5th September 2012.
It was an unusually warm, sunny Monday at the McLaren Technology Centre. The sun glistened off the water in the picturesque lake encompassing the beautiful surroundings. It was a good day, for a good reason. McLaren were victors of the last three races. Hungary, Spa and Monza were all won with increasing dominance. At the heart of this achievement was the MP4-27. After receiving harsh criticism from its world champion drivers at his home race, he had developed into a race winning beast over the summer break. Gone was the early season uncertainty and a period of seemingly McLaren dominance loomed.
The MP4-27 was quite understandably quite chuffed with himself. He epitomised the ‘never give up’ attitude that characterised McLaren. During the tough times, he look heart from the trials and tribulations of his 2009 brother and vowed to be back at the sharp end, fighting for Santander shaped silverware.
Today he was in Martin Whitmarsh’s pristine office expecting a glowing performance review. Paddy Lowe was there as well, presumably about to tell him about about the juicy upgrades planned for him for the next, Asian leg of races. He expected to be lauded and praised. After all, he was the standout performer. No McLaren since the championship winning 2008 old spec MP4-23 had won three races in a row. He was the best McLaren of the new breed of 2009 spec cars and had finally quenched the Red Bull dominance that plagued the sport. He was a proud man, and righty so. He was even silently hoping to secure a better parking spot in the factory, perhaps next to the MP4-4.
“Thanks a lot for being here today, I know Monza was just yesterday.” Martin started. “Of course, no worries, I’ve got a bit of a break before I pack off to Singapore and thought it’ll be a good idea to come back to the factory and personally thank all the team members who’ve made me that I am”, he replied courteously. Martin and Paddy nodded in agreement, “It’s been quite the turn around from Silverstone hasn’t it? That’s what we’re all about here at McLaren, fighting and never giving up!”
After a hearty chat about the emotional journey of the last few months, Martin steered the conversation to an unexpected avenue. “Yes, well… The topic for today is next years car. I know things are looking good for this year now but as you know, we always need to plan ahead…” “Of course! I can’t wait to see what you all have planned for me! Can you please sort out some snazzy double DRS system like the one that Lotus ran at Spa?” the MP4-27 excitedly interjected. He was now firing on all cylinders.
Paddy and Martin exchanged a forlorn look. With a solem tone, Martin slowly said, “About that… I’m sorry, but there is no easy way to say this… We’ve decided it be best if we try something new for 2013″. An eerily silence followed. He was stunned. Never in his worst nightmares, not even after his performances in Valencia, did the MP4-27 imagine this scenario. This was no celebratory meeting. He was being laid off.
“Why??” He inquired in a low voice, struggling to get in grips with the situation at hand. Paddy empathic ally explained, “To be completely honest, it’s nothing about you right now. You’re a brilliant car. You’ve been the best we’ve built for a while. But it’s all about looking forward. Our engineers predict that you’ll reach your development saturation point sometime near Barcelona next year. Then it’ll be a massive struggle to keep improving and upgrading you to stay at the front of the pack. We want to save you, and save us from the pain of slipping back again.”
MP4-27: “Harder to develop? But isn’t that a struggle all other teams will face? I mean every Red Bull has been just a focused evolution of the car that came before, from the RB5 and look at where that’s gotten them!”
Paddy: “You know how this works… We like to take risks here”
MP4-27: “What can the new car have that I don’t have? What can’t you just add to me to make me even faster? Change my whole rear suspension if you have to. Change the sidepods to those wild L shaped ones from last year. Give me a nose job and raise my front wing height. You can get plenty of new avenues!”
Paddy: “Well… There is this new front pull rod suspension idea we’ve been dying to give a go. We reckon it can get us at least 5 additional points of front downforce…”
MP4-27: “Front pull rod suspension?! You mean the one that shed of a car the Ferrari F2012 has?!”
Paddy: “We reckon we can do a much better job”
The debate raged for another hour. Martin just observed silently, still not fully sure if he’d made the right call. He new the ’27 was a fighter, and a great car. But it’s all about the future. It’s about making big calls and taking risks. That, is Formula One. He had just made another brave call the weekend before, signing up Sergio Perez to replace Hamilton.
The MP4-27 was distraught for weeks after this news was broken to him. So much so, he retired from the lead at the next race and then seeded dominance back to those charging Bull. Vettel made it look like 2011 again with 4 consecutive wins. However, he wasn’t going to slowly fade into the history books. He won the last two races and once again demonstrated his pace. He turned out to be, on average, the fastest car of 2012. He left setting a high bar for the all-new MP4-28.
Only McLaren could have made the decision to scrap the fastest car of last season and replace it with an all new concept. Especially so in a year in which every other team decided to simply focus, refine and address the shortcomings of their previous car.
As the MP4-28 takes to qualifying tomorrow morning seemingly out of pace, spare a thought for the MP4-27. He was a good car. He reckons he deserved better. Only time will tell if McLaren made the right call. Is it worth developing a new concept when you had a great base to work with and have a big revolution in technical regulations coming up in 2014?