Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button’s struggles in Canada made public the problems McLaren currently have with their underpowered, unreliable Honda engine.
“I don’t want, I don’t want. I have really big problems now, driving with these and looking like amateurs,” claimed Alonso after the Woking squad asked him to conserve fuel in his thirsty and slow MP4-30.
Yet, whilst their power unit failures are abundantly clear, arguably their biggest issue lies in their own staff.
Whilst McLaren languish second bottom of the constructors’ championship with a mere four points, their young Belgian protégé Stoffel Vandoorne continues to set the benchmark in what is becoming a very one sided GP2 championship.
Many would be forgiven believing that the feeder series would be fought out exclusively by the reigning champions DAMS. The French squad sent a stern message to the whole of GP2 by recruiting the 2014 GP3 champion Alex Lynn and Red Bull’s academy driver Piere Gasly, who ran Carlos Sainz close to the title in his one and only season in Formula Renault 3.5.
However, it is Vandoorne who sits top of the drivers’ standings, claiming three wins out of a possible six.
The Belgian’s success to date in this year’s GP2 championship is no fluke. In 2013, he ran his McLaren colleague Kevin Magnussen close to the Formula Renault 3.5 championship in what became an audition for the 2014 McLaren seat alongside Button. Last year, he claimed four wins on his way to second in his maiden GP2 series behind Jolyon Palmer, who was in his fourth term.
Vandoorne’s statistics do not, however, tell the whole story of his talent. His performance in the blisteringly hot Bahrain was phenomenal, taking the feature race win overtaking Alexander Rossi on the penultimate lap, before coming close to an unlikely sprint race victory.
Stoffel Vandoorne, Bahrain 2015 (© GP2 Media)
Taking a double victory in one weekend is almost impossible in GP2. Only seven drivers have managed such a feat, among those are Lewis Hamilton (twice), Nico Rosberg, Nico Hulkenberg & Nelson Piquet Jr. Despite the unlikely odds, Vandoorne fought his way through to finish second behind Rio Harayanto.
The 23-year old seems ready to take to the big stage and make an impact in Formula 1. However, with McLaren’s commitment to Alonso and Button, the team could be set to miss out on a future world champion.
Button seems to be the likely man to step-aside should Vandoorne be promoted to F1, however with the Brit signing a two-year deal with the Woking squad, other top teams may try to steal Vandoorne from under McLaren’s nose.
Whilst the Belgian stakes his claim for a F1 seat, McLaren still have the issue of finding a seat for their former race and current reserve driver Magnussen.
McLaren Group’s CEO Ron Dennis recently called upon Danish businesses to place their backing behind Magnussen to help him find a seat in the sport.
“From my professional capacity he is worth the investment,” Dennis has been quoted by Dansh newspaper Ekstra Bladet.
Kevin Magnussen, Australia 2015 (© McLaren)
“Putting it into perspective, we are spending £200 million ($305m) a year going Formula 1 motor racing. To make a difference to this guy is a fraction of that, it’s a percentage of that to differentiate him from the other opportunities that face teams such as ours.
“So if you want him to win faster, if you want him to be a world champion fast, then feel patriotic and realize you have an opportunity to make a Danish hero and then we will facilitate that over the course of the next few months.”
Dennis may feel obligated to help find Magnussen another seat in F1, bearing in mind the Dane did little wrong in his maiden championship campaign, only to be shoved out by the incoming two-time world champion Alonso.
With four fully qualified F1 drivers on their books, McLaren face the same dilemma as Red Bull had whilst Mark Webber partnered Sebastian Vettel. The Australian could more than hold his own at the top of motorsport, however drivers such as Daniel Riccardo, Jean-Eric Vergne, Carlos Sainz and Sebastian Buemi all stacked a valid claim for his seat alongside the four-time world champion.
Red Bull’s cause is aided by Scuderia Toro Rosso, the sister team, who harvest the talent of the energy drinks company drivers before disposing of or promoting them to the Milton Keynes’ based squad. McLaren’s only option of a similar nature is to loan their drivers to other feeder series, with ART looking after Vandoorne and Nick de Vries with DAMS in Formula Renault 3.5.
The fight for seats in F1 is a vicious and extremely competitive one, with seats at the top table few and far between. Outside of the title contenders, most teams look to drivers who can bring a budget with them to aid their own finances. However, McLaren have the budget and the infrastructure to fight for the biggest prize in world motorsport but they just need to decide quickly who the best man to take them there is.