The Inside Line #67: Jumping the gun, fading to grey

TILI Logo PrintIt’s always dangerous to read too much into early-season results, but when McLaren placed both drivers on the podium (after Daniel Ricciardo’s disqualification) at the 2014 opener in Australia, plenty of F1 people nodded knowingly [1]. After a dreadful 2013, its worst season in three decades, McLaren was back. Or so it seemed.

As it turned out, Melbourne was a false dawn for a team whose weight of achievements demand they get taken seriously; neither Jenson Button nor Kevin Magnussen has finished in the top three since that first race, and from leading the constructors’ championship, McLaren has plummeted to sixth at the mid-season break, one slot worse than where they finished their annus horribilis in 2013.

Just 64 points in the 10 races since Australia saw them tumble to fourth (and last) of the Mercedes-powered teams, a sobering statistic given the significant advantage the three-pointed star has on the powertrain front this season. That McLaren trails Force India, which probably operates on 20 per cent of the Woking team’s budget, will add some unwelcome new creases to Ron Dennis’ brow. Sure, 2014 was always a transition year of sorts before McLaren renews ties with Honda next season, but this is a team that has faded into anonymity.

While Williams gets attention for its resurgence and Ferrari’s woes are somewhat masked by Fernando Alonso’s ability to make the best out of a bad situation, McLaren has become little more than an afterthought in most races. If it wasn’t for the TV coverage broadcasting Button’s frequent complaining over the radio, would we even notice the silver cars (still) without a naming rights sponsor in a year where those other silver cars have swept nearly all before them? Next year surely can’t come soon enough; what will be interesting is who of the 2014 McLaren team will be part of it, both behind the wheel and behind the scenes.

Our mid-season review for the bottom six teams in the constructors’ championship (of which, shockingly, McLaren is part of) features on Episode 67 of ‘The Inside Line’, with a look at who has done what and why so far this season at the wrong end of the field. The freefall of Lotus has been dramatic, while who would ever have thought Sauber [2] would be behind Marussia after the way those two teams finished 2013? Meanwhile, Toro Rosso looks to have a star of the future on its hands in Daniil Kvyat. What chance he’s in a Red Bull in two years’ time? [3]

Check out ‘The Inside Line’ on SPEED TV Australia (Foxtel/Austar channel 512) at 7pm on Wednesday August 6, and/or on ESPN (Foxtel/Austar channel 508 in Australia) at 8.30pm on Thursday August 7.

— — — —- —

[1] Guilty as charged.

[2] Hard to say who made the worst move in the off-season, Pastor Maldonado from Williams to Lotus, or Adrian Sutil from Force India to Sauber. Given Maldonado can always pay more to keep his job, Sutil surely shades it.

[3] I still see Sebastian Vettel in red one day.

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