McLaren are slow – and unreliable too

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Lewis Hamilton made it into Q2 before his McLaren faltered
Lewis Hamilton made it into Q2 before his McLaren faltered

Even when McLaren admitted their MP4-24 wasn’t on the pace there was still a suspicion that maybe, just maybe, they were having us on.

But qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix proved not only that the new car is slow – it’s unreliable too. A disastrous combination for defending world champion Lewis Hamilton.

The question now is, what can they do about it?

Heikki Kovalainen and Lewis Hamilton line up 14th and 15th for the Australian Grand Prix tomorrow – assuming they don’t get any penalties which, with Hamilton’s car needing repairs, is possible.

The only cars behind them are the two Toro Rossos, the two Force Indias, and Nelson Piquet Jnr’s Renault. How has the team with the number one on its car got it so badly wrong?

Mclaren have a pattern of producing poorly-performing cars. The 2006 MP4/21 was winless and the MP4/19 of 2004 was a disaster until a B-specification version was introduced.

On top of that, while other teams like Brawn and Williams made an early start on their 2009 cars, McLaren pushed on with development of last year’s MP4-23 as Hamilton fought Massa for the drivers’ championship. It’s probably no coincidence that another team that have under-performed at Melbourne so far, Renault, also had a strong end to 2008 as they continued development of their car later than some of their rivals.

This opens up an intriguing storyline for the season, giving us an opportunity to see how well Hamilton and rival Alonso perform in two uncompetitive cars,and how good a job they make of bringing their teams back to the front.

There is one obvious development channel open to them – the controversial double-decker diffuser. Brawn GP, Williams and Toyota are all running with the innovation, which the FIA is set to hold an appeal hearing into on April 14th, five days before the Chinese Grand Prix. McLaren, like the other teams, will probably be banking on the FIA ruling the diffusers legal, and not having to go through the messy business of stripping likely wins and points from other teams.

But Red Bull, Ferrari and BMW all ran with conventional diffusers and all made it through to the final stage of qualifying, showing the MP4-24 has more problems than what’s going on at the back of the car.

Can McLaren get back to winning ways before the end of the season? Is Lewis Hamilton’s title defence over already? Have your say in the comments.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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64 comments on “McLaren are slow – and unreliable too”

  1. They need some drastic changes. They are atleast 1.5s down pacewise. Even if diffuser is banned. they will still be a second down. And they have tackle 2 things- speed and reliability. Its very difficult with limited testing. They are doomed I think.
    They should concentrate on next year’s car………….

    1. I totally agree with you. Its a shame that we have started looking and Rubens and JB fighting each other for the championship. McLaren need to get rid of their head Aero (that chap from BAR honda) and perhaps get Geoff WIllis. It seems they will need a new car aero-wise. I feel sorry for the out going champion. I think Lewis need to get heavily involved in the development of the new / modified car.

  2. I Think Mclaren Can Get Back On Top.

    I Think Today Was A Bad Day But There Was Signs Of Speed, Hamilton Was Only A Second Behind The Quick Brawn Cars So That Must Be Promising.

    I Just Cant See The Mclarens At The Back Of The Grid!

    Im A Big Mclaren Fan, So I Am Predicting Them To Get It Right, But When?

    Hamilton Has Talked About Lack Of Downforce, Well If Next Week Brawn Williams & Toyota Are Found Legal Then Mclaren Have To Make A Diffuser Like Theres Because It Improves There Cars By Few Tenths Each Lap So They Need That Right Now!! I Wouldnt Be Suprised If They Are Working On It Now!!

    Tomorrow Will Be A Good Race, It Will Show Us How Mclarens Race Pace Is But It Will Also Show Us, Is Lewis Hamilton A Great Driver Or Is He Just A Good Driver, Lewis Has Had 2 Great Cars The MP4/22 & MP4/23 Both Were Exceptional, The MP4/24 Isnt, This Car Needs A Driver Who Will Make It Exceptional! He Needs To Show His World Championship Material! That Is One Reason Why Mclaren Are Regretting Alonso Leave!! He Would Of Found The Problem!! Big Mistake, But That Was 2 Years Ago.

    1. Daniel – i have to agree re. Alonso.

      The renault is also poor, but with McLaren’s budget, Alonso would make that crucial difference that Hamilton won’t be able to..

  3. Is car really broken, or they just want to save some humiliation, and may be engine and tires? Hamilton p15 or couple of places higher don’t change anything, so why to bother go out anyway ?

    1. It was a first thing that came to my mind. Hamilton should be happy for Button who’s performance holds “the sun” and the rest of the bunch from eating poor Lewis alive.

    2. I had exactly the same thought watching it. Heikki went out and couldn’t break out of P14 despite some clean runs. As soon as I saw that I figured Hamilton wouldn’t be back out. The McLaren boys knew that because of the poor performance of the car Hamilton just couldn’t get to Q3. Seeing that I think they just decided to save wear on the engine and tyres and pack it in early.

  4. After 1 Hour Of Qualifying!! Just Give Up And Focus On Next Year!!

    NO!! There Season Can Be Revived!!
    I Would Say If They Havent Caught Up By Spain On The 10th May Then I Would Say Start Developing Next Years Car.

  5. IMO it’ll take them more than a few grand prix to get it right and they’ll be quite a few points behind the title contenders, so they may just write 2009 off all together and begin work on the MP4-25 early. I mean, that is essentially what they did in 2006 and certainly the added time to develop the MP4-22/23 put them back up the front and into title contention.

    1. If you consider that rules around the specification of the cars will remain pretty much the same, it’s very easy to develop this years car without losing time for the 2010 car evolution as the most of the new parts will be on the next years car too.

      I think McLaren is a very good organised team and will cope with this current situation and will come out stronger. They gain a full second (2s behind –> 1s behind) in just 2 days of testing, I guess they will need 2 or 3 GPs in order to close the difference to some tenths. Untill then Button, Williams and Andrian Newey will be the reason to cheer about!!!

  6. Andrew White
    28th March 2009, 8:20

    Isn’t it a bit early to judge reliability? He’s had one break down! Using that logic you could say that the Ferrari is unreliable because of Kimi’s hydraulics problem.
    But I agree that McLaren definitely need to find some pace.

    1. True, but reliability is ultra-important these days: in recent years championship winners have relied on cars with near zero failures during races and/or qualifying.

  7. McLaren’s aerodynamicsits : Sabotage! How can they fall off a cliff like that?
    Oh well at least Button may bring some cheer this season

    1. McLaren’s aerodynamicsits : Sabotage! How can they fall off a cliff like that?

      Because this is real life. Things happen, especially with more reliance on wind tunnels, computers and simulators. Sounds funny, but this may help McLaren in the long run. They have the best simulators? Cool….

  8. StrFerrari4Ever
    28th March 2009, 8:30

    well with the situation regarding Mclaren i think they were a bit too happy during the winter because of the drivers championship they had just won and their efforts on the MP4/24 have turned out to be well average the car is fast in a straight line but i dont think it can produce the same amount of downforce as the Brawn and other top running cars well its good though seeing F1 form book ripped and the grid being shaken up even Fernando Alonso felt the pressure but will see how Mclaren go tommorow if the cars are indeed close together you never know during safety car periods they could just knick a few places
    P.S I do not like Mclaren

    1. @Toby Bushby
      I see your point. I hope McLaren’s designers get a better balance between classical engineering techniques and simulation.

      I think the big teams are relying far too much on simulation feedback, because they can afford to do so, to design what are now far simpler cars.

      Its typical of the ‘pretty pictures’ engineering approach, that is associated with the over reliance on simulation techniques. These techniques are still limited, first by the maths then by the processing, which introduces two significant levels of abstraction between the design ethos and the final product. Again it could also be, from a design point of view, a case of ‘too many cooks’.

      In my opinion, they’ve been using a “huge pencil to draw a small picture”,

  9. It isn’t just the diffusers that are boosting Brawn.They’ve set up an awesome car that they started developing from last year.Williams and Toyota,the other teams with these diffusers look in the same field as the other cars. As far as McLaren are concerned,they’re having a bad race.They’ll be in the top 10 in no time.

  10. McLaren are in strife, pure and simple. They’ll surely develop the car, get a new diffuser and get somewhere back towards the front. Will they get back to challenging for the Championship? No. Will they get back to challenging for wins? Maybe. I think it’s 2006 all over again, even though they’re worse off to start with. I think their development capability is better than most teams, especially with testing bans, so they’ll get somewhere near the front by mid-season. Just don’t expect a bag of wins. I’m sure McLaren will be back at the front in 2010, so don’t despair Macca fans – just settle into 2009 with the normal outlook of a midfield team fan like me, thanks to Nakajima’s inability to qualify properly……

  11. It’s McLaren. They are considered a top team, with cutting edge facilities and financial backing. Yeah, what they thought would work on the computers, and in the tunnel, didn’t turn out very good, they are more than capable of finding form. Just give them some time.

    The same goes for Ferrari. It won’t take long for them to be at the front of the table again too.

    This is only race one… Don’t count anyone out, especially a team like McLaren.

    I predict at least one podium minimum for McLaren this year.

  12. schumi the greatest
    28th March 2009, 8:46

    hmm not sure, in q3 hamilton’s 1st lap was good, obviously as the rubber went down everone went quicker and if that problem hadnt happened with the drive of his car i think he would of made it thought to q3 because he would of got everythin out of it. kovalainen just never looks like hes pushing that hard to me.

    as brundle said during the commentary, you can see that the car is hitting all the apexes in the right places but there is a slight delay in poutting the power down coming out of the corners so obviously there is a lack of rear end grip. if you consider the mclaren is a fraction longer getting back on the throttle in every corner then over a lap its going to be a big difference, if they can solve that problem i think theyl be back up there but thats alot easier said than done when there’s no in season testing.

    will be good to watch though

  13. i think it’ll be a while before they are winning races again, i can see their development picking them off the back of the grid, but not winning for a while. maybe next year.

  14. Mouse_Nightshirt
    28th March 2009, 8:51

    I don’t have confidence this will be fixed any time soon. With the testing ban, with each track being different with little way to compare components and with much effort being dialled out for race weekend preparation, McLaren will struggle well into the summer in my opinion.

    Lewis Hamilton will not be WDC. And neither will Massa or Kimi I reckon; it’ll be close, but I have a sneaky suspicion a Red Bull might come a cropper by the end of the season.

  15. I think it’s a bit unfair to call them ‘unreliable’ – one breakdown (though very unlucky in the first quali) doesn’t make them unreliable!

    But yes they are slow!

  16. I don’t think it will be fixable, they may be able to get into the top ten if they can keep working hard at it. It was visable at the end of the season with the Brazil Aero pack that something was amiss at Woking. Turning from what should of been ‘not too difficult’ to finish 5th – to a last corner stroke of luck.

    Somewhere they have taken a wrong turn or have some erroneous data in there modelling computers which is throwing a spanner in the works.

    Good luck to them but I’d like to see them focus on the 2010 challenger and come back fighting then waste resource patching up the 3 legged dog of a car they have produced.

    1. I agree with Rob B. There is something quiet not right in the Aero department. Evolutions and adding things “on top” of last years car was easy, but they failed to do that in Brazil after spending what £10M on on Aero race. Martin need to go shopping for a new Aero department.

      Look Ferrari and Renault. They have not done a bad job apart from the overlooking the double diffuser, they not far off the BrawnGP (cheats).

  17. McLaren is finished this year. Pack your bags boys, come back next year :D

  18. Both McLaren and Ferrari are paying heavily for concentrating on last years cars till the end of the season.

    I think they should learn from BrawnGP and have a 2010 scale model in the wind tunnel by now

  19. StrFerrari4Ever
    28th March 2009, 9:59

    i’m going to disagree with you Mouse on the Red Bull turning bad i think they could sustain this and be a serious threat i think Vettel and Webber will be very strong this year

    1. Mouse_Nightshirt
      28th March 2009, 10:07

      See, initially, I thought that myself, but on reading around and from what I’ve heard, should this diffuser prove legal, apparently Red Bull will have difficulty fitting it due to their pull rod suspension setup.

      I could be wrong though, I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

      And I can’t help mentioning, but did anyone else notice Lewis lifting his “important bits” as he was climbing into the car for Q1? Is he that worried about getting them shocked I wonder?

  20. StrFerrari4Ever
    28th March 2009, 10:05

    and if Mclaren didn’t have big enough problems Hamilton dropped to P20 for the race

  21. StrFerrari4Ever
    28th March 2009, 10:27

    oh yeah Mouse i saw that :O the Mclaren mechanic was just looking thinking good Lord dont touch me lol maybe thats what he does before every quali session to gain some tenths ? ;)

    1. Never tried a racing harness then, or you’re a girl?

  22. What McLaren need to do is just copied BrawnGP front wings and diffuser simple as that:)

  23. StrFerrari4Ever
    28th March 2009, 10:45

    on a completely different note i was reading the drivers comments after qualifying and well i was intruiged to see Toro Rosso’s right now you may say oh their at the back but when they develop the car more and more you’ll begin to see the potential in them and the STR4 im predicting by Bahrain they could be qualifying around 11th therabouts i hope its like when they got the STR3 and absolutely became a consistent top 8 team so come on you Bull’s :) whose with me eh? ;)

  24. @ StrFerrari4Ever
    Can you stop putting your texts in bold, please?
    What you say is not more important than what anybody else have to say.

  25. @Rob B
    “Good luck to them but I’d like to see them focus on the 2010 challenger and come back fighting then waste resource patching up the 3 legged dog of a car they have produced.”

    Who’s to say that next years car won’t also have problems? I’d be pretty sure the car was working well in simulations. Starting early, doesn’t mean once next years car hits the track, it to is garbage.

  26. Terry Fabulous
    28th March 2009, 11:14

    On ONE HD in Australia after Practice 3, Johnathon Leggard and Martin Brundle are being interviewed by Leigh Diffey about their thoughts for the upcoming season and who are going to be the major players. They have talked about Webber, Kubica, Raikkonnen and Massa.

    DIFFEY: Last driver we need to talk about is defending champion Lewis Hamilton, he is out of the top ten after the practice session, outside of the top ten yesterday, what’s going on, what’s happening at McLaren.

    BRUNDLE: Yeah…. He’s going to be like a Bear with a sore head, you can sense with Lewis that’s he’s not happy now, he’s not driving the car in his normal fluid way, normally he’s dancing the car around, really in charge and the boss of it and I haven’t seen that this event.

    LEGGARD: Doesn’t look happy, and I don’t I don’t think he hel[ped himslef or his cause here in Melbourne by not going to ball last night. You know he’s a world champion, Messers Schumacher, Senna and Prost and so on all managed to do it but not Lewis Hamilton and it was interesting here him talking yesterday talking about how ‘I’ve never had a bad car’ you know ‘I’ve driven around bad cars in the past’ hmm lets see, were going to learn a lot about lhim, how he motivates a team, how he lifts them and inspires them, if it’s not so good.

    That was the most critical they were about any of the drivers.

    What do you think? Harsh?
    I was certainly taken aback

    GO JENSON GO!

    1. I think it’s much better than the bland PR drivel we usually hear about (and, sadly, from) Hamilton.

      It’s exciting to hear a lead commentator speaking his mind after years of James Allen telling us what he thinks we want to hear. Legard and Brundle sound like they’ll be worth listening to.

  27. Massa the loser
    28th March 2009, 11:41

    So first thing massa does is bitch about how Brawn GP will win the title by June and ‘hint’ at measures to slow them down

    While Hamilton heartily congratulates Button and promises fans he will try to mount a fight from the back of the grid.

    FIA rushing in to help Ferrari anyone? (followed by Massa claiming all his wins are legitimate, ya right u forgot Belgian in 2008 my fren haven u?)

    http://www.planetf1.com/story/0,18954,3213_5110630,00.html

    http://www.planetf1.com/story/0,18954,3213_5110713,00.html

    1. You are pathetic.

    2. Wholeheartedly agree.

  28. Did Massa Say This?

    I Dont See Brawn Running Away With It.. Because If They Are Deemed Legal Then Every Other Team Will Get The Same Diffuser So They Will Be More Equal!!

    I NEEDA F1 DOSE

    IVE BEEN UP SINCE 5 IN THE MORNING AND IVE JST BEEN WATCHIN QUALI OVER AGAIN AND I TRIED PLAYING F1CE 06 BUT ITS TOO OLD AND I CRASHED SO I JUST KEPT ON POSTING ON THIS LOL

    I CANNOT WAIT UNTIL THE RACE TOMORROW!!

  29. I reckon McLaren will have made leapbounds to comeback for Silverstone. I don’t trust they’ll stay far back for long at all … nothing to really back it up, I just have that nagging feeling…

  30. the old saying goes “it’s easier to make a fast car reliable than make an unreliable car fast”

    I guess that means they’ll make it reliable first…and hope for some rain.

  31. The last day of test, they were testing with the spray… For me this fact says a lot about Mclarens concerns. Doin’ what usually are secert test in front of everyone.

    It’s obvious they have a problem with aerodynamics,and they are not able to find where the problem is.

    If tyhey can fix it with some pieces maybe they’ll win races in the second part of the season.

    If it’s a concept problem then…

  32. Can they really strip teams of wins for the diffuser? I heard that, as the car was declared legal to run this weekend, if it is banned then the race results up till that point would still stand.

    1. The WMSC can impose pretty much whatever punishment they choose.

  33. No one really knows what will happen unless you work for Mclaren. It’s not so bad really, it might give Lewis a chance to demonstrate his powers as a driver. And if it turns out to be a bad year, then so be it. As my old gran use to say tomorrow is another day.

  34. Morcov Agresiv
    28th March 2009, 14:38

    Mclaren is sandbagging LOL

  35. Ferrari will be out in front within 3-4 races, I think, with the ‘Braun’ diffuser technology. And way out in front with Kimi Raikkonen leading. The last two years were stormy and emotive for McLaren – in 2007, the spygate scandal, infighting with Alonso, Hamilton failing by a whisker. In 2008, with Dennis planning to retire, everything was focused on LH correcting this ‘mistake’ and they committed just about everything to developing the car until the very end of the season. Without this Ferrari/Massa would have won. So this season is really a bad hangover from the last two years. I’m sure they’ll come through. And it could be good for Hamilton if he resists dreaming about ‘solving’ his problems by jumping team. This is the ‘milk-float’ many wished on him: he has this season to concentrate on being a low/midfield driver, learning knew race craft to maximize to get into the points and develop the car.

  36. Matt, if for instance Brawn win this weekend and are then deemed at malaysia to be illegal they will still keep there points.

    But I hope Brawn arn’t deemed illegal, if they arnt then you will see every 1 else copying some parts of there car, I feel McLaren need a different nose simialer to Brawn, as well as the rear diffuser.

  37. Poor start but early days. Just the kind of challenge that will do Lewis a world of good in the long run. Look what happened to Schuey when he moved from Benetton. The struggle that followed made the greatest competitor F1 is likely to ever see.

    So happy to see Brawn do the biz and utterly enthralled at the prospect of Jenson at last. I seriously and sadly thought his F1 career was finished!

    In reference to several earlier comments, I don’t understand why people like a team and ‘hate’ another. I love all the F1 teams. They are all there and they all make it happen. Why would you as an F1 supporter want to hate any of them?

  38. McLaren’s season is over before it even began. They may get back to winning ways during the season but it will be way too late to go for the championships.

    This season is all about saving face for them. I’ll be happy if they finish in the Top-5 of the constructors and I’d be estatic if they finish 3rd or better.

  39. HOLD ON GUYS. KOVALAINEN HAS THE THIRD HEAVIEST CAR ON THE GRID AND HAMILTON DIDN’T HAVE A SHOT AT Q2. LET’S WAIT AT LEAST 1 MORE RACE BEFORE WE GET TO SUCH CONCLUSIONS.

    1. Well i’ve already jumped to conclusions. the MP4-24 is an abomination. my ten year old chrysler 300m POS would lap both McLarens at Albert Park.

    2. But Kovi’s that heavy because that fuel was put there post-Q2, so it meant he really was legitimately slow. And this is in the cooler confines of Melbourne. I think the KERS cars might struggle even more in the heat of Sepang.

    3. But Kovi’s that heavy because that fuel was put there post-Q2, so it meant he really was legitimately slow.

      Exactly.

  40. By blaming the problems on maintaining the performance of MP4-23 last year, Mclaren are playing into the hands of those who seek to cap team budgets. If a team like Mclaren can’t develop the following season’s car at the same time as maintaining a championship winner with their resources, what hope for Brawn in 2010 if they have the kind of season people are predicting….?

  41. Developing a car is not so much the amount of money you can put into it, but rather the quality of the expertise. Perhaps the quality engineers were working performance improvements of last years car, and they only had the personnel who change tyres to lead the development of this years car.

  42. I’m very surprised to see McLaren has admitted it’s slow in 2009 because it kept so much of its development focus on 2008:

    Last year we were developing our car up until the last race and so we are under-developed,” he told BBC Sport. That was a decision we took last year and, given that we won the drivers’ championship, you have to say it was the right call.

    Fair enough, by concentrating on 2008 they made sure they secured the title. But by admitting to it I think Whitmarsh has tacitly reduced the perceived value of Lewis Hamilton’s accomplishment.

    If I was Hamilton right now, staring a tough season in the face, I wouldn’t be too happy about my boss giving everyone carte blanche to say “Hamilton only won the title last year because McLaren sacrificed their 2009 development programme”.

    1. The point is that Mclaren and Ferrari are supposed to be big enough to work in two projects at the same time.

      The idea to forget about the development of a car to focus in the next season’s one is ok for BMW, Renault, or Williams, but is not for Mclaren.

  43. Talk about baptism of fire, poor Martin Whitmarsh is having one very unpleasent debutante year. Shame, nice chap. Not too nice I hope though. F1 does like tough as nuts a-holes (cit.b.eccelstone)

    The only obvious result from the first 2 days at Melbourne are that BrawnGP are quick in a Merc and McLaren are not. Very embarassing. MCL have consistantly not been able to lay down power in the apex of corners, so have a fundamental problem with rear grip and downforce at lower speeds. A new diffuser will be sooner on the horizon for them than any other team I suspect. There also might be scope for redisgn in the exaust system to angle more over the rear wing – just a thought. Feel free to shoot.

    Salty.

  44. Sadly, I think that they are not going to fare very well this season. I became interested in this sport because of Lewis Hamilton, suffice to say and it really sucks that this is happening. I just don’t see it happening. As long as the Ferrari’ are out of front running contention, I am a little more happy. Go Brawn GP in Melbourne! They deserve it after the winter’s heartrending they were all put through.

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