McLaren recently announced that it is going to need to make around 1200 staff redundant across its automotive, technology and racing teams as part of a major restructuring of the business. 1200 staff is over a quarter of all McLaren employees and out of this it is estimated that 70 people on McLaren’s Formula One team will be made redundant. McLaren was one of the first teams to furlough staff and this includes many senior employees, as well as Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz, taking pay cuts in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic but still the Woking-based outfit has had to make this decision to survive. The British manufacturer could certainly do with some good news and McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown predicts 2022 to be the year when all the hard work and sacrifice comes to fruition.
In an interview with Autoweek, Zak Brown reflected on the fact that due to the change of regulations now coming in 2022 (as opposed to the originally planned 2021) and the fact that the team has had to use development tokens to be able to fit the Mercedes engine in 2021, when they break away from Renault, 2021 will be a transitional year with limited development.
“So it’s gonna be a bit tricky for us, we’re the only one [changing engines] …So the cars have been, for the most part, frozen. We’re going to have a token system for upgrades. You’re going to get a limited amount of upgrades. We’ve had to use some of those tokens to modify the chassis to install the engine, which is a bit of a bummer because the modifications aren’t necessarily for performance. That being said we think there’s performance to come just in the engine… there’s some risk there with an engine change that you’re gonna have to kind of get that right and there is a little less time for on-track development.”
Clearly, the McLaren Racing CEO is not unsatisfied with the team’s current package and their progress is encouraging having seen Carlos Sainz claim McLaren’s first podium last season in Brazil, since the 2014 Australian Grand Prix when former McLaren man Kevin Magnussen found himself on the third step on his Formula 1 debut. Albeit Magnussen was later promoted to 2nd following Daniel Ricciardo’s disqualification for a fuel flow infringement. For Zak Brown though, his focus is on what 2022 will bring, as he went on to share with Autoweek:
“2022 is what I’m most excited about…Not that I want to skip over 2021 — I’m very excited about those [Grand Prix]— but I think ’22 is when I hope the conversation turns more to who’s going to be our biggest competitor next. And it’s not Racing Point, with all due respect, but it’s Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, because that’s when I’d like to start annoying them more often.”
For Zak Brown to dismiss Racing Point is surprising when considering the huge cash injection into the team and their rebranding to become Aston Martin from 2021. This, coupled with the fact that Mercedes’ CEO Tobias Moers will replace Andy Palmer at Racing Point from August 1st, means it is fully expected that the Mercedes maestro will bring with him a blueprint for the Aston Martin team to adopt. After all, in the unfairly labelled ‘Pink Mercedes’ at winter testing, the RP20 racked up a total of 782 laps due to the combined effort of Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll and many had them tipped as ‘best of the rest’ for Melbourne….but as we know – it will be Austria before we see if such a title comes their way. Therefore, who knows what can be achieved in 2022.
For now though, the first challenge at hand for McLaren is the 2020 Season (if the season ever gets going properly) and 2021 after that. Carlos Sainz in his final year for the Woking based team ahead of his move to Scuderia Ferrari will clearly be eager to leave on a high. Ironically though, in 2020, the biggest threat in the midfield order to McLaren will most likely be Renault.
Pre-Season Winter Testing (yes, I know it feels a long time ago now) concluded with Daniel Ricciardo on a form, making his move to McLaren even more surprising. Ricciardo closed out the final day of F1's winter running with the third-fastest time of the day before later telling the media:
"I think we have improved the overall balance of our car. I feel the rear for now is better, and in medium-speed corners, we're able to get off the corner a bit harder. There are certainly improvements. So far, on reliability and stuff we're strong. That was something I know Renault were really pushing on improving this year. So far so good."
For all the struggles off the track being faced by Renault, the signs are that they have a much better challenger than in 2019 and as such, before McLaren get too focused on 2022, they need to make sure they are not reined in by the French manufacturer having finished ahead of them in 4th in 2019. McLaren were dominant finishing the season with 145 points compared with 5th place Renault’s 91 points. However, things move fast in Formula One, literally, and critics expect that when the season restarts, the battle of the midfield will be a much closer one.
As we have seen over the years, success breeds success and failure can lead to departure from the grid. As the late great Sir Stirling Moss said: ‘In order to finish first, you first have to finish.’ In the case of McLaren, in order to have a chance to one day finish 3rd, 2nd or 1st…first you must no longer be finished. Therefore, to ensure that McLaren is financially secure and still around in 2022 to ‘challenge the top three’, their performances in 2020 and 2021 are just as important as what they hope to produce in 2022 – if not more so!