McLaren Mercedes is one of the most storied teams in Formula One history, almost directly alongside Scuderia Ferrari. And despite cause for optimism with a successful 2012, 2013 has proven to be disastrous by the team’s lofty expectations both on the track and in the paddock.
Lead driver Jenson Button is nearing the end of his career, but can still perform in Formula One without a doubt. Since the 2009 regulations, Button has won a drivers title with the now defunct Brawn GP and has never finished outside the top five in points. That is a streak which is likely to end.
All year Button has struggled and despite the redesigned McLaren chassis incompetence on track, some of the blame can be shifted onto Pirelli. The tire manufacturer has been changing compounds on a regular basis, creating inconsistencies which some teams have been able to handle better than others.
Button’s race strategy his entire career has blended consistency with tire conservation, but this year neither of his strong suits are at his disposal. As a result, Button is currently ninth behind Romain Grosjean in the drivers’ standings, and his average finish (9.3) is his worst since 2008.
Teammate Sergio Perez has fared even worse. The Mexican driver arrived at McLaren with an immense amount of expectations, and has disappointed thus far. Perez’s average finish is 11th, a terrible gain considering he averaged a finishing position of 12.8 his last year with Sauber, a team that has regressed massively.
Even worse are Perez’s confrontations on the track and inability to keep the car together. He has had multiple incidents with his teammate on the track, creating a rift in the garage area, something which only hinders progress. He also had an incident with Lotus GP driver Kimi Raikkonen at the Monaco Grand Prix, something which may have been the tipping point regarding how Perez is perceived in the garage area by his fellow drivers.
For McLaren, looking forward to the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps means looking back at themselves and what they can achieve to gain momentum for next year’s sweeping regulations changes. The proverbial white flag has to be waved, and developmental changes must shift from an emphasis on this year’s car to the next.
The rift between Button and Perez must be closed by team boss Ron Dennis as well. 2014 looks to be like Mercedes’ last year powering the McLaren chassis, so a fitting sendoff is in order before Honda rejoins McLaren, reuniting a dominant combination in Formula One.
Optimism is a dangerous thing in Formula One. Almost luckily for McLaren, they have no reason to have any. This season has been borderline disgraceful. In the second half, look for both Button and Perez to hold stationary in the drivers’ standings. Yet, the team can feel a bit of well-deserved optimism if Button is able to overtake Grosjean for eighth, and Perez dispatches Adrian Sutil for 11th.
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