It was a long time coming but did not disappoint with a twist few thought likely. McLaren-Honda’s 2015 driver line-up kept us guessing and arguably raised more questions than answers. There are however some interesting conclusions that can be drawn.
Once bitten, twice shy
McLaren’s recruitment of Sergio Perez was a misjudgement that contributed to Martin Whitmarsh’s demise. Flattered by a Sauber that excelled in changeable conditions, Perez could not handle the pressure of having to deliver results and help develop a problematic car with such limited experience. Kevin Magnussen faced the same fate and only a stellar season would have given him a realistic chance.
McLaren cannot afford to rely on such a narrow frame of reference for development. That is particularly the case now they are faced with the challenges of bedding in a new engine partner, trying to develop a car they never fully understood last season and aiming to close the gap to Mercedes. Magnussen, despite a strong rookie season, simply never had enough experience.
It emerged just over a week before the driver announcement that toymaker LEGO had pulled out of a deal to sponsor the team. The Danish connection is an obvious one but the timing of the announcement, if not conclusive, was at least indicative. Magnussen may or may not have been central to the deal but if he was, it suggests that Ron Dennis is back pulling all the strings at the team he made so dominant first time around.
As a statement it shows that Ron is only interested in winning races and is willing to take a gamble on commercial interests as a result. Conversely it might have more to do with the burgeoning partnership with Honda. It was rumoured that they favoured Button which may simply highlight that the partnership with the Japanese car giant is Dennis’ primary focus.
Alonso is number 1
After the disaster that was 2007, McLaren could not risk another young upstart upsetting the big money signing. On balance matching Button against Alonso is a far more logical approach. Having taken on Hamilton, Perez and Magnussen with a mix of speed and grace in defeat, McLaren can be assured that when Alonso starts to beat the 2009 World Champion regularly, Button is unlikely to react like a spoiled child and try to derail the team.
But the most interesting element of the announcement was not confirmation of Button but Ron Dennis’ candour over the 2007 implosion. Pulling no punches, Dennis indicated that Lewis Hamilton was as culpable for tearing the team apart as Fernando Alonso.
After vilifying the Spaniard, it was unsurprising that the revelation registered barely a column inch in the British media. The significance however was to confirm that Alonso’s signing is not a desperate move by McLaren and can be the success it should have been first time round.