McLaren has become the first team to fully reveal their 2014 F1 car. Photos of the MP4-29 in the McLaren Technology Centre were displayed online just before 12:00 GMT today.
The car features the narrow nose that is unfortunately likely to be the distinguishing characteristic of most 2014 Formula One cars. It’s notable that the space on the car occupied in recent years by Vodafone has not been filled by another sponsor. Either there is not yet a new title sponsor or McLaren are waiting for a later date to reveal it.
The press release issued by McLaren includes comments from Jonathan Neale and Sam Michael, but not from last year’s team principal Martin Whitmarsh, fuelling the idea that Whitmarsh is on the way out in a management shake-up that has already seen Ron Dennis return to the role of McLaren Group CEO. There are rumours the Whitmarsh will be replaced by Eric Boullier, who has left the position of Team Principal of Lotus.
The car will hit the track for the first time on Tuesday in Jerez, Spain. The MP4-29 will be driven by Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen over the four days of the test.
John Button, father of 2009 Formula 1 World Champion Jenson Button, died on Sunday 12 January 2014 from a suspected heart attack. The former British rallycross driver was 70 years old.
Throughout Jenson Button’s career, John has supported his son, attending almost all of his Jenson’s F1 races and becoming something of a pit-lane personality. Scenes of father and son celebrating Jenson’s victories have been a welcome reminder that behind the precision and ruthlessness of Formula One there is a soft, emotional and human side to motor racing.
John Button’s death was sudden and took his family and the racing community by surprise. There was, until four days ago, no reason to suspect that John would not be present in the McLaren pit garage during the 2014 F1 season.
Social media has been full of tributes from teams, drivers and other members of the motor sport community over the last few days. The most touching of them all came from Jenson Button, who tweeted yesterday evening:
“Thank you all for your lovely messages about my Dad, it’s so nice to see he touched so many people. He was such a big part of my life I’m going to miss him so so much.
“Papa you cannot believe how very proud I feel to be able to call you my Dad. I love you Papa Smurf, you’ll forever be in my heart.
“Rest in Peace with the Angels
“Your son XXXX”
Fernando Alonso set the pace in a delayed and shortened Free Practice 1 session at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. Jenson Button was second fastest for McLaren, ahead of Valtteri Bottas, who was third for Williams.
The circuit was shrouded in heavy mist at the scheduled start time of the session. The conditions were too poor for the medical helicopter to take off, which meant the start of the session had to be delayed.
40 minutes after the scheduled start time, conditions had improved enough for practice to get underway. It was announced at that point that the session would be shortened to an hour as a result of the late start. Heikki Kovalainen was first out on track, keen to get as much mileage under his belt as he acclimatizes to the Lotus team after being drafted in to replace Kimi Raikkonen, who has undergone surgery on his back and is out for the remainder of the season.
All of the drivers did at least one lap before returning to the pits. The McLarens of Jenson Button and Sergio Perez made good use of the early running time, racking up as many laps as possible in the 15 minutes before the red flag came out and the session was stopped.
The cause of the stoppage was soon revealed: the medical helicopter, quite apart from not being able to take off, had not even arrived. The session had only started at all because the helicopter had apparently been on its way to the track, but when the drivers started to set quick lap times and the helicopter had not arrived, race control had no choice but to halt the session on the grounds of safety.
Half an hour later the medical helicopter finally arrived and the session could continue. When the green flag came out, there were just 32 minutes remaining in the session, as it had to be further shortened to finish by 11am local time, as F1 regulations require a break of at least 2 hours between F1 sessions and FP2 is scheduled for 2pm.
At the end of the combined 47 minute practice session, Fernando Alonso was quickest for Ferrari, demonstrating that his aching back is not affecting his ability to drive on the limit. Jenson Button completed 25 laps, more than any other driver, and set the second fastest lap time in the session. Valtteri Bottas was an impressive third for Williams.
Heikki Kovalainen, in his first practice session for Lotus, was just a quarter of a second off the pace of his team-mate, Romain Grosjean. Considering that Kovalainen had never driven the Lotus E21 before today, that is an impressive performance from the Finn.
Daniil Kvyat made his F1 weekend debut, driving Jean-Eric Vergne’s Toro Rosso in FP1 just a week after earning his FIA Super Licence. Kvyat will race for Toro Rosso in 2014. Other drivers who subbed in for the session were Rodolfo Gonzalez, who drove Jules Bianchi’s Marussia, and Alexander Rossi, who took over Giedo van der Garde’s Caterham in front of his home crowd.
Gonzalez coasted to a halt in the closing stages of the session as his Marussia’s engine switched off to protect itself from imminent failure. That was the only on-track incident of the session.
Full result from FP1:
|8||2||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:39.083||0.740||17|
|14||15||Adrian Sutil||Force India-Mercedes||1:39.699||1.356||15|
|15||14||Paul di Resta||Force India-Mercedes||1:39.836||1.493||15|
|18||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:40.662||2.319||21|
Jenson Button and Sergio Perez currently hold two extremely sought-after seats on the Formula One grid. At least, they’re sought-after seats for the future. This season is another story, as McLaren have struggled so much that neither driver has stood on the podium yet in 2013. Both drivers have contracts with McLaren until the end of the season, with options to extend, but those options have yet to be taken up by McLaren, sparking rumours of a possible change in driver line-up at the Woking-based team.
At this point of the season, there is no reason for McLaren to delay confirmation that they are keeping Button and Perez in their cars for next season. Unless, that is, they are considering alternatives. Reasons for signing (or replacing) racing drivers fall into two broad categories: sporting and commercial.
From a sporting perspective, there really isn’t much of a decision to make. Button has only improved since winning the 2009 World Championship, and Perez is still in his first season at McLaren after being identified as a rising star in 2012 and snapped up to replace the departing Lewis Hamilton at the start of this year. Both drivers have made it clear that they want to stick around at McLaren. Any delays can only be coming from McLaren, and only for reasons other than on-track performance.
When it comes to commercial interests, it is not unusual for a commercial partner of a racing team to put pressure on the team management to sign a driver who is close to their interests. It is also not unusual for up-and-coming racing drivers to join forces with wealthy sponsors in order to jointly further their aims of securing a deal with the highest profile team possible. Examples include Pastor Maldonado, who joined Williams in 2011 and brought sponsorship from Venezuelan oil giant PDVSA.
There are at least two major changes taking place at McLaren in the next two seasons that have massive commercial implications. From 2014, the team will have a new title sponsor, as Vodafone have decided not to renew their McLaren deal at the end of this year. From 2015 onwards, McLaren will switch to Honda power, when the Japanese manufacturer returns to Formula One as an engine supplier for the first time since 2008.
McLaren’s new title sponsor, whoever it may be, could well be linked to a driver or a few drivers. Honda could also be interested in promoting drivers linked to their organisation. While McLaren have a strong history of choosing drivers with talent, that does not preclude choosing talented drivers with commercial benefits.
During a recent Vodafone teleconference, McLaren team manger Jonathan Neale told Autosport:
“What you really want is talent and high performance.
“We’ve shown in the past that we weren’t afraid to make the changes that we felt that we needed to in the team, whether it was inside the organisation or in the driver line-up, in order to get the job done.”
Neale’s comments suggest that McLaren are at least considering a change of driver line-up, although arguably nothing is yet decided. He went on to say:
“We don’t comment on rumour mill or drivers until such time as we’re ready to make an announcement. I hope that it won’t be too much further now before we’re able to clarify what’s going on.
“This is that time of year when everybody is talking to everybody, whether it’s technical staff moving around or drivers.”
If McLaren are being as coy with Button and Perez as they are with the media, then there could be some cause for concern for the drivers. However, it could also simply be that decisions are already made and the team could just be waiting for the opportune moment for a public announcement, such as a race weekend or other event that is important to the team’s 2014 sponsors. With Honda involved, the announcement could well be delayed until the Japanese Grand Prix on 13 October.
Romain Grosjean’s Hungarian Grand Prix was effectively ruined by a drive-through penalty for “exceeding track limits” when he passed Felipe Massa around the outside of turn 4. It was a superb move, displaying the level of skill worthy of a top F1 driver. But the stewards deemed it illegal and Grosjean had to drive through the pits at 80km/h as a result.
Grosjean got a good run on Massa on the outside leading up to turn 4, held his nerve to attack round the outside, made the pass and ran a couple of centimetres off the track on the exit of the corner. The pass was done by that point. He certainly did not need to run off the track to make the move stick. If anything, he needed to give Massa a little bit of space, as the Ferrari was always going to drift towards him.
The rules are that the white lines mark the limits of the track and the drivers are required to keep at least one wheel within those lines at all times. So from that perspective, Grosjean could be penalised. But then the stewards should have been looking at all of the other instances of drivers running wide at a number of corners on the race track. It wasn’t just Grosjean. It was all of the drivers.
The penalty showed a total lack of consistency from the stewards. It was unnecessary and unjustified and cost him a potential podium finish. Such a shame, as he was having a brilliant race.
Of course, Grosjean was involved in another incident, when he drove into Jenson Button, where a penalty was absolutely justified. The stewards decided that one had to be investigated after the race, and when they got around to it they added 20 seconds to his race time. He was more than 20 seconds ahead of Jenson Button at the end of the race, and therefore the penalty had no effect whatsoever.
Here’s a video analysing the two incidents (Apologies for the poor sound):
In advance of 2013, there has been an unusual amount of activity in the driver market. Only Ferrari, Red Bull and Lotus are fielding unchanged driver line-ups, which leaves eight teams with the task of introducing new team-mates to each other. One such team is McLaren, where Lewis Hamilton has been replaced by Mexican Sergio Perez. As a result of the move, Jenson Button finds himself leading a team for the first time since his championship-winning season at Brawn in 2009.
For the past three seasons, Button and Hamilton have been team-mates at McLaren. While it was generally expected that Button would be in the shadow of 2008 Champion Hamilton, the reality was an unusual equality of top level drivers. Hamilton had a slight edge in terms of results over the thee-year period, winning ten races to Button’s eight and taking 8 pole position to Button’s solitary pole at Spa in 2012, but Button had the edge on points, with 672 compared to Hamilton’s 657. Neither driver finished lower than fifth in the Drivers’ Championship, with Button second in 2011, albeit some way behind Sebastian Vettel who dominated that season.
Now the British dream team is split up. Hamilton is off to Mercedes (which is in large part Button’s old Brawn team) and Button stays with McLaren to partner Sergio Perez. The young Mexican Perez presents a completely different challenge to Hamilton for Button. When Button joined McLaren, Hamilton had three seasons under his belt and had already been startlingly successful, having won 11 races and the 2008 World Championship. Perez, on the other hand, has had just two seasons for midfield team Sauber with his best results three podiums in 2012. Perez is certainly quick, but he is only 22 years old, and his youth has shown on the track in a few incidents, particularly in the latter part of 2012. Perez is also not a first-language English speaker, which could create something of a language barrier at his new, ultra-British team.
Button is entering his 14th consecutive season of Formula One and looking to build on an already successful career that includes 15 race victories and the 2009 World Championship. He is comfortable at McLaren, and has arguably produced his best driving since joining the Woking-based team. Button is the ideal partner and perhaps mentor for the young Perez, as he has a cool head and a wealth of experience to share. Importantly for McLaren’s development, Button is only 32 years old, and could still be in Formula One for some time.
McLaren had arguably the quickest car in 2012. Button suffered during the middle part of the season as the team struggled to set his car up for the 2012 Pirelli tyres, but Hamilton would have been a title contender to the end if not for recurring car failures in the second half of the season. With technical regulations largely unchanged for 2013, it is highly likely that the McLarens will be fighting for the World Championship again, and Button is the man expected to lead that challenge. His first task as team leader, however, will be be to beat his young and exciting team-mate.
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