Formula 1 mid-season review: McLaren
9 August 2014 – As the Formula 1 fraternity enjoys the summer break, GPUpdate.net takes the opportunity to analyse team and driver performances over the first 11 rounds of the 2014 season. In the latest instalment, we look at a modified McLaren, featuring the return of Ron Dennis plus the arrival of Eric Boullier and Kevin Magnussen.
It was all-change at McLaren ahead of the 2014 season, with Ron Dennis ousting Martin Whitmarsh to return as Group CEO and former Lotus team boss Eric Boullier arriving in the new role of Racing Director. There was also an alteration to the driver line-up, with the highly-rated Kevin Magnussen getting the nod to join Jenson Button after Sergio Pérez failed to live up to expectations. But despite burying the podium demons of 2013 by recording a double rostrum at the opening race, it has so far been another disappointing campaign for the Woking-based outfit. One could argue that this stems back to the bold call to effectively scrap the fastest car on the grid at the end of 2012 in favour of a radical design for the following term. Not only did the car miserably fail to live up to expectations, it took up valuable resources as the majority of the grid switched full focus to 2014. Whilst McLaren has the best engine powering its new machine, it is again lacking downforce, something Button and Magnussen have been vocal about throughout the season. Button himself admitted that the squad's strong performance at the first round in Australia was largely down to getting on top of the complex Energy Recovery Systems faster than its rivals, which soon found the relevant gains to surge clear. Since then, results have been hard to come by, with mid-range points finishes only enough to keep it on terms with Force India in the Constructors' battle. Realistically, fifth is the highest placing McLaren is looking at this year, with Mercedes, Red Bull, Ferrari and Williams a long way down the road. One eye will already be firmly fixed on 2015, when Honda returns as its engine partner…
Jenson Button: 7/10
For a former World Champion, back-to-back seasons in relatively uncompetitive machinery is bound to cause frustrations. But Button, dealing with the recent death of his father John, has remained dignified. After the highs of Melbourne, he has ploughed through some much tougher weekends to end the first half of the season a respectable eighth in the standings. After a perhaps surprising public hurry up from Dennis in the wake of the Austrian Grand Prix, he responded well to qualify on the second row – amid wet weather conditions – at his home race, before converting it into a top four finish. Two further points hauls followed in Germany and Hungary, with the potential for more at the latter round had it not been for McLaren's weather forecast trouble. If Lewis Hamilton was still at the team, you have to wonder if there would have been a few more podiums with his gung-ho approach, but Button is coping well. Unless one of the big guns escapes from a contract for 2015, it would be sensible for McLaren to hold on to its lead driver. It also ties in neatly with Honda's return, a brand Button is well accustomed to.
Kevin Magnussen: 7/10
Magnussen entered Formula 1 on the back of his dominant Formula Renault 3.5 title win. With that came pressure. He delivered a sensational debut performance to finish on the podium Down Under, suggesting that he was ready to cope with everything that would be thrown at him. But the following races have been slightly more challenging. Collisions with Ferrari's Kimi Räikkönen became a recurring theme, while Boullier later admitted that the Dane had been hit by the "rookie syndrome". So used to winning in his junior categories, where machinery is equal, it has come as quite a shock to be fighting in the midfield. He has gradually gotten his act together, though, impressing during qualifying at the Red Bull Ring and Hockenheim and going on a steady run of points finishes. Crashing out of the final shootout in Hungary shows that there is still a fair amount to learn, but his outright pace and commitment to the cause has been impressive. Having invested so much time in his development, it would be foolish for McLaren to question Magnussen's involvement next season.
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