McLaren-Honda Are Right to Manage Expectations with 2015 Formula 1 Car

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistJanuary 31, 2015

WOKING, ENGLAND - JANUARY 29: This handout image supplied by McLaren-Honda shows   McLaren-Honda drivers Jenson Button (l) and Fernando Alonso (r) during the launch of the car on January 29, 2015 in Woking, England.  (Photo by Handout/Getty Images)
Handout/Getty Images

It began so promisingly as we hovered along the McLaren-Honda MP4/6, the car that took Ayrton Senna, the finest driver in the history of Formula One, to his third and final championship in 1991.

The facts and the stats—the 44 grand prix wins, the eight world titles achieved by Senna, Alain Prost and the team—followed as we were invited to get intimate with the Brazilian's last great McLaren.

And then everything got hectic.

Brazilian racing driver Ayrton Senna (1960 - 1994) competing in the Brazilian Grand Prix at the Interlagos circuit, 24th March 1991. Senna wonthe race in a McLaren-Honda. (Photo by Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images)
Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images

The background music sped up, the edits increased in frequency and the lighting varied as the MP4/6, this toy car in comparison, mutated into the almost futuristic MP4-30 machine.

The Goodyear tyres were exchanged for Pirellis, the simplistic front wing became something more reminiscent of a storage system and Senna's name around the cockpit area was replaced by those of Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button.

And most strikingly, the red-and-white colour scheme—the iconic red-and-white colour scheme—was overhauled by a silver-and-black paint job, with the red forced to settle for a streamlining role.

As car launches go in this modern era of online unveilings, McLaren's promotional clip to showcase the MP4-30 was among the more spectacular, but many were left disappointed with the presentation of the new car.

Ever since the team announced the renewal of their partnership with Honda in May 2013, the MP4-30—the first of the new era—was the car that all F1 folk had wanted to see.

The sense of anticipation had resulted in rendered images appearing on social media as fans predicted the appearance of the first McLaren-Honda in 23 years.

A widespread desire for the red-and-white livery to make a return developed into a campaign as the launch date approached, and McLaren themselves seemed to be jumping on the bandwagon, producing a Back to the Future spoof and vowing to "make history."

Even McLaren may have been taken aback by the levels of hostility shown toward their 2015 colours, although resisting the temptation to bring back the retro look was a wise move ahead of a season of uncertainty.

And it allowed the team to reinforce a message that has almost been forgotten amid the excitement ahead of the new era: This McLaren-Honda is not the same all-conquering outfit of the late 1980s and early '90s.

If the car's livery didn't make that abundantly clear, the various team members' comments on McLaren's official website certainly did.

Alonso, a two-time world champion and arguably the most complete driver on the current grid, spoke of a "steep learning curve" and "the challenge ahead," while Button, the 2009 title winner and a driver for Honda's factory team between 2006 and 2008, admitted: "We’re under no illusion that it will be easy." 

Ron Dennis, the chairman, CEO and the figurehead of the previous McLaren-Honda era, described "the start of a lengthy journey" and how "there's a lot of work to do."

Meanwhile, Eric Boullier—effectively the team principal this time around—stated "We acknowledge that our journey will require a huge amount of hard work, dedication and application from everyone involved," and, from the Honda end, Yasuhisa Arai has steeled himself for "a long season, with numerous challenges."

For a team whose arrogance has quite often been at the root of their failure to win more than one world title this millennium—for instance, the decision to race with a brand-new design for 2013, instead of evolving the pace-setting 2012 car, was one of the biggest own goals in recent memory—a change of mindset at McLaren will be more than welcome.

Although the renewed deal with Honda is a clear nod to McLaren's illustrious heritage, the knowledge that their name alone is no guarantee of success seems to be more vivid than ever before after two years without a grand prix win.

It is telling that the red-and-white livery—a consequence of a sponsorship deal with Marlboro—is synonymous with the glory days of Honda and not the dry period of the mid-1990s when the team were powered by Ford, Peugeot and Mercedes in quick succession.

Believe it or not, McLaren-Mercedes raced with "Honda" colours in '95 and '96.
Believe it or not, McLaren-Mercedes raced with "Honda" colours in '95 and '96.Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images

The passing of time has almost airbrushed those lean, transitional years from history, meaning that contrast of white against red is the ultimate classic McLaren F1 colour.

So had the team opted for the romantic option only then for Alonso and Button to spend the year breaking down with power unit problems and struggling to make the top 10 of a given race—as is entirely plausible given Honda's inexperience relative to F1's existing engine manufacturers—the majesty of a red-and-white McLaren would have been lost.

And all those wonderful memories created by Senna and Prost, McLaren and Honda, would have been tainted to some extent.

The red and white is for another day—a brighter day—when the new McLaren-Honda once again emerges as a considerable force and can realistically challenge for championships on a regular basis, adding more chapters to the story first established by Ayrton and Alain.

WOKING, ENGLAND- DECEMBER 10: In this handout photo provided by McLaren-Honda, Formula One drivers Fernando Alonso (2nd R) and Jenson Button (2nd L) pose as McLaren-Honda announces its new driver line-up for 2015 with Kevin Magnussen (C) who will remain a
Handout/Getty Images

Now?

Now's the time for hard work. Now's the time for patience and perseverance.

Now's the time to put everything in place so McLaren-Honda can make history once again.

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