Season review: McLaren


Constructors’ Championship: 3rd
Points: 378


Lewis Hamilton
Points: 190
Best qualifying: 1st
Best race result: 1st

Jenson Button
Points: 188
Best qualifying: 1st
Best race result: 1st


  • Race wins for Hamilton in Canada, Hungary, Italy and the US.
  • Race wins for Button in Australia, Belgium and Brazil.

It would be fair to say that McLaren had the fastest car for quite a large part of the 2012 season. It certainly had the pace to win races for much of the year so where did it all go wrong? The team finished behind Ferrari and Red Bull, and its highest-placed driver in the Drivers’ Championship was Hamilton in fourth.

When you visit the McLaren technology centre there is not a mark on the walls, the race bays look like something the NHS will be able to invest in come 2020 and Ron Dennis is famously annoyed that some of the floor tiles are cracked – if they’re replaced, they won’t be from the same batch and therefore the same colour as the old ones. It seems strange then that this was the team that struggled most with reliability issues this year.

What might have happened had the cars been as reliable as the Ferrari? Hamilton’s struggle to fourth place wasn’t just down to car trouble, though. The team was tripping up. Two out of three pit stops were troublesome in Bahrain, a pole position was lost in Spain because of a mistake with the fuel, the tyre strategy was all wrong in Great Britain, a gearbox failure in Singapore while leading resulted in a DNF, an anti-roll bar failure in Korea took points away and then an electrical problem while leading in Abu Dhabi meant another DNF. As for Button… a nightmare pit stop in China cost a shot at victory, an exhaust problem, subsequent puncture and then diff failure in Bahrain cost quite a few points, a fuel failure in Italy cost more and then a throttle problem in qualifying for the United States Grand Prix left him 12th on the grid.

It’s pointless trying to work out what might have been, though. Also, neither driver was faultless throughout the year, far from it. That said Hamilton was back on the kind of form which set the world alight in 2007. Seven pole positions and four race wins are testament to that. Although it’s going to be hard not to remember 2012 as the year that Hamilton tweeted his telemetry after qualifying in Spa. Not only did it provide some very interesting reading for other teams, but it also underlined the fact that he had made the wrong decision when it came to reverting to the older, higher-downforce wing. Button, always credited with having a wise head on his shoulders, decided to go with the new version, took pole and then a dominant victory. He may well be ready to lead Mercedes into a new golden era, but Hamilton still has plenty of growing up to do.

It’s this that appears to be the motivation behind his move away from McLaren, a team that he has been a part of since his karting days. Mercedes might be further ahead than anyone else with the 2014 engine regulations, but there was also a feeling that Hamilton needed to head off to university, escape the confines of a regimented school. Oh, and then there are the sponsorship deals he can do outside of the team…

Whatever you say of the move it’s McLaren’s loss. Button may have qualified on the front row five times, but Hamilton managed that 11 times out of 20. It’s a figure McLaren may come to miss.

Button is widely regarded as one of the smoothest in F1, a Prost-like thinker who is unstoppable when the car is right. But what if it’s not? This season, like many that have gone before, Button often struggled to find a good balance with the car, and when he couldn’t, it was easy to forget he was in the race at all. After Bahrain, when he had the reliability problems, his race results don’t make happy reading: ninth in Spain, 16th in Monaco and Canada, eighth in Europe and then 10th in Britain. He had a better race at Silverstone, but there was plenty of head scratching going on behind closed doors. Two weeks later he was back on the podium after a good race in Germany.

Many drivers have had a small operating window in terms of setup, but if he is to lead the team next year he can’t afford to have five barren races in a row. Pérez is quick, no doubt about it, but no one could argue that he will put a competitive car on the front row of the grid every time he has the opportunity. He may in two years, but in 2013 after 38 races in F1? It’s unlikely, but then so too was the chance of Button being able to match Hamilton when he arrived at McLaren in 2010…

1998, the last time the team won a Constructors’ Championship, is starting to look a worryingly long time ago. Money and resources are all very well, but you can’t lose two possible victories because of car problems in this day of almost bulletproof reliability and still be able to fight for the championship.

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