2007 Team Review - McLaren 29 Nov 2007
2007 should have been McLarens year. With a world champion in one car and a talented rookie in the other, the disappointments of 2006 a distant memory and a new title sponsor, as the season opened the British team were confident they could clinch their first constructors crown in eight seasons.
And so they should have been, not least because the MP4-22 was not just fast but the class of the field during pre-season testing. Questions, however, did remain. Would Lewis Hamilton be up to the task? Would the young British debutant and Fernando Alonso get on? Would the car prove as reliable as it was quick?
As the season got underway it seemed that things were going McLarens way. Although former driver Kimi Raikkonen took victory for rivals Ferrari in Melbourne, Alonso matched it with a faultless drive in Malaysia. Even at this early stage, the title-fight was alive and kicking.
McLaren quickly seemed to have the edge, thanks in part to the natural talent of rookie Hamilton. While his team mate took the top step at Sepang, Hamilton was right behind, claiming his second podium in as many races and ensuring the team took maximum points. In Bahrain and Spain, he was the teams leading driver, clinching two further second-place finishes as Alonso faded slightly.
Clearly more than capable of challenging his team mate, Hamilton was fast becoming a potent force within McLaren. And as a result relations between the two team mates suffered. If it wasnt allegations of team orders in Monaco, it was the pit-lane incident in Budapest. Even though each confrontation was damaging, the team were still able to rack up victories, podiums and points, and going into the final third of the season the McLaren duo looked set to establish an insurmountable lead.
By that point, however, a greater threat to McLarens title charge was brewing off track. It was alleged that McLarens chief designer Mike Coughlan had taken possession of confidential Ferrari data over the winter from a disgruntled Nigel Stepney, and the ensuing legal storm hung over the team, as distracting as it was destructive.
On track, however, it had little effect on Alonsos and Hamiltons intense rivalry. Between them they accumulated eight wins and a further 16 podiums, ensuring both remained in contention for the drivers title until the final race in Brazil. By then, though, McLaren had already paid a high price for the spygate scandal, having been stripped of all of their constructors points and fined $100 million. The affair had also done little to help relations between the team and Alonso, evidence provided by the champion having proven vital in the case.
Following the FIAs judgement, McLaren focused all their efforts on the drivers crown, for one or the other of their drivers (they refused to favour either). But even in that they were to be thwarted by Ferrari, and Raikkonens impressive surge at the end of the season left McLaren sorely lacking in championship silverware. Not surprisingly, it was confirmed soon after that by mutual agreement Alonso would not be continuing with the team in 2008.
It would be hard to imagine a tougher season for such a successful team. Despite having what was almost certainly the quickest and most reliable car in the field, McLaren somehow came away from 2007 empty-handed.