Formula 1 expert Martin Brundle fears McLaren could have a repeat of its lacklustre 1994 season on its hands if the team can’t overcome reliability woes.
Early indications are that the MCL60 is not as competitive as its MCL36 predecessor.
In pre-season testing, the team completed just 312 laps. McLaren were bogged down by gremlins, including gluing its wheel fairings. AlphaTauri, by contrast, completed 456 laps.
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The season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix saw Oscar Piastri fail to finish due to an electrical issue while teammate Lando Norris suffered pneumatic dramas and finished 17th.
Brundle contested just one troubled season with McLaren in 1994 and he fears 2023 has similar hallmarks already.
The 1994 season was as topsy-turvy as they come. McLaren enjoyed some success, including six podiums for lead driver Mika Hakkinen of Finland.
The Peugeot V10-powered MP4/9 was an otherwise unreliable car. Hakkinen failed to finish seven grands prix while teammate Brundle was not classified nine times.
In the grand prix where Frenchman Philippe Alliot replaced the suspended Hakkinen, he also failed to finish.
Between the pair, McLaren suffered five double DNFs that season.
So far, the MCL60 appears both uncompetitive and unreliable, making the remaining 22 grands prix to come a hard slog for Norris and Piastri according to Brundle.
“McLaren, at the moment, is all about potential – when we get the wind tunnel, we went the wrong way over the winter, when we get the new upgrade in Baku – and there is a team that needs to find double the normal amount from an upgrade and that’s a tall order. They think they know where that is,” Brundle told the Sky Sports F1 podcast.
“To have a slow car in Formula 1 is one thing, especially for McLaren, to have an unreliable one – and I’m having déjà vu in 1994 here – but to have an unreliable and slow McLaren is a terrible thing. They need to get that sorted out in a hurry. (Bad) reliability just shouldn’t happen these days. Let’s hope they have a better weekend in Saudi Arabia.”
With Red Bull by far and away the best team in Formula 1 at the moment, many drivers are scratching their heads.
The new-for-2022 regulations saw a momentum shift as Red Bull and Ferrari leapfrogged Mercedes.
McLaren continues its year-on-year downward trend. Having been third in 2020, the team dropped to fourth in 2021 and then fifth in 2022.
Albeit winless to date, Norris is touted as a champion of the future. However, he finds himself locked into a contract with McLaren through to the end of 2025.
“I’m seeing a few traits in Lando’s career in my own career,” said Brundle.
“Being so close to winning races and then lucking out or just making a mistake or whatever. He could have won three on the bounce, 2021 wasn’t it, he could have won three on the bounce with a bit of luck and a following wind, but he didn’t. He’s clearly a star of the future.
“I want all 10 teams up there challenging for the lead, that’s my dream, so I don’t like to see McLaren struggling,” Brundle added.
“Lando, yeah he’s got time on his side, but the years start slipping past and he will be asking the same questions as George (Russell), as Lewis (Hamilton), as Charles (Leclerc) – what are we doing about this? Tell me how you’re going to close the gap to Red Bull and who’s going to do that and why. Where are the resources coming from? How does the cost cap affect his?
“It’s a reasonable question from a driver. I think if he doesn’t get the right answers, at a suitable point, if he can jump into what looks like a race- or championship-winning car, then he’ll have to take it.”
Formula 1 heads to Saudi Arabia for its second round on March 18-20 at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit.
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