Vodafone McLaren-Mercedes MP4-23
By: Jeremy McMullen
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By: Jeremy McMullen
| After everything, they should have painted it red and adorned it with a horse rearing up into the air. Then it would have been seen whether people had a sense of humor.
Last year was filled with controversy, a level greater than that of the era when Prost and Senna were teammates if that were possible. Things looked very promising and very quickly began to unravel into utter turmoil. After a winless 2006 season for McLaren (which was the first time in over a decade that happened), things were looking brighter. Gone were both Raikkonen and Montoya who just could not unify the team and make the car better. McLaren was able to secure Fernando Alonso, the two-time and reigning world champion. And oh yeah…there was this other driver named Lewis Hamilton. Yes, this Lewis guy may be an unknown, but the team still had Alonso. And yet, things changed...fast.
Initially it all looked good. Despite the dominant win by Raikkonen in Melbourne, Alonso was able to come home second with Hamilton amazingly following in short order. Hamilton kept pace with Alonso, in fact outpaced Fernando many times. But this competitiveness should have been a warning sign to the team. Soon frustrations toward the new hotshot began to well up within the reigning world champion. Alonso began to feel slighted by the team. It seemed the number one was being treated the same as number one hundred and one. And then there was 'spygate'. Those technical Ferrari team files found on a McLaren-Mercedes team computer signaled McLaren's end in the fight for the Constructors championship, but not the Drivers'. Despite all these distractions, McLaren-Mercedes reemerged from the grave.
The MP4-22 appeared bullet-proof and very competitive. Each driver only suffered one DNF apiece and those were the result of driver error and not a mechanical problem with the car. The team would also go on to grab eight poles out of the possible seventeen races. But after the many disagreements between Alonso and Ron Dennis, the pure frustration within the team, and then finally the disqualification of the team from the Constructors title chase, it seemed as though the wheels were coming off of the proverbial wagon. But the really interesting thing about all of this is that all of these struggles really had nothing to do with the car; nothing at all.
The MP4-22 of a year ago was probably the most radical of any car on the grid. The McLaren chassis was adorned with more sculpted curves, winglets and turning vanes than most experimental aircraft. Truly, only the aerodynamicist could have looked at and loved the MP4-22. And yet, it captured the eye. But of course, more importantly, it worked. The car was quick, stable and reliable. There then was at least a good foundation in which to build upon for 2008. However, that foundation has been rocked again, but by the new FIA regulations (see Ferrari F2008 article).
These changes have literally altered the approach every team has had to take in the design of their car. And while many of these new rule changes have impacted what's found under the skin of these Formula One cars, the McLaren-Mercedes design team went to work redesigning the outside of the car in an attempt to counter the effect of the loss of many of the electronic aids that helped make last year's MP4-22 such a great car.
The lawsuit and the subsequent disqualification from the Constructors championship race must have hurt McLaren-Mercedes financially as this year's launch was much more low-key than the kingly ordination that occurred last year in the streets of Valencia, Spain. Of course, gone from the team is the king of Spain—Fernando Alonso.