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Alonso’s unfortunate career moves

Fernando Alonso drives for McLaren in practice for the Malaysian Grand Prix (Image: McLaren)

Fernando Alonso drives for McLaren in practice for the Malaysian Grand Prix (Image: McLaren)

Fernando Alonso is one of the top drivers in Formula 1 at present, perhaps ever. And yet he has not won the Drivers’ Championship since 2006. Why not? I think it’s largely the result of repeatedly being in the wrong team at the wrong time.

Consider Alonso’s career moves since starting in Formula 1. His career began in 2001 with Minardi, where he impressed enough in his first season to land a drive with Renault in 2003. Just a few years later, Alonso won back-to-back championships with Renault in 2005-2006. So far, so good.

For 2007, Alonso switched to McLaren. The car was competitive. Alonso was in form. There was just the quite significant problem of a rapidly deteriorating relationship between team and driver. Alonso never felt at home at McLaren-Mercedes, as it was then, and at the end of the season he and the team agreed to part ways. Alonso went back to Renault for 2008.

Unfortunately for Alonso, the 2008 Renault was nowhere near as good as that year’s McLaren. Alonso finished a distant fifth in the championship while Lewis Hamilton, in a car Alonso could have been driving, won the championship. Had Alonso stuck it out with McLaren, it is quite possible that the 2008 championship would have been his.

Another season with Renault followed, in which it became apparent that the car was simply not good enough. Alonso failed to win a single race in 2009, and at the end of the season made a high-profile switch to Ferrari.

From 2010 to 2013, Alonso gave his all for Ferrari, comfortably out-performing team-mate Felipe Massa and generally competing, to at least some degree, for the championship. But all four of those seasons were won by Sebastian Vettel for Red Bull.

And here is perhaps the most unfortunate of Alonso’s career decisions so far. When he left McLaren to return to Renault for 2008, there was another team rumoured to be interested in his services. That team was Red Bull.

Had he made the move to Red Bull, Alonso could quite conceivably have dominated Formula in the same manner that Vettel did. But it didn’t happen. Instead, Alonso went to Renault and struggled in an under-performing car.

Alonso’s final season for Ferrari, 2014, was another year of struggle with an inferior car. The Ferrari power unit was no match for that of Mercedes, and Alonso once again was not able to challenge for the championship.

In his most recent career move, Alonso made the switch from Ferrari to McLaren for 2015. The much anticipated reunion of McLaren and legendary engine supplier Honda was expected to provide Alonso with a way back to the top of the results sheets.

But again, it seems to not have worked out, although it’s still very early in the season. Alonso missed the first race in Australia due to a concussion from a heavy crash in testing, but in his absence, McLaren drivers Jenson Button and reserve Kevin Magnussen were well off the pace, as Honda struggled to provide the power required for the car to be competitive.

The McLarens occupied the back row of the grid in Australia, and look likely to be quite far down the order again for this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix. It promises to be a tough season for Alonso, unless Honda can get their act together quite quickly.

And here again, Alonso seems to have made the wrong move. Or at least he appears to have moved at the wrong time. A resurgent Ferrari are currently best-of-the-rest to Mercedes, ahead of Williams to the surprise of the entire F1 field. Sebastian Vettel, who moved from Red Bull to take Alonso’s place at Ferrari at the end of last year, is revelling in the pace of the car and scored his first podium for the team at his first attempt.

Will McLaren come good for Alonso? For the sake of Formula 1, one can only hope. It is a real pity that one of the true greats of the sport has had such poor luck with cars. Unfortunately, 2015 doesn’t look like being the year his fortunes will change.

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McLaren reveals MP4-29

McLaren drivers Kevin Magussen, Jenson Button and Stoffel Vandoorne pose with the McLaren MP4-29 (Image: McLanen)

McLaren drivers Kevin Magussen, Jenson Button and Stoffel Vandoorne pose with the McLaren MP4-29 (Image: McLanen)

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.

Click here for the full image gallery of the MP4-29.

McLaren MP4-29 Image Gallery

Ron Dennis re-appointed McLaren Group CEO

Ron Dennis has been re-appointed McLaren Group CEO (Image: McLaren)

Ron Dennis has been re-appointed McLaren Group CEO (Image: McLaren)

McLaren announced yesterday that Ron Dennis will return to the role of McLaren Group CEO with immediate effect. This is in addition to his role as Chairman of the board of McLaren Group. As CEO, Dennis replaces Martin Whitmarsh, who held the position in addition to his role as team principal of the McLaren Formula One team. No announcement has been made regarding Whitmarsh’s post at the head of the racing outfit.

Ron Dennis has an enormously successful history with McLaren. He was team principal of the Formula One team from 1982 to 2009, presiding over 10 of the team’s 12 World Drivers’ Championships and 7 of 8 World Constructors’ Championships. Dennis was team principal when a formidable list of drivers won world championships: Niki Lauda, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Mika Hakkinen and Lewis Hamilton all triumphed under the guidance of Ron Dennis.

But Dennis’s success has not come only on the track. He is largely responsible for McLaren being the large, successful company it is today. The companies in the McLaren Group include McLaren Mercedes, the Formula One team; McLaren Automotive, which manufactures McLaren’s high-performance road cars; McLaren Applied Technologies, which “develops groundbreaking solutions across sport, medicine, biomechanics and entertainment by applying McLaren ‘know-how'” (according to the McLaren website); McLaren GT3 Racing, which is responsible for the company’s sports car programme using the McLaren MP4-12C GT3; and Absolute Taste, which provides catering and hospitality services to, amongst other clients, the Formula One team and its guests as it travels around the world.

Dennis was Group CEO from 1982 to 2012, the incredible period of growth that transformed McLaren from a racing team to the powerhouse described above. After handing over the Formula One team to Martin Whitmarsh at the end of 2009, Dennis continued in the role of Group CEO until the end of 2012 before Whitmarsh was also handed that role. Dennis became Group Chairman but relinquished executive responsibility for the Group.

After just one year with Whitmarsh at the helm, Dennis is back. That must at least partly be the result of the Formula One team’s poor performance in the 2013 F1 season. For the first time since 1980, neither McLaren driver stood on the podium all season. Jenson Button and Sergio Perez finished 9th and 11th respectively in the Drivers’ Championship, and McLaren finished fifth in the Constructors’ Championship, the team’s worst result since 2004.

It’s clear that Dennis intends to make changes at McLaren, and quickly. He said after his appointment yesterday:

“My fellow shareholders have mandated me to write an exciting new chapter in the story of McLaren, beginning by improving our on-track and off-track performance. Over the coming weeks I intend to undertake a thorough and objective review of each of our businesses with the intention of optimising every aspect of our existing operations, whilst identifying new areas of growth that capitalise on our technologies, and where appropriate further investing in them.

“During February, I will articulate a new Group strategy and implement the organisational structure best suited to achieving it. I am excited by the prospect of returning to the role of Group Chief Executive Officer and working with my many colleagues and fellow shareholders to fulfil our objective – which is to win at whatever we do.”

There are at least two major announcements still to be made before the Formula One season gets underway. Firstly, the team has yet to name a title sponsor after Vodafone terminated their McLaren partnership at the end of 2013. And secondly, the position of McLaren Mercedes team principal has yet to be confirmed for this season – after the disaster that was 2013, Martin Whitmarsh may well fear for his job.

Jenson Button pays tribute to his father

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.

Jenson Button with his father, John, and girlfriend, Jessica Michibata (McLaren)

Jenson Button with his father, John, and girlfriend, Jessica Michibata (McLaren)

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”

Alonso quickest in shortened FP1 in Austin

Fernando Alonso was fastest in a delayed and shortened FP1 in Austin, Texas (Image: Ferrari)

Fernando Alonso was fastest in a delayed and shortened FP1 in Austin, Texas (Image: Ferrari)

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:

Pos No Driver Team Time Gap Laps
1 3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:38.343 16
2 5 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:38.371 0.028 25
3 17 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Renault 1:38.388 0.045 17
4 12 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 1:38.532 0.189 18
5 9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:38.657 0.314 21
6 10 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:38.979 0.636 21
7 4 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:39.005 0.662 17
8 2 Mark Webber Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:39.083 0.740 17
9 11 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari 1:39.158 0.815 17
10 16 Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1:39.200 0.857 15
11 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1:39.238 0.895 13
12 6 Sergio Perez McLaren-Mercedes 1:39.256 0.913 17
13 7 Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Renault 1:39.487 1.144 18
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
16 19 Daniel Ricciardo STR-Ferrari 1:39.863 1.520 19
17 18 Daniil Kvyat STR-Ferrari 1:40.065 1.722 20
18 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:40.662 2.319 21
19 21 Alexander Rossi Caterham-Renault 1:41.399 3.056 21
20 23 Max Chilton Marussia-Cosworth 1:41.605 3.262 19
21 20 Charles Pic Caterham-Renault 1:42.054 3.711 19
22 22 Rodolfo Gonzalez Marussia-Cosworth 1:43.716 5.373 17

Kevin Magnussen to race for McLaren in 2014

Kevin Magnussen will made his F1 debut with McLaren in 2014 (Image: McLaren)

Kevin Magnussen will made his F1 debut with McLaren in 2014 (Image: McLaren)

McLaren have confirmed that 21-year old Danish driver Kevin Magnussen will make his Formula One debut with the team at the start of 2014. Magnussen will partner 2009 World Champion Jenson Button.

Kevin Magnussen is the son of former F1 driver Jan Magnussen, whose Formula 1 career began with a one-off drive for McLaren at the 1995 Pacific Grand Prix. The younger Magnussen recently won the Formula Renault 3.5 championship by a comfortable margin, demonstrating his considerable talent behind the wheel of a racing car.

Magnussen replaces Sergio Perez, who yesterday announced that he will be leaving the team at the end of 2013, despite this being only his first season with McLaren.

Here’s what Kevin Magnussen and McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh had to say in McLaren’s press release:

Kevin Magnussen: “I’m absolutely overjoyed to be making my Formula 1 debut with McLaren. I’ll put it simply: this team is the best. It’s been my dream to drive for McLaren ever since I was a small kid, and it’s no exaggeration to say that I’ve dedicated almost every day of my life to achieving the goal of becoming a McLaren Formula 1 driver.

“I have an enormous amount of respect for everyone at McLaren, and I want to say a massive ‘thank you’ to everyone, but most of all to Martin and his senior colleagues, for giving me this chance. I won’t let you down, guys!

“Equally, in Jenson, I have absolutely the ideal team-mate. He’s extremely quick, obviously, but he’s also very experienced and superbly capable from a technical perspective. He’s a Formula 1 world champion, which is what one day I also hope to become, and I’m determined to learn as much as I can from him.”

Martin Whitmarsh (Team Principal): “We’re delighted that Kevin will be joining Jenson as a McLaren Formula 1 race driver for 2014. Their confirmation is an important step for us as we continue to strengthen our organisation ahead of the 2014 season.

“Next year, we’ll witness the biggest raft of technical changes to Formula 1 in many years, and every team and manufacturer will be pushed to the limit as they try their best to adapt to those new challenges.

“Jenson’s race-winning speed, intelligence and racecraft have long been a crucial advantage to McLaren, but it’s his skill as a development driver and his peerless technical feedback that will be equally valuable as we make the transition into a new and complex technical formula during the winter and new year.

“Kevin, too, is clearly very talented and very determined, and we therefore have high hopes for him. Moreover, every time he’s tested our Formula 1 car, he’s been very quick and very methodical, and his feedback has been first-class.

“Furthermore, the manner in which he won this year’s World Series by Renault 3.5 Championship was truly outstanding, showcasing as it did not only his impressive natural pace but also his increasing maturity and ability to structure and manage a championship campaign.

“Last but very far from least, I want to take this opportunity to thank Checo [Sergio Perez], who has developed well during a difficult season, as his recent run of points-scoring finishes underlines. He’s a lovely guy and a fine driver – fast and combative – and I’m sure he’ll build on that firm foundation in 2014. All at McLaren wish him well for the future.”

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