McLaren, one of the few remaining Formula 1 heritage teams, are experiencing a resurgence in pace, but would this have been possible with Fernando Alonso?
McLaren have been a presence in Formula 1 since 1966 when Bruce McLaren made the decision to join the racing circus. They have had their times of struggle, but they have always found their way back toward the sharp end of the field.
McLaren currently sit in fourth place in the constructor standings after another successful race, the British Grand Prix, in which both of their drivers would have finished in the top 10 had it not been for an untimely safety car. They still firmly lead the mid-pack with 60 points, with the factory Renault team trailing them in fifth with 39 points.
But before the 2019 season, there was the drought between the 2013 and 2018 seasons during which the team finished in fifth, fifth, ninth, sixth, ninth and sixth place in the constructor standings, respectively.
During those times, there were many changes within the team, but there was one constant throughout the final four seasons of this six-year span: two-time champion Fernando Alonso.
Alonso was supposed to be the skilled veteran with the knowledge and ability to resurrect the team from the dregs of the constructor standings and bring them back to their former glory. But could that have ever worked?
Alonso, who retired from Formula 1 after the 2018 season, is without a doubt one of the most skilled drivers regardless of what grid he is lining up on during a particular weekend. In addition to his 2005 and 2006 Formula 1 championships, he recently won the 2018-2019 FIA World Endurance Championship with Toyota Gazoo Racing.
But could he ever have been the driver to bring McLaren into the modern age of Formula 1?
The 37-year-old Spaniard won his two Formula 1 championships in the vastly different era of V8 engines and semi-slick tires. Even with the vast staff, resources and funding at McLaren, was it ever a possibility that he could be the difference-maker in this day and age?
McLaren’s current driver lineup at of Carlos Sainz Jr. and Lando Norris has provided significant point-scoring opportunities in nearly every race so far this season, and it might be this way for a strange reason.
Sainz Jr., 24, and Norris, 19, are two of the youngest drivers on the grid with long careers ahead of them, and that youth gap is the biggest reason why Alonso could never be the driver to bring McLaren to where they are now.
Think of how different generations handled the technology shift of the 2000s. Young generations who have grown up with technology from the start have a master-like ability to utilize this technology (for good and bad) compared to mature generations that have had to adapt to this rapidly changing technology halfway through life.
Naturally, the generations that are growing up with this technology have a better understanding and different perspective of it, and the same thing can be said as it pertains to the tools used in the modern era of Formula 1.
There is no doubt that the feedback and mentality that Alonso possesses was a benefit to McLaren, but the price tag for a former world champion was never the right plan when it came to reviving a team suffering from trying to use a winning formula from a decade before.
To fully embrace the technology race that is modern-day Formula 1, McLaren needed a youthful squad who could grow with the team in their transition into utilizing the interplay between car design and technology.
It could be the addition of Renault as an engine supplier, the addition of key personnel, new engineering philosophies, departures of those stuck in the early 2000s or all of the above. McLaren are now moving toward the front and the young drivers are embracing the technological shift.
One strong season will not be enough to say McLaren is officially “back”, especially since the 21-race 2019 season is not yet halfway complete, but is good to see the papaya orange back in a competitive position and displaying something that has eluded them for so long: reliability.
Barring any massive developmental changes, McLaren should be able to maintain their pace and competitive nature. Formula 1 can be unkind, even to those who have devoted so much time to the series, but Bruce McLaren would be proud of his plucky team for maintaining the David vs. Goliath fight.