Does McLaren's approach make them their own worst enemy?


Staff Member
A lot has been written recently about how McLaren are going to come away empty handed for another season when arguably they had a very good chance of winning both championships.

Indeed, they have only won one WDC in recent memory (only just) and are in danger of finishing fourth in the WCC behind Lotus this year.

So, is it McLaren's overall approach to F1 and their philosophy which is stopping them from fulfilling their potential? Or are they just going through a prolonged bad patch?

Much has been said about the infamous MTC and how it has won design awards. So what?
A well designed building and grounds doesn't contribute much to race winning cars (although it may make it a pleasant place to work and improve work flow).
Nothing is ever said about the respective work environments of Red Bull and Ferrari and yet they seem to manage fine. In fact, before mid season testing was cancelled, Ferrari decided that a private test track was far more important than a shiny building - and that paid dividends.

McLaren were recently recertified with the Carbon Trust Standard for ongoing commitment to carbon reduction.
Again, irrelevant. While they are fannying about pleasing the green lobby, Red Bull and Ferrari meanwhile are getting on with the business of designing and testing race winning cars. Recent reports suggest Ferrari were running multiple wind tunnels during the enforced break, not something one can ever imagine McLaren doing, for various reasons.

Which brings me to the RRA. McLaren are very fastidious in making sure they abide by all the rules of FOTA, to the letter. Red Bull and Ferrari have dropped out of FOTA and are therefore not bound by the same rules. In fact, Red Bull apparently even use subsidiary companies, which are owned by Red Bull's parent company, for certain work, which means they can purchase goods and services for much reduced prices, which of course is completely against the "spirit" of the RRA.

Then of course there's the infamous equal driver policy, which arguably has lost McLaren at least one title in recent years, and possibly more. Ferrari and Red Bull have no such qualms about throwing all of their resources behind one driver, with predictable results.

Lately, McLaren have become obsessed with getting the fastest pit stops in the belief that .1 second saved in a pit stop is more important than reliability. Get the basics right before trying to refine minor aspects of a race.

Lastly, McLaren seem unwilling or unable to deviate from their carefully safe computer controlled plan, to the detriment of many races; this year's stepped nose being a case in point. Martin Whitmarsh said recently that there is a "risk averse" culture at McLaren, and that shows. Whereas Ferrari and Red Bull seem to be able to make decisions on the fly, Vettel's change of set up at Abu Dhabi for example, McLaren doggedly stick to the plan, throwing away wins and opportunities.

So, do McLaren need to change and become more like Red Bull and Ferrari if they once again want to start winning titles?

Or do they carry on with their unique approach and philosophy, in the hope that one day they will hit the sweet spot and return to their former winning ways?
Well, a $100 Million fine would probably make most companies risk averse for a good few years at least. I would say they want to stick to the RRA due to this more than anything else. Also the fact that if McLaren do anything, it is questioned by evryone and picked apart in micro detail, whereas if Ferrari or Red Bull do the same, it is allowed to slide. If the video of the nose bending on the Red Bull had been a McLaren, all hell would have broken loose by now.

Unfortunately, this seems to have bread a culture at McLaren which is not entirely healthy, but understandable. Hopefully, this will change in the next year or two, especially now that the most controversial driver in the sport is moving to another team ( Don't flame me for that comment, doesn't matter why and I don't think he should be, but the fact is, he is for some reason ). Maybe the spotlight will be off McLaren next year or 2014 and they will come back around to their old form.
Before this thread turns into yet another one about Hamilton, I'd like to keep the focus on McLaren the team and their approach to F1 as a whole.

Edit: That was in response to a post above which has since been deleted by the author.
Their long-term results show they are undeniably doing SOMETHING right. They usually produce one of the two best cars on the grid, and, even in 2009 they finished 3rd in the WCC (ahead of Ferrari). That doesn't seem too shabby to me. A little fine-tuning may be in order, but a dramatic overhaul could well prove disasterous.

Their condition rather reminds me of Williams vs Benetton in 1994 and 1995. It was said the former was an engineering team and the latter was a race team. A subtle but crucial difference.
I think that there may be some parallels with Apple going on here.

Apple, under the stewardship of Steve Jobs, became the most valuable company in the world (whether you like the product or not!) The vision, and creativity of the company was driven from the top, and the company was controlled very strongly in Job's own image, hence the product produced was high quality, and highly integrated. Now he has sadly passed away, it is left to those in charge to make the choice whether to carry on in the same vein, or make changes. Change is a risky strategy, especially change from such a successful formula, and a change could lead to a period of instability.

Ron Dennis is a fastidious man, who demands perfection. It stands to reason that this is filtered through his organisation, which, may have been effective whilst he was in charge, but not really sustainable when he stepped back. Further, as he still has a large presence, there is a possibility that there are the challenges of making changes, whilst still adhering to existing ways of working, this is dangerous.

The image and Brand of McLaren is built around the way Ron managed the company, and that is fairly obvious, in the clean and precise image that is portrayed, but the focus in this day and age needs to be about more than a clean car.

So, in short, I believe that McLarens approach is not correct, whilst Ron is not in the driving seat, yet the flexibility needs to be present for the team to make the necessary changes with a minimum of pain. I believe that it is the change which the team are finding painful, along with the fear of failure making failure more likely.
The Pits
I think there may be something in what you say - however, I would place some of the issues that McLaren have squarely on the shoulders of Ron Dennis' fastidious regime!

The things that people like to criticise McLaren for are being over-reliant on strict structures (And believing the computer too much) -yet this is Ron's mantra. In fact McLaren were already in decline by the early 1990s, and have really just had 2 indian summers ('98-'99, '07-'08) that have brought memories back to the mid '80s where they were the dominant force in F1!

Do I think that they have fallen a long way? No! - They are still the team that they were.

Do I think the players are in place to turn things around - Yes!

Look at Sam Michael. At the start of the season he was being ridiculed because of errors with McLaren's pit stops. Yet he has now worked to make McLaren the FASTEST pit stoppers in the pitlane! Change is slow in F1, but hopefully everything is now in place!
Change is only slow in F1 when there is the constant shadow of a former principal. If RD relinquished control (entirely) and let MW get on with it (in his own way) there may be a turn round.

We all seem to agree that the car is better than good, so there must be something wrong in the strategy and approach!

Whilst I agree with you in a way, I also would point at other evidence, such as Ferrari (in the 1980s-90s), Honda (When Ross Brawn joined), Red Bull (when Newey joined) - all of these have been cases where change has only come in increments - Things have improved at McLaren, but remember that the night is often darkest just before the dawn!
It seems to me that teams go through good times and they go through bad times take a look at Ferrari in the early 90's a team that has won 16 WCC's twice as many as McLaren and even they drift off into obscurity now and then. the ebb and flow of success in motor racing is nothing new if you take Williams they have scored 9 WCC's one more than McLaren and yet have had very little success in the last 15 years, at present Red Bull are in the ascendency but no doubt it will not last forever, if there is one thing I can put my finger on that links Williams, McLaren and Red Bull's success it isn't drivers it isn't team policy and it isn't team principles it is just one thing and that thing is a man simply put it is Adrian Newey, if Newey ever decided to go to Ferrari, Red Bull would fade and the rest of the grid had better watch out because Ferrari would be unstoppable...
Newey and Byrne are very close that is true but I think Newey for me just pips it and that argument would make a very interesting thread all on its own....


I wonder what they could achieve if they worked together....
I think part of McLaren's problem is that they are handcuffed by their need for corporate image they have to spend resources on that image as Brogan said the carbon clean image and that stupid McLaren Tooned thing just to give an example, they most probably do not want to do this but they are a high end team with high end costs who are micro-scrutinised if and when they fail to deliver and so have no choice but to do so...
From MW's recent comments it seems the conservatism derives in part from their long-term commercial arrangements. In this context, taking a more risk-loving approach to car development and organisation might lead to disqualifications that would harm their financial security. So does what you gain outweigh what you potentially lose? A secure budget isn't a goal in itself but a strong foundation of any sustained success nonetheless.

Of course, several of their problems are nothing to do with this, and they don't have valid excuses. From this distance I can't speculate on what the causes are, or what the solutions might be.
I think it's been touched on in some of the comments above but I. Have to say that in the modern world of F1 the pri,ery focus appears to be on making money.

at the end of the day McLaren are a buisness and the fact they can still turn a profit and not win either title should tell us all we need to know. Thats why they have the award winning MTC and the low carbon stuff etc etc.

of course Ferari and RED bull are also in it to make money but they have other outlets wheere as McLaren have a very narrow window in which to make their money.

it should give you an idea of the amount of money in the team when you think they can actually survuve a 100 million doller fine and still go on to produce a championshup contending car and pay for two top drivers.
Speaking of the business side of things, believe it or not but McLaren were able to successfully argue that the fine was a business expense and therefore tax deductible...
From the Ron Dennis thread, which I think answers the OP's question perfectly.

I’ve seen people come and go at McLaren, some good people, but who simply couldn't work under the conditions and expectations Ron enforces. I don’t mean it to sound like a far eastern sweatshop, because it’s obviously far from that, but Ron strives for perfection in every area of his life and demands the same from every single one of his employees. You may think that’s how things should be at a Formula One team, but I’m talking perfection on a molecular scale. Perfection on a scale where, at times, you can spend more time cleaning away and straightening items on your desk, or wiping down the work benches, than actually working on anything productive like designing or building Formula One cars.
Yes Ron Dennis is responsible for short fuelling cars or slow pitstops or an engineer's inability to give honest and reliable feedback on car components. Let's talk about McLaren the racing team, not the organisation. The idea that Ron's presence is hampering them in any way lacks basis. Let's not forget Whitmarsh has implemented signifcant changes in the way they operate and go racing and some of it has had a negative impact and taken away their cutting edge.
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