Languishing ninth in the Formula 1 Constructor’s championship with just 27 points underlines the season of woe that McLaren have experienced in 2015.
What has made the season even more disappointing for the Woking-based squad was the sense of anticipation, with the return of Honda and two-time world champion Fernando Alonso.
Yet, despite acceptance after initial winter testing that there was plenty of work to be done, McLaren and Honda butted heads, with both Jenson Button and Alonso coming within a whisker of departing for pastures new.
Disaster would be the best word to explain the 2015 F1 season for McLaren.
However, amidst the clear lack in horse power and poor reliability, shoots of optimism have begun to appear amongst the team.
“McLaren will be one of the top cars next year, that is 100 per cent,” Alonso recently told Sky Sports F1.
“The problems are identified and quite local, let’s say, on the engine side and also on the car side.
“Aerodynamically we have to improve a couple of things but the direction is clearly a good one. Mechanically there are some updates coming to improve the mechanical grip and reliability because we had a little bit too many retirements that we need to fix as well.
“All the problems are understood, but the solutions are unfortunately sometimes taking a little bit of time. Winter will be the best time to put in place this progress.”
Whilst McLaren do have a mountain to climb before they can accurately predict they will be challenging the frontrunners in 2016, the foundations for a quick return to form are already well in place.
Firstly, as Alonso’s comments reveal, there appears to be an acceptance between both Honda and McLaren where the problems are in the MP4-30. Tightly packed aerodynamics with “size zero” sidepods have done little to help Honda’s return to an F1 which is engine dominated.
McLaren have admitted that there is a new focus on design and set-up to their F1 contenders, taking a more widely copied route of allowing space for a larger power-unit and running more rake on the car to force the nose lower to the ground.
With McLaren seemingly beginning to understand what is required from the car aerodynamically, under the leadership of former Red Bull designer Peter Prodromou, Honda have also expressed their optimism that their power-unit can catch up to its rivals.
Can Honda turn their fortunes around? © McLaren
“A car 2.5 seconds faster than us already exists, so in that sense it isn’t a miracle. You can do it with the technology,” Honda F1 boss Yasuhisa Arai said.
“McLaren and Honda must close the gap. That is the target, but it is hard work, considering the preparation time.”
The partnership, despite its occasional difficulties and digs in the media, remains both strong and committed, with Honda rumoured to be providing a total of $200m-per-year to its partnership with McLaren and power-unit budget.
Throwing money at an F1 project is not necessarily the answer, just ask the bosses of Toyota after their F1 project failed to secure a single race victory in their short period in the sport, however it gives Honda the opportunity to eradicate the deficit that currently exists.
The internal combustion engine is still believed to be in the region of 30bhp behind the leading Mercedes alternative, with further energy harvesting problems, the battery chargers and small turbo, has compounded their top-speed deficit, especially on long straights.
The hybrid system deployment on longer straights can shut down before the car arrives at a corner, meaning a potential loss of up to 250bhp against its rivals.
On top of this, poor reliability has been another decisive factor in Honda’s underwhelming return to F1, with Button and Alonso both expressing their disappointment throughout the season.
Despite the obvious downfalls, further leniency with engine development rules allowing manufacturers more opportunities for improvements have given Honda’s Arai further optimism that they can catch the leaders.
“We definitely believe that because we had a lot of reliability issues that hindered us from focusing on power output, definitely next year should be a bit better,” Arai says.
“At this moment, there is no plan to change the fundamental architecture because it affects the car.
“It will affect the aerodynamics greatly if we do change the architecture.
“McLaren and Honda agree that to make it a more aerodynamically efficient car they want to keep the package as small as possible.”
Plenty of work is yet to be done for both McLaren and Honda to make the improvements needed to catch the leading teams. However, with both Alonso and Button, the team has two of the best drivers on the grid to further push the car beyond its limitations.
One of the best driver pairings on the grid? © McLaren
Alonso has a track record of outperforming competitors in a car which is unable to match his ability. Despite over two years without a race victory to his name, the Spaniard is still regarded as one of the best drivers in the world.
Button, a man who has been in more poor cars in his F1 race career than good, is knowledgeable enough to know when there is enough potential in a team to turn its form around, something he experienced when Honda last exited the sport at the end of the 2008 season.
“I spent a lot of time on the phone with Ron [Dennis] and a lot of time in the factory with the engineers and I am really excited for the future,” Button said when speaking about the news he was to see out the remainder of his contract.
“I needed to know that there were big changes coming for next year because when you decide you want to race in Formula 1 you have to give it your all. You have to give 100 per cent every second of that year, your life has to be Formula 1. To do that you need to know that you see a future and I definitely think we do.”
Taking into account the rumoured interest from Porsche in the World Endurance Championship, allowing more time for Brit to partake in triathlons and media activities, the decision to stay with McLaren for another year would have only been taken on the basis that he believes in the future of the team.
Alonso and Button will both know that the future success in F1 will require a strong tie-up with a global manufacturer, which is why McLaren so fiercely vetoed any potential deal between Honda and Red Bull, and why the Woking-based squad severed their ties with the dominant Mercedes.
With Honda, McLaren have the uninterrupted attention of one of the world’s biggest car manufacturers, which will eventually produce a strong package to compete with the leading F1 teams.
The experience of a fully-fledged racing outfit such as McLaren should not be overlooked. In-fact, the British team has a history of bouncing back from poor seasons and enhanced development gains.
In 2009, under a major rule overhaul, McLaren endured a difficult season trying to catch the dominant Brawn GP and Red Bulls, with the new kinetic energy recovery systems (KERS) failing to give the pace advantage as predicted.
The defining feature of the new regulations was the controversial double diffuser, which was eventually copied by the field after the FIA cleared the likes of Brawn GP, Toyota and Williams to use the aerodynamic tool.
Despite being well behind the leading Brawn team, McLaren took four pole positions and two victories with Lewis Hamilton from the last eight races, despite having none previously.
McLaren are under no illusions that there will be an overnight fix once the chequered flag falls at the end of Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in a few weeks.
They, more than anyone, will be fully aware of the mammoth task ahead to make up the pace gap which they currently endure in chassis and engine performance.
However, with backing from a global car manufacturing giant, huge resources of wealth, brilliant racing drivers and a history of overcoming adversity, McLaren are in a good a position as is possible to reach the top step of the podium once more.
Whether it is in 2016, 2017 or beyond, make no mistake, McLaren will be back on form.