Is It Too Early for McLaren to Shift Focus to 2015 and Its New Honda Engines?

Matthew Walthert@@MatthewWalthertFeatured ColumnistApril 21, 2014

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 20:  Jenson Button of Great Britain and McLaren drives during the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix at the Shanghai International Circuit on April 20, 2014 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
Lars Baron/Getty Images

The 2013 Formula One season was McLaren's worst since 1980, before Ron Dennis first became team principal.

Now, Dennis is back, but the results have not significantly improved. In Australia, Kevin Magnussen and Jenson Button did score the team's first podiums since the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix, but it has been straight downhill since then.

As painful as it may be, should the team now start shifting its focus to 2015 and its new engine deal with Honda?

McLaren CEO Ron Dennis.
McLaren CEO Ron Dennis.Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

"If you think that's good enough you're not on the same page as me," Dennis told his team after the double-podium in Melbourne, per The Guardian's Paul Weaver. "If you think that's good enough then leave!"

Unfortunately for McLaren, that may be as good as it gets this year.

Yes, technically just over 20 percent of the season has been completed. More realistically, though, the championship chase is over—at least for the 10 teams that are not Mercedes.

The Silver Arrows of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have finished first and second in three of the four races this year. In the fourth, Hamilton qualified on pole but a failing power unit forced him to retire on Lap 2, leaving Rosberg to cruise to victory.

McLaren, meanwhile, has failed to score a single point in the last two races, matching their total of pointless races from all of last year.

During McLaren's disastrous 2013 campaign, the team's worst result in a race that both drivers finished was 11th and 12th in Montreal. Last weekend at the Chinese Grand Prix was worse. Button finished 11th and Magnussen was 13th.

The announcement of the new McLaren-Honda partnership.
The announcement of the new McLaren-Honda partnership.Shizuo Kambayashi

McLaren is mired in fifth place in the Constructors' standings, already 111 points behind Mercedes (and even 11 points behind Force India). Shifting resources to the 2015 car would give the team a useful head start and ensure their new Honda power unit is integrated seamlessly into next year's chassis.

Honda has the benefit of an extra year of all-out development for its 2015 power unit and will have taken note of Mercedes' revolutionary design for this season.

However, Dennis is a racer and is driven to win. He did not come back to the team to preside over another fifth-place finish. His pride—not to mention the fact that the team is still without a title sponsor—will not allow him to give up on this season so quickly.

Recently, Dennis told the official F1 website that:

I will die ambitious. I will never lose my ambition and my drive. ... I know I will be judged and my biggest fear is always failure—and I don’t want to fail. I don’t intend to. And it won’t be through lack of effort if I don’t achieve the perfection I am looking for. I am a perfectionist and I drive myself harder than anybody in the company.

Those are not the words of a man ready to give up on a season after just four races.

Indeed, if the team truly believes they can regularly contend for podiums, and even victories, by further developing the 2014 car, that is probably the route to take.

But if they are going to be stuck in the midfield, the potential gains from months of extra work on next year's car could easily outweigh the losses that would be sustained from scaling back the development work on the 2014 car.

Of course, with the strength of Force India and the rejuvenation of Williams, limiting development work for this year could relegate McLaren to an even worse Constructors' Championship finish than last season. Dennis would not be the only person in Woking to find that prospect unappealing.

However, if Mercedes remain untouchable—which they certainly are now—aiming for victories this season is a fool's errand (unless you are counting on Hamilton and Rosberg taking each other out, which easily could have happened during their battle in Bahrain).

And if victories are not going to come this year, why not get a head start on 2015, when stable regulations should help the teams playing catch-up?

At least shifting resources to next season would give McLaren an excuse the next time both their cars finish out of the points. Right now, they do not have one.

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