouldn’t have predicted that – 2013 Merc v McLaren (and other ramblings)

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Well, as a McLaren and Williams fan for a long time, it’s fair to say I will be consigning 2013 to a dark place in my mind.

And I would also imagine there are some Lewis Hamilton fans feeling fairly happy with his move to Mercedes. Challenging times ahead for merc to continue progressing after what has been a really positive shift change this year on the car front.

Having finished 2012 with what was arguably the fastest car, McLaren started 2013 very positively in the first test, only to find it was a but of a fluke due to a quirky setup. The rest is a matter of record and given it’s been a deep low, I think the mechanics and team as a whole have performed well to recover to some extent.

Yes, those that don’t like Ron, Martin and the Woking outfit will have enjoyed seeing what is a top team struggle. But in the same season we’ve managed to reignite Hondas F1 flame for 2015, along with securing some absolutely top class tech staff for that big push.

As for next year at the sharp end the Mercedes power unit is going to be a top engine so it will come down to who makes the best package able to take advantage of the rules.

On Redbull, I’d fully expect Adrian Newey and team to come strong next year, although if the rumoured lower power output is to be believed they’ll have to be. That said Renault are a great engine builder in F1 and rarely completely miss the brief.

As for Ferrari I’m still yet to be convinced they can maintain the tech drive throughout the year without trying to find a scapegoat for bad performances. The red peril is a great organisation but in my view has recently been a place to not holding ones resolve and being more interested in finding someone at fault.

There are a number of things I’m excited to see throughout the grid next year, from the Pat Symonds effect at Williams, to the continuation of the Caterham Marussia battle.

And then look at some of the potential driver lineups at Sauber and Force India, and what looks like a very strong lineup for Lotus either way and there’s lots to look forward to.

I can’t wait to board the plane to Jerez personally. It will be here before we know it.

Nico Hulkenberg – is it just me?

Is it just me or is Nico Hulkenberg – who I consider to be the standout driver not currently in a top tier team – looking likely he may be overlooked by another top team?

Now the above is a big claim to make, with many drivers flattering to decieve in junior formulae. So lets just look at some of the highlights of his career before he got to F1:

  • Karting > started aged ten (1997), winning the German junior karting championship and German karting championship in consecutive years
  • Formula BMW >  won the Formula BMW championship at the first time of asking in , and the world final, only to be stripped of it for some pretty questionable braking manoevres during a safety car period.
  • A1 GP >  stepped into the German team in 2006-07, dominating in his rookie season with 9 wins and the championship (more than 60 points ahead of Pastor Maldonado).
  • Formula 3 Euro series > taking 7 wins and the title in 2008.
  • GP2 > you guessed it. 2009 Champion

Now the intention of this blog is not to be stat heavy, but you’ll no doubt appreciate there are signs of real calibre here.

We all know the trials and tribulations, ups and downs of his time so far in F1, not least the pole for Williams and some genuine standout drives.

Now I can understand the Ferrari position in taking Kimi, who is still driven to win, still one of the very top guys in F1 and a very consistent performer.

But surely Nico Hulkenberg has done just as much as any other young driver to place himself in the shop window.

The plot thickens….

Having read some of the very insightful comments on twitter over the last couple of days from some top line drivers (Mark Webber and Alex Wurz to name but two) about driver height and weight it really asks some serious questions.

Yes, driver fitness and strength have been key drivers of performance in F1 for some time, but with the ’14 rules stressing technical teams to the limit on powertrain weight, I can’t help but worry for young Nico.

Should it be that driver weight and height has such a bearing on success or indeed even in getting a top drive? I don’t think so personally….

With Hamilton, VetteI, Kimi and Alonso all tied down, I can’t believe Lotus and McLaren are not knocking on the door of this guys manager.

In my humble opinion, McLaren could be missing out on their next World Champion if they don’t find a place for Nico.

F1 has always been heralded as a drivers championship, so lets hope someone somewhere remembers that when looking at minimum car weights.