Formula One 2012 half-term report: McLaren

Why have we come to McLaren last? Well, one reason might be that they set the base line for performance at the start of the season, covering the front row in Australia and Malaysia and turning the first of those in to a handsome one-two.

McLaren did the best job with a tricky new rule book that had, over one winter, made irrelevant the bulk of all the aerodynamic work the teams had been doing for the previous three years — exhaust-gas blown diffusers. And McLaren did it with some style — this year’s MP4-27 is one beautiful racing car. Against its performance out of the box all team’s efforts this year to date must be measured. And that includes McLaren. Sadly it has been found badly wanting.

Now don’t get us wrong, we love McLaren, it is the nearest thing Team GB has to a Grand Prix team and we’re sorry, we’re writing this from London. (Did you know, incidentally, that McLaren worked with Team GB on almost every piece of its Olympic equipment: from bikes, canoes, kayaks and boats?). Never mind the overseas shareholders and German engines, it’s the stuff that’s made Britain Great that drives McLaren. That and the company chairman’s obsession with detail.

We’ve taken to calling them ‘Team Perfect’ this season because it is what McLaren aspire to be. It’s also become an easy irony. This season McLaren has been anything but perfect. And when you start the season as strongly as McLaren did it’s just not good enough. That’s why we’re giving them a potentially controversial ‘D’ here. Yup, we reckon McLaren needs a ‘must do better’ since Australia. There is one caveat: we absolutely note that after the miserable weekend at Silverstone, someone, somewhere got the hairdryer and, as of the last race before the break, were again the team to beat.

But that’s come too late for Jenson Button and that, more than anything, has upset us here on the Sunday Afternoon sofa. He is a lovely man. Let’s face it guys, we want to be him. And ladies…? Well, you know. That Jenson has been seen this year clearly looking absolutely desperate has been the low point of the season. It hasn’t helped that Lewis Hamilton did a deal over the winter to lease his pouty face to Seb’ Vettel. That must have hurt JB.

The odd but wonderful Gary Anderson has done an excellent job this year documenting all the little cock-ups McLaren has made on the BBC website. Not the Keystone Cop Stops or the fuelling errors but little stuff like releasing cars in to pit lane queues too soon, or leaving tyres out of the warmers too long. Little stuff that makes a big difference when the margins between success and failure have shrunk to hundredths of a second, as they have this year.

But it’s Jenson’s ‘set-up-gate’ that is responsible for the mark. Sure, it is extremely smart to cover all the bases when you have two drivers with such fundamentally different styles, and was correct at first to let Jenson explore a little. But why on earth, with Woking buzzing to the sound of the giant Super-Crays that power the MTC and the simulators there, did nobody spot that JB was driving up a totally blind alley, er, slowly?

Lewis Hamilton still has a crack at the world championship. But with only half the season gone, Jenson Button does not. The best he can hope for is to play his part helping Lewis score and Fernando Alonso not score. For a team that prides itself — it said this just this morning — on having two drivers capable of winning the title and giving them both a crack at it, that surely is the biggest fail of all.

It’s a ‘D’ then. (Though, on appeal, we have opted to make it a suspended ‘D’, pending the result on Sunday.) Harsh, but then we love McLaren, and they’ve set standards impeccably high…

Okay, half term reports over. Can we all go and do some racing now?

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