McLaren-Renault: The Problems Continue, but Why?

The newly formed McLaren-Renault team experienced five major breakdowns during pre-season testing.

All eight days of Formula 1’s winter testing are now complete, and while teams like Ferrari, Mercedes-AMG, and Red Bull made headlines for their scorching lap times around the Circuit de Catalunya, McLaren-Renault was touted as the class clown of pre-season testing.

The Papaya Orange outfit began its testing campaign with a major blunder that’d only be justifiable of a rookie IndyCar team, certainly not of a top-tier Formula 1 outfit. With just six laps under his belt, Fernando Alonso ended up in the gravel after a spectacular spin due to a loose rear wheel. Similar “WTF?” kind of mistakes plagued the team including dropping the car off the jack during a pit stop, and not being able to attach tires properly, or even on the right side, as this video shows.

It wasn’t just Alonso who suffered problems in Spain as Stoffel Vandoorne’s track time was considerably reduced due to the amount of time the car had to spend in the garage being repaired. Vandoorne suffered from two mechanical failures on Tuesday which forced him to sit on the sidelines and watch as most of the field got on with the program. Red Bull, Renault’s other customer team, suffered from battery-related issues which Renault denied also affected McLaren.

“The issues that we’ve had I don’t think have any relationship to the installation of the battery at all,” said Renault chief technical officer Bob Bell. “We (the works team) haven’t had any problem, but what we do ahead of Melbourne is that we try and shakedown all of the battery systems to make sure all of the stock that is going racing is in good shape.”

Despite having to replace several engines in just eight days, racing director Eric Boullier described all the problems as “minor issues”, adding: “Very quickly we are going to get back to normal.”

At the end of the day, it begs to ask the question: with Honda out of the picture, who or what’s to blame for McLaren’s silly mistakes and explosive unreliability? Is it McLaren’s culture, the need to involve shareholders in every decision the team has to make, team bosses? Or are recent issues merely growing pains?