McLaren- Renault Partnership is eagerly anticipated by one and all in Formula 1 in 2018. When McLaren announced their impending divorce with Honda and the upcoming partnership with Renault power in the latter half of the 2017 season, they ensured another year of commitment from their star driver – Fernando Alonso. They also ensured a collective sigh of relief from a jittery group of sponsors, investors and stakeholders of the team and their world-wide fan base. (New Engine Deal: http://lastwordonmotorsport.com/2017/09/15/mclaren-renault-confirm-new-engine-deal/)
But, will the partnership with Renault engines bring back the much-expected success to the Woking-based squad? Let us analyze…
McLaren-Renault Partnership: Will it work in 2018?
On the face of it, both McLaren and Renault have been among the most successful names in Formula 1, and so their partnership should also ideally be successful. Interestingly, so was the case with McLaren and Honda, the two marquee names had one of the most dominantly successful partnerships in the late 80’s and early 90’s. But what we saw in the troublesome last three years was a disastrous time together.
As any old F1 aficionado would vouch, the ever-changing and complex world of Formula 1 ensures that no one can afford to rest on their laurels. The case for McLaren and Renault becomes even more complex as Renault has its own works team and another demanding customer team in Red Bull Racing to cater to.
Three disastrous years with Honda
The team that Bruce McLaren founded at Woking and Ron Dennis took to exalted heights, is not a team that is here just to make up the numbers. The team thrives on success, which has eluded them for too long now, especially since the start of their partnership with Honda. They had roped in arguably the “most complete” driver of his generation – Fernando Alonso – to lead them to their next championship dream with Honda.
But, the dream came crashing down in three years, while Alonso himself subtly hinted at leaving them for good if they continued their partnership with Honda. So, in effect, McLaren were ready to dump Honda and to look for any engine supplier who was ready to supply them the power unit deserving to sit inside their self-touted good chassis.
McLaren last won a drivers’ championship in 2008 with Lewis Hamilton and have since had only intermittent race wins with Mercedes engines powering their chassis until 2014. But since partnering with Honda in 2015, they have wasted three prime years of a pre-eminent driver like Alonso. They have also fallen dramatically in the pecking order in terms of their attractiveness to prospective new sponsors.
The pressure is on McLaren
In Peter Prodromou and Tim Goss on the technical side, Eric Boullier on the racing side, Jonathan Neale on the operations side and Zak Brown on the business side, McLaren has the necessary wherewithal to bring their car closer to the front of the grid in 2018. But with the acrimonious exit of the charismatic Ron Dennis, the elusive X-factor to take on the likes of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull Racing team might be hard to find.
The onus is on Renault power
Though Renault has a long history of success in Formula 1, they have had a relatively barren last few years in terms of championship success, especially since the start of the turbo-hybrid era from 2014. Their most recent title success has been their partnership with the Red Bull Racing team which delivered four back-to-back constructors’ and drivers’ championships (2010-2013). These titles catapulted Sebastian Vettel to an all-time great status. The Red Bull team are now among the perennial front-runners in F1.
It is another story that the relationship between Red Bull and Renault has progressively soured in recent times due to lack of power and reliability of Renault engines vis-à-vis the Mercedes and Ferrari engines. It is in this aspect that the new Renault-McLaren partnership has to make the greatest improvements to meet the immensely high expectations from both the stakeholders and the fans.
It is worthy to note here that though Renault has delivered a better engine than Honda in the last three years, they are still a few horsepowers behind the engines produced by Mercedes and Ferrari, both in terms of power (which has progressively increased) and reliability (which is still a bit up and down). McLaren can definitely hope to challenge Red Bull, Force India, Renault and Williams teams in 2018, but might find it hard to be on equal terms with Mercedes and Ferrari.
The drivers have to deliver
On the driver front, there is less to worry about with a highly rated Stoffel Vandoorne in their stables alongside the legendary Fernando Alonso. Alonso will be expected to take the challenge head-on at the front from the first race itself. Vandoorne would do well to up his game for the new season as the pressure to perform will now be greater than what was there in the last season.
It is also worthy to note that even though Fernando Alonso has a big reputation to live up to, the relative newcomers in Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen at Red Bull have also grown in stature in the last few years. So both Alonso and Vandoorne should not expect an easy passage to the podium in the upcoming season. The works Renault team drivers – Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz – are also no pushovers, and so neither an inch will be given nor expected to be taken without a fight.
A lot to look forward to
All in all, the chassis-engine dynamics notwithstanding, there is a lot to look forward to for the McLaren-Renault partnership in 2018 and beyond. From the absolute abyss that McLaren has fallen into in the last three years, there can only be one way ahead, that is forward! They can intermittently challenge for a handful of podiums in 2018 and can realistically target for third or fourth place in the championship. Only the genius of Alonso can let them dream of anything more. Formula 1 needs the new partnership to work and McLaren back in front as much as the fans and stakeholders.
Embed from Getty Images