When newly minted champion Nico Rosberg vacated Formula One at the end of his title-winning 2016 season he handed Valtteri Bottas the second-biggest prize of the season — a seat at dominant constructors champion Mercedes.
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Such is the predicament for McLaren. It almost seems unimportant which driver of their shortlisted quartet is chosen; the onus is on them to deliver a competitive car and to provide continuous development, which they have failed to do in 2018.
That was the sentiment towards the once great team, prior to their announcement that F2 ace and McLaren junior in Lando Norris would be driving for the outfit in 2019. Regardless of this announcement, that feeling remains the same.
Whilst the opportunity for 18-year old Norris is a reward for his stellar season in the feeder category, there is need for despondency over the ousting of Stoffel Vandoorne – who becomes the third young driver since 2013 to be turfed by McLaren.
Such a high turnover of drivers can be justified if they’re underperforming and missing opportunities for strong results for their team.
However, given McLaren’s uncompetitiveness since 2013, Vandoorne is just the latest casualty in a flawed system.
Sergio Perez was first to face an uncertain future in Formula One during the 2013 season, purely because he couldn’t deliver in a doggedly undercooked mongrel of a car – which was decided by management to pursue a revolutionary design path, despite being a winner the year before.
Kevin Magnussen, who had been the first McLaren protégé to race for the team since Lewis Hamilton, had delivered a podium on debut in 2014 – however with the impeding arrival of Fernando Alonso and the commencement of the ill-fated Honda programme, the Dane was quickly sidelined.
Then came the Belgian prodigy in Vandoorne, following a stellar title-winning season in GP2 across 2015, who’d replace the retiring Jenson Button in 2017 and would hope to pursue a strong stint in the Honda powered McLaren.
Grossly underwhelming for a third consecutive season, the Woking team parted ways with the Japanese manufacturer and elected for Renault power in 2018. And yet with a more reliable power-unit, it is the deficiencies on the McLaren chassis that has brought their undoing this year.
Yet, Vandoorne has unfortunately made way for an all-new lineup for 2019, which some have drawn comparisons to the Alonso-Hamilton pairing of 2007 – given that British young gun Norris will join Spanish sensation Carlos Sainz.
The figures may have suggested that the Belgian has been nowhere near the level of his two-time world championship winning teammate, though even Alonso had leapt to his defence this season – stating that “if you see previous teammates, they were a lot further [behind] than Stoffel.”
Countless reliability issues, during and post the Honda era, as well as fundamental chassis flaws should be attributed to Vandoorne’s fate and now the question is whether the progeny in McLaren’s young driver system will be doomed from the outset.
Rebuilding the technical department and having their management structured more effectively, will be the keys in McLaren ever returning to be a force in Formula One. The rest will naturally follow; confidence, results and a key facet of the sport in sponsorship.
Though until all those areas within the team are properly addressed, it feels like come 2020 or 2021, there will be another change in the driver lineup with little difference in the position that McLaren are on the track.
“I’m very confident of the people we have inside McLaren, that we have a good plan,” stated the team’s chief in Zak Brown whilst talking about no miracles for 2018.
“2019 should be an interim step forward and we probably won’t be at our full capacity of technical capability until our 2020 car.”
For the sake of one of the most illustrious names in Formula One, glittering in the glory of multiple championships and other accolades – the hope is for this to be not the case.