A tale of two teams

Clearly the hope is that the winter of despair will deliver the spring of hope. The first winter test for McLaren has not gone as well as they would have hoped but optimism lingers as the team have two new elements to get excited about.

The first is a brand new engine supplier as Honda returns to Formula1 and the second is also a returning character in the form of 2-time world champion, Fernando Alonso. The return of Honda is a big boost for McLaren and ultimately places the nail in the coffin of the tie-up between Mercedes and the Woking-based team as that relationship fell from grace back in 2009 when Ross Brawn lured the German marque into F1 as, eventually, a works team.

For Alonso, the return is a bit more residue bearing in nature. The former McLaren driver left the team amidst a firestorm of controversy for their role in the Spygate saga and the coming of Lewis Hamilton that same year (2007). His return has raised eyebrows and prompted questions of how the team and the driver could work together again having the bad blood of the past. For team boss Ron Dennis, the answer is simple:

“Everyone has moved on and certainly I am mellower. I think Fernando is more mature.”

A more mellow Ron Dennis and a more mature Alonso means the two could put their past behind them and soldier on in the quest to win again with a new engine to shove the car and relationship along. Alonso will team with fellow driver and world champion, Jenson Button, and is approaching the relationship on equal footing:

“I can promise you one thing with Fernando – he never even asked [for number one status]. In fact the opposite. Total opposite,” he said.

“He said ‘equality, I accept equality’. He has never asked for a single thing to be inserted in the contract.”

The fact is, McLaren and Alonso are facing a very similar challenge as Ferrari who also has come off a miserable year in 2014. The team was the beneficiary of Alonso’s epic driving talent that flattered the car but still couldn’t manage a season worth discussing in context to who they are and the footprint they have on motor sport.

If you consider Alonso’s leaving Ferrari for a team that will now field a car with an unproven engine, you would be forgiven for asking, “why not stay at Ferrari, at least they have a season under their belt with their engine and surely were making the right moves to improve having fired much of the leadership?”

Alonso left and Ferrari have now signed 4-time world champion Sebastian Vettel to replace him. For Ferrari, the first test looked promising logging 347 laps to McLaren’s 79. Ferrari set the pace but in testing, pace is never truly revealed until qualifying in Australia for the first grand prix of the season.

What we do have here is an interesting juxtaposition with Alonso heading a team trying to recover and Vettel taking Alonso’s seat to lead a team trying to recover. The two teams have been in the heat of competition for decades and it was Ferrari’s technical manuals that were stolen by McLaren that landed the team in hot water and offered the backdrop by which Alonso and McLaren fell from grace.

I will be very intrigued to see what McLaren and Ferrari can do against each other given their drivers and stories are closely tied together. Can Vettel take Ferrari where Alonso was hoping it would go? Can Alonso bury the past and take McLaren back to where they should be? Time will tell but:

“in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only”.


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