2010 was a solid year for McLaren, early wins for the teams newest recruit & 2009 World Champion Jenson Button along with Lewis Hamilton getting the first non Red Bull pole position of the year in Canada & being in with a mathematical chance of the drivers championship at the last race would have been enough for most teams, but McLaren went into 2010 with high expectations.
Unable to consistently match the pace of the Brawn & Red Bull in 2009 in a car fitted with KERS, the focused switched to 2010 and the team stole a march with the introduction of the RW80, otherwise known around the paddock as the f-duct (so called because the air inlet on the nose was located on the ‘f’ of the Vodafone branding)
This meant an early straight line speed advantage for the drivers as they blocked a duct in the cockpit which would divert airflow through the shark fin and onto the flap on the rear wing, stalling the wing to reduce drag and provide an increase in straight line speed.
A lot was made in the signing of Jenson Button to partner Lewis Hamilton. Everyone expected friction between two British drivers, and the previous two winners of the World Championship, but the pair gelled and from the outside seemed to enjoy a good working relationship. Early wins with strategy calls for Jenson in Australia and China helped to mark McLaren as the 2nd fastest team behind the Red Bulls.
The pace dropped off mid season as other teams started introducing their own versions of the ‘f-duct’, negating the advantage that McLaren had gained, and their introduction of the Exhaust Blown Diffuser was dogged with problems. There were also reports of McLaren struggling for overall aerodynamic performance compared to the Red Bull and Ferrari. The late surge by Ferrari towards the end of the season meant that McLaren ended up with the only the 3rd fastest car when they teams left Abu Dhabi.
Going into this season, McLaren have taken the Red Bull stance from 2010. They launch their car late and will be at the 1st test with an interim package. Giving the race drivers time off instead of them taking part in the post Abu Dhabi Pirelli test was a bold move as they believe that the characteristics of the tyres will have changed between then and the start of the season. Only time will tell if Jenson and Lewis struggle on the new tyres.
With the ‘f-duct’ banned for 2011, as well as double diffusers, the attention will switch to the use of KERS. Mercedes were known to have the best system in place in 2009 and it was put to good use with Lewis Hamilton behind the wheel. This will be something that Jenson will have to adjust to, not having driven a car with KERS, but this should not be a major problem for a former World Champion.
McLaren have spent the past few years fighting it out with Ferrari, 2011 is the time they have to step up to take the fight to Red Bull, and with Lewis learning from his difficulties in 2010, and Jenson fully settled into the McLaren set up, they will definitely be at the sharp end when the lights go out in Bahrain. With talk of new innovation and a delayed introduction to the new car, McLaren know they will need to hit the ground running to maximise the package of the MP4-26.
Having been a member of the McLaren set up for a number of years, there is no thought of anything ever coming between the 2008 World Champion and the team. 2010 started with a difficult few races, despite the podium in Bahrain following Sebastian Vettels spark plug failure. A pit call in Australia by the team caused strong words from Lewis during the race, and seeing his team mate win on a different strategy could not have helped. Fighting over position in the Turkish Grand Prix with Jenson when the team assured him that the drivers would hold position did not help the situation either.
Lewis kept himself in the title fight right to the Abu Dhabi finale (albeit mathematically, needing his 3 other title rivals to not finish the race with him winning the race). This is a testament to the aggressive nature of Lewis Hamilton; sometimes this could be seen as too aggressive. Without the lap 1 Monza crash followed up with the crash with Mark Webber in Singapore, Lewis could have been a lot closer in the title fight at the end of the season.
There is talk from Lewis that he has learnt a lot from the various trials and tribulations over the 2010 season, which means that he will go into 2011 much stronger. With his aggressive nature, he wants to win every race, but he may have to think of the long game and keep picking up points consistently to get the better of his rivals and become a two-time World Champion.
The 2009 World Champion joined McLaren with concerns from external sources of how he would settle into what was thought to be Lewis Hamilton’s team and how McLaren would cope with two Brits and the past two World Champions. All these concerns appeared to be brushed aside with impressive early wins in Australia and China and a strong run of podiums kept Jenson in the title fight for most of the season.
Poor qualifying performances in the second half of the season left Jenson a lot to do in the races, but solid drives meant he kept picking up podiums and points. A difficult Korean Grand Prix, in which he finished 12th, signalled the end of his title defence.
With a full year behind him at McLaren and the relationship he has forged within the team, and in particular with his team mate, 2011 should be a good year for Jenson. If McLaren can overcome the aerodynamic deficiencies they suffered in 2010, they could have a strong all round package to allow both drivers to fight the Red Bulls on pace.