2006 Team Review - McLaren 22 Nov 2006
After just missing out to Renault in 2005, McLaren were among the firm favourites for the title in 2006. The team boasted a new multi-million pound headquarters, seasoned drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Kimi Raikkonen, and, despite the departure of Adrian Newey, a new car designed by the technical wunderkind.
But whilst the MP4-21 was fast in pre-season testing, the new Mercedes V8 appeared less than convincing. Its questionable reliability forced the team to also continue testing with the previous seasons V10, thus reducing the time the new package spent on track.
Nevertheless, McLarens first outing in Bahrain showed promise, even if Raikkonens qualifying was ruined by a suspension failure. Opting to run with heavy fuel loads, the Finn and Montoya finished third and fifth respectively, clocking some pretty competitive lap times along the way.
In general, however, that pace seemed to desert them in qualifying, leaving the team with too much to do come the race. Raikkonens fourth place on the grid in Australia was the best McLaren could muster from the opening six events. They also started to struggle to equal the race pace of the Ferraris and Renaults. At the Spanish Grand Prix it became clear that McLarens performance had dropped significantly from 2005 - in a race where last year they had won from pole, they scored just four points.
Six rounds down and McLaren found themselves a distant third in the standings and languishing 36 points behind Renault, their title challenge apparently over before it had even begun. Raikkonen continued to outpace Montoya in qualifying and out class him under race conditions, but never came close to winning a Grand Prix. In Indianapolis, a first-lap incident between the pair resulted in a double DNF. Shortly afterwards came the shock announcement that Montoya was quitting the team to switch to NASCAR.
Third driver Pedro de la Rosa stepped into the Colombians vacant seat and McLaren faced the second half of the season with renewed vigour. A new front wing in Germany improved their pace significantly and Raikkonen scored his first podium in three races. However, De la Rosas early retirement due to a fuel pump failure showed McLaren still hadnt entirely solved their reliability issues.
A race later and their form continued to improve. A second pole for Raikkonen in Hungary could easily have been converted into a win, had the Finn not run into the rear of Vitantonio Liuzzis Toro Rosso. As it was the team were well satisfied with Pedro de la Rosas second place - the Spaniards first-ever podium.
But despite scoring a further pole and podium placing in Italy - where Raikkonens move to Ferrari for 2007 was confirmed - McLaren ended the season without a win for the first time in a decade. Accruing 72 points less than they had a year earlier and ending the season a distant third in the standings, McLaren could only be disappointed.
More 2006 team reviews - Renault, Ferrari, Honda, BMW Sauber, Toyota, Red Bull, Williams, Toro Rosso, Spyker MF1 and Super Aguri.