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Will McLaren become the new Williams?

The lack of foresight at McLaren might harm their future as hopes dwindle for 2013 which combined with the team refusing to switch focus to turbo era.
Monday, May 6, 2013

May 6th, 2013 (F1plus/B. Dixon).- Thirty six years in Formula One. With nine Constructor’s Championships, seven Drivers titles, and one hundred and fourteen race victories to their name, Williams are a team steeped in racing history. After an initial settling in period, the British team took two consecutive Constructor’s titles in 1980, when Alan Jones also steered the Ford powered machine to clinch the driver’s title, and 1981.

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This success was followed by two years of Ferrari control on the track, an achievement mirrored by McLaren in the ensuing two years. Continuing the pattern, Williams took another two in 1986 and 1987 before the dominance of McLaren during the Senna and Prost years; dominance broken in 1992 by Nigel Mansell storming to capture both titles with nine race wins in the season. Williams were to enjoy continued superiority until 1994 when they took a yearlong sabbatical, returning to the top in 1996 and 1997.

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Throughout this period, when not winning titles, Williams were mounting a challenge and were within close proximity of the prize with the exception of 1988; a season in which only seventh was achieved in the Constructors race due to their running of a Judd engine, which was unable to compete with the turbos powering rival teams.

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Since their most recent title win in 1997, their presence at the front, contesting race wins and titles has been less consistent. Slipping just behind the leaders with the resurgence of McLaren in 1998, a further drop to fifth was endured at the dawn of the Ferrari dominance in 1999. Hanging around between 2nd and fifth became familiar until 2006 when their Cosworth powered car suffered a high percentage of retirements leaving them languishing in eighth. Their descent down the table has continued, and following their nadir season in 2011, they have failed to rise to anywhere near the dizzy heights they were so used to experiencing.

The 2012 Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona provided the team with an injection of hope when Pastor Maldonado held off the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso to take the win. Hope which later dissipated along with their ability to repeat the Spanish high.

Fifty years in Formula One. With eight Constructor’s Championships, twelve driver’s titles and one hundred and eighty two race victories to their name, McLaren are a team steeped in racing history. Since 1981, McLaren have rarely finished lower than fourth in the Constructor’s Championship, and like Williams are synonymous with battling at the sharp end of the grid.

2013 could be the season to herald an unwanted change. Having made more radical modifications to the car than their rivals, McLaren are enduring a tough start to the season. With Williams and their racing legacy already lost to the subterranean end of the grid, to lose another would be abhorrent.

Mark Webber on board of a Williams in 2006 (Lat Photo)

In 2006 the unreliable Williams, especially prone to handling problems, caused designer Sam Michael to watch his cars retire in twenty out of thirty six races. In 2013, designer Sam Michael watches his more revolutionary changes cause poor performance, leaving them only sixth in the table currently. Before their recent crumble, Williams were closely stalking the leaders following their final Championship win in 1997. Likewise, McLaren have been tailgating the frontrunners since their most recent Constructor’s win in 1998. A similar collapse is not beyond the realms of possibility.

For 2010 and 2011, Williams switched back to using a Cosworth engine with an updated version of the one used during the dire 2006 season with unfavourable results. McLaren will continue to be supplied with Mercedes engines for 2014 to kick off their campaign in the new turbo era, with a move to Honda for 2015. Working with new regulations, McLaren, like the other teams on the grid will face an uncertain 2014, the difference being that those with long term engine deals will be consolidating the following year. McLaren will again have to start afresh; something that could thwart their ambition and hinder performance.

Considering the poor start to the season, it is inevitable that questions should be asked regarding switch of focus to the 2014 challenger, to help ensure a more rewarding season next year. Martin Whitmarsh has made it clear that he isn’t going to alter focus to 2014. Speaking to France’s L’Equipe he said, “Maybe I’m wrong but I refuse to think about 2014. I want us to return to the front and to go to every grand prix thinking that we can win.”

Trailing top rivals, with Jenson Button sitting only tenth in the Driver’s Championship, his stance could be questioned. With other teams heavily focused on 2014 development, McLaren could accept this as a lost opportunity and use it instead to gain a head, or equal start to their competitors. Whitmarsh explained that he wants to see what gains they can extract from the upgrades for Barcelona,
“One of my weaknesses is that I want to be competitive. I want to get back to the front, before thinking about making ground in the title race.”

This evident lack of foresight could cause McLaren to emulate the demise of Williams. This is a sobering thought, and for the sake of Formula One, one that doesn’t bear thinking about.

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