The Failures of McLaren in recent years of Formula One

21st November 2019
The glory days of Senna, Prost and Hakkinen are a thing of the past. Today, McLaren F1 Team is just a shadow of what it once was.

McLaren is the second most successful team in Formula One history after Ferrari. Although continuous failures in recent years are difficult to explain. What factors determined that the British team lost so much ground?

McLaren Racing Limited is a team with a long history of success in F1. This is the second team with the most Driver Championships, the last in 2008, with Lewis Hamilton. Plus, it’s the third team with the most Constructors’ Championship titles, the last one was in 1998.

Also, McLaren is one of the teams that have participated in most races through the history of Formula One. McLaren debuted in 1966, at the Monaco Grand Prix. Since then, it’s achieved a total of 182 wins, 155 pole positions, and 391 podiums. As if all this were not enough, McLaren’s got the one-two in 47 races.

Despite becoming a legend, recent years have not been positive for this team. Here’s a review of the recent McLaren seasons in Formula One.

The golden age of McLaren

The best moment of this team was in the mid-eighties, and it would last for approximately ten years. During this period, some great drivers including Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and Niki Lauda drove for this team, white and red at the time.

From 1984 to 1991, McLaren conquered seven of the eight Drivers’ Championships that were played. In addition, they stayed with six Constructors’ Championships in that same period.

In the nineties, the figure of Michael Schumacher emerged -first in Benetton and then in Ferrari-. Then, McLaren only achieved two consecrations: in 1998 and 1999, at the hands of Finn Mika Hakkinen. The first of those two years was also the champion team, but in 1999 Ferrari’s dominance would begin.

It took ten years for the British team to obtain a new title. It was achieved by the Englishman Lewis Hamilton, after beating Brazil’s Felipe Massa of Ferrari by just one point. Again, the champion team achieved glory.

Ayrton Senna: the Mclaren driver who died in an accident
Ayrton Senna: the late Mclaren driver.

The 2007 season had also been promising, as the Ron Dennis team won six great prizes. Suddenly, a spy scandal between Ferrari and McLaren made that campaign dirty, although there were no sanctions by the FIA. Moreover, visible problems between Fernando Alonso and Hamilton began to generate headaches within the team.

The beginning of McLaren’s decline

Far from being a turning point for the resurgence of the team, 2008 meant just an oasis at the beginning of McLaren’s failures. Since 2010, Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull swept the category for four seasons; subsequently, already in the hybrid era, Hamilton did the same with his Mercedes.

What happened to the British team in these seasons? In the 2010 season the team was second in the Drivers’ Championship, thanks to the five wins achieved by Button and Hamilton.

The year 2011 left a similar result: six team victories, but still greater distance with the champion, Mercedes. Button was second among the drivers, but also far from Vettel.

In 2012, McLaren reached seven victories but was third in the Constructors’ Championship. From 2013, despite Button’s staying and Alonso’s return, the team did not pick up; the best result was just a fifth place in the championship of that season. Since then, the bad results followed have been constants and the victories shone by their absence.

Changes in the McLaren engine suppliers

Throughout this time, McLaren has changed engine brand several times. In the eighties he used TAG engines, although since 1988 he would find his ideal ally in Honda.

From 1995 to 2009, McLaren used Mercedes engines. Later, the German brand became independent, although it continued to manufacture engines for the Dennis team until 2014.

In 2010, the expected return of Honda was not as fruitful as everyone expected and couldn’t end the failures of McLaren for those years. The team had many dropouts and very poor reliability. Since 2018, the French brand Renault has provided the power units of this team.

McLaren's failures followed from 2009 onwards.
McLaren’s failures followed from 2009 onwards.

McLaren’s failures after a golden age

To understand the magnitude of the fall of such a significant team, it’s worth reviewing some of its statistics in the top category of world racing:

  • Presences: David Coulthard is the driver with the most races on board a McLaren, with 150. He’s followed by Jenson Button, with 137 participations.
  • Victories: the most winners within this team is the eternal Ayrton Senna, with 35 first places.
  • Podiums: Alain Prost, another of the team’s iconic figures, is the one who most often climbed the podium with these colors: there were 63 occasions.

In summary, right now, since Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull hold an almost unbeatable F1 domain, it seems unlikely that this giant can wake up in the short term. However, all fans will be hopeful that McLaren will develop more competitive cars to recover the brightness it once knew.

  • Lima, G. 13 de septiembre de 2017. En números: los triunfos y fracasos de McLaren-Honda y Alonso. Motorsport. https://lat.motorsport.com/F1/news/en-numeros-los-triunfos-y-fracasos-del-mclaren-honda-y-alonso-952583/1632079/
  • Campeonato Mundial de Constructores de Fórmula 1. Wikipedia. https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Campeonato_Mundial_de_Constructores_de_F%C3%B3rmula_1
  • McLaren F1 Team info & statistics. F1 Fansite. https://www.f1-fansite.com/f1-teams/mclaren/
  • Prieto, J. 15 de septiembre de 2017. 7 razones del fracaso McLaren-Honda: disección de un desastre. Top Gear. https://www.topgear.es/noticias/motorsport/fracaso-mclaren-honda-164964