McLaren had high hopes coming into the 2013 Formula 1 season, but thus far has failed to impress. The team has paired a popular younger driver with a crafty veteran and has strapped them into a car that was supposed to help the Woking, UK based team jockey for both championships. That car, the Mercedes-powered MP4-28, has presented the team with far more questions than answers, however, and might not remain McLaren’s ride for much longer.
Despite statements that the team is fully invested in improving the MP4-28, McLaren’s sporting director Sam Michael, pictured above getting doused in champagne following a McLaren victory last season, is now saying that the team won’t rule out switching over to their 2012 car if problems persist.
Even aforementioned crafty veteran Jenson Button has been far less than optimistic about the MP4-28, commenting that while the team hopes to make strides towards being closer to on pace at the Malaysian Grand Prix they will probably not be competitive.
Button and his team mate, McLaren newcomer Sergio Perez, finished ninth and eleventh respectively at the Australian Grand Prix. While those aren’t horrible finishes, they certainly aren’t the kind that McLaren was hoping for. More so, the team certainly wasn’t looking to be more than 81 seconds off the pace of race winner Kimi Raikkonen. Granted Raikkonen finished over 12 seconds ahead of Fernando Alonso’s second place car and more than 22 seconds in front of third place Sebastian Vettel, but the McLaren drivers were an additional minute back of Vettel. No matter how you try to spin it, that’s ugly.
Malaysia will be a much different race than Australia with conditions promising to be much hotter in Sepang than they were in Melbourne. Additionally, the Sepang International Circuit features more high-speed turns than the Albert Park track, so teams will be focusing on different tactics to find speed. Still, the reality facing McLaren is that they only have two constructor’s points after the first race. That puts them in sixth place, eight points behind Force India, which is not where they want to hang their hat.
It isn’t uncommon for a team to struggle early in the season, make improvements as the year progresses, and then end up contending for championships. Red Bull Racing has won three straight constructor’s and driver’s championships doing just that. If McLaren is seriously considering stepping back to their 2012 car though, things might be too far off on the MP4-28 to hope for a Red Bull-style turn around.
Michael insists that the team is focused on healing what ails the 2013 machine and that the engineers have a solid idea as to what needs to be changed in order to find the pace they lack. Button, despite his pessimistic views on the team’s ability to be competitive at the moment, has said he feels it is too soon to consider a switch. “The big question is ‘Yes or No’ with last year’s car and this year’s car; I don’t think we can really talk about that now”, said the Brit.
Of course a switch to the 2012 car would in no way guarantee immediate improvement since 2013’s front wings and tires differ from last year’s, so that reality is likely a large part of why McLaren is still committed to fixing the MP4-28. It could prove a better strategy to try a little longer on the car that was built to the 2013 specs than to try and revamp the old model.
Whether a car switch will help or even happen at all is obviously still very much up in the air, but one certainty can be drawn from all this: McLaren needs to find answers before the season gets away from them.
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