McLaren still struggled in 2016. The relationship with Honda in the second season started to gel, but deficiencies on the side of the engine still gate the team a handicap, one which is very hard to overcome.
Yes, things had improved. They were not of the back row of the grid for the first race of the year, something which was a bit of an embarrassment in 2015 in Melbourne. For a team like McLaren to be happy with a midfield ranking, shows just how much was needed to have been done, and the behind the scenes moves this season have hopefully opened a new door for the team.
The season didn’t exactly start well for the team. Once again, an early season accident, this time at the Australian Grand Prix, ruled him out for another race. With Kevin Magnussen having departed the team, who had deputised for the Spaniard a year early, it fell to GP2 Champion Stoffel Vandoorne to take to the wheel in Bahrain.
What a debut it was for the Belgian too, finishing in 10th place in his first race and putting the first points on the board for the team. It was clear that the team wanted him in the car for 2017, otherwise they could have lost him to a rival, which should surprise few.
Results did come for the team though, with some impressive drives in unusual places. Russia was the first double points finish of the season, with another in Monaco. Of course Monaco would be high on their list to have a good result at, given the lack of engine performance.
Austria was an interesting race, with Jenson Button his best result of the season, a track which tends to favour those with a low drag, powerful engine combination – usually the likes of Williams and Force India tend to do well there.
Fernando had a series of seventh placed finishes throughout the middle portion of the season, and wasn’t until Austin that he matched the best of the season, with fifth. Jenson also finished in the points, on what was to become the countdown to the end of his career.
The politics at McLaren have always been interesting, and none more so than this season. As the real architect of the ‘modern McLaren’ team, Ron Dennis tried to use Chinese money to buy out the current Bahraini owners, which failed. Setting up a deal with Jenson Button to stay at the team for another two years, but not drive was more of an insurance policy, while he also made a number of other appointments to strengthen his position.
That didn’t help though, and he was ousted. Instead replaced by marketing guru and Formula One fan Zak Brown, who had also been linked to a job running the sport with new owners Liberty Media.
The change is only just starting to happen, to move away from the old Ron Dennis style McLaren, to one which is more open and defined, including that of finding more sponsorship – something which had dwindled away.
2017 is going to be an interesting year for the team, the last of the current Fernando Alonso contract, and they are going to have to excel in order to retain his services, still eager for another world championship.