News Open Wheel

Vandoorne Stays at McLaren for 2018

Popular belief says that drivers might have an advantage at their home track, but one racer has an extra boost for the Belgian Grand Prix.

2015 GP2 champion Stoffel Vandoorne and McLaren will continue their partnership for the 2018 Formula 1 season.

There is no detail yet on who his teammate will be, with questions still to be publicly answered over the future of Fernando Alonso.

The news comes one round after he took his first point as a permanent competitor in Hungary, finishing 10th. He has completed seven races this year and is on a streak of five straight events reaching the checkered flag. Vandoorne has also qualified in Q3 in three of his last six, outperforming Alonso on a Saturday for the first time in Britain.

McLaren executive director Zak Brown did not downplay the announcement, praising his driver multiple times.

“I’d like to add only that I regard Stoffel as a super talent – a future Formula 1 world champion in fact – and that’s why I’ve always been adamant that he should race for us on a multi-year basis,” he said. “Before anyone asks me any questions about duration, we don’t want to go into that kind of confidential contractual detail, but let me put it this way: when we signed Stoffel, we intended that he would race for us for a significant number of years, and that remains our firm intention. We all know Stoffel’s potential, and when we have a package fast enough to win Grands Prix again – and we will – Stoffel will be in the right place to score his first F1 victory.”

After his debut at the 2016 Bahrain Grand Prix, the Belgian will be the first to race in three seasons with McLaren after a rookie appearance since Lewis Hamilton (2007-12).


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Formula One Open Wheel

Questions Build Surrounding McLaren-Honda

For the second straight race, McLaren-Honda did not get the result expected as both Stoffel Vandoorne and Fernando Alonso failed to finish Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix.

Vandoorne ran near the back till Lap 19 when he retired with fuel issues.

“On lap 17 we lost power – I don’t really know exactly the reason – but I think it was a fuel problem,” he said. It’s a shame we couldn’t get to the finish today – the potential was there, and the car felt quite competitive in the corners compared to the cars I was racing against. I felt the power drop, and I could feel immediately we had very low power. It’s not ideal, and obviously, I would have liked to go to the end.”

Meanwhile, Alonso started in 13th, though used the damp conditions to work his way up to sixth.

“That was a big surprise and was thanks to an amazing couple of laps,” he said. “I was hoping those tricky conditions would continue as other cars were spinning off here and there, and, as we said yesterday, we maximized our opportunities as we were overtaking ‘for free’ at some moments. But then, when the track started drying out, we started to lose a little bit of ground even though we were still able to hold onto P7 for some time.”

As conditions dried out, Alonso dropped back a few spots, before falling out of the race on Lap 35 with mechanical issues.

It marks the second straight race both cars have failed to finish, following power problems and a suspension failure in Australia. Concerns surrounding the team’s performance were expressed going into 2017, as well as durability with engine problems during testing.

Honda R&D Co. Ltd Head of F1 Project and Executive Chief Engineer Yusuke Hasegawa feels their program is heading in a positive direction now.

“At one point it looked like we were on our way to scoring some points, which makes it all the more disappointing that both drivers ended up retiring with mechanical issues,” he said. “In spite of that, we leave Shanghai with certain progress of our PU reliability after both the Australian and Chinese Grands Prix.

“We’re now looking forward to Bahrain next weekend, where hopefully we can continue to build on our momentum. It’s only a few days away, so we don’t have long to prepare, but we’ll work hard with McLaren to hopefully push for a better result.”


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Formula One Open Wheel

Alonso, Riccardo Among Seven DNFs in Austrailia

With new cars and a wider tire from Pirelli, it’s expected drivers are going to run into problems as they work out the bugs. While 20 started the Australian Grand Prix, seven found themselves sitting on the sidelines before the checkered flag flew, with a total of eight experiencing problems.

Stoffel Vandoorne was the only driver of those with problems to cross the finish line, finishing 13th. The team had been experiencing power issues earlier in the weekend, and at Lap 10, Vandoorne suffered a longer pit stop than normal due to “recycling” the power unit so he could restart his McLaren Honda.

Fernando Alonso was the last driver in the race to pull off the track, retiring to the garage with three laps left in the event behind the wheel of his McLaren Honda.

“It was a suspension failure,” Alonso said of what put him out of the event. “I think that’s what happened to stop us from finishing the race. It was really good. I was driving one of my best races so far and yeah, we were in the points all race long. We had to do huge fuel saving that was helping us a lot to keep the position. We were surprised to be far up, but we definitely need to be more competitive very soon.”

While he didn’t get the finish he wanted, he noted they are decent performance-wise, with the ability right now to finish ninth “in normal conditions on a typical circuit.

Kevin Magnussen had hoped to start off his time with Haas F1 on a positive note but found himself out of the race on Lap 50 following contact on Lap 1. Magnussen hopped the curb, hitting Marcus Errison and going into the gravel pit.

He was followed in 16th by rookie Lance Stroll. Stroll’s F1 career has been rough thus far, with wrecks during testing and an incident earlier in the weekend during practice. As a result, he started the race from the rear of the field after changing the gearbox. Despite this, he was able to quickly make up ground, moving up six positions to 14th in the first stint. However, he’d find his race over at Lap 44 as a result of mechanical issues.

Daniel Riccardo also had a mechanical failure, but his problems began right from the start of the event. After crashing in qualifying and changing the gearbox, the hometown hero was unable to get going on the start due to the car getting stuck in sixth gear. After spending time in the garage, he got out on track two laps behind the leaders. Riccardo put together 27 solid laps, till his car stalled on Lap 29 with a fuel pressure issue.

“On the plus side I’m getting out of here,” Riccardo said. “I don’t know. It’s been a long week. Don’t get me wrong – it’s been fun. I feel bad for everyone – the fans, obviously. I believe there are more people supporting me here than the others. I know they would’ve loved me to get out there and race, but it just kind of boiled over from yesterday. The five-grid penalty sounded bad enough, but then we had other issues. Just a long day. Happy to move on. Obviously, I’m disappointed, but I’ll wake up tomorrow. It’ll be fine, and I’ll be ready to prepare and go for China.”

Riccardo added the laps he was able to make were good as they were able to get “valuable track time” for information on the new car to continue learning and developing.

“If I’m going to look on the bright side, (teammate) Max (Verstappen) has a really good pace, so maybe we can learn something from his race today and as the team moves forward,” he added.

Marcus Errison also found his day end after his car unexpected stopped in the corner up in the third section, resulting in an 18th place finish. His problems began earlier in the event right from the start as Magnussen made contact with him when he jumped a curb.

Errison wasn’t the only driver spending time in the gravel pit, as Jolyon Palmer was off track quite a bit through the race as he fought brake issues with his Renault entry. He eventually retired, resulting in a 19th place finish.

Romain Grosjean took the final spot on the grid at the finish as a result of his car catching fire in the pits on Lap 15. He had been running around the sixth or seventh spot following his best qualifying effort to date for Haas F1.



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Formula One Open Wheel

Thoughts and Observations From F1’s First 2017 Test

Looking back on the week that was testing, it’s possible to draw conclusions – but that’s ultimately pointless. The teams are going through things at their own paces, including any problems that present themselves, and the public doesn’t get to know the actual reflection of that for now.

More guesses can be made in Australia, and more comments will undoubtedly come flowing through from PR officers. Until then, you can look too much of a fool by predicting how a Formula 1 season will pan out from such a short amount of running and knowledge.

Even with this in mind, here are some takeaways from Barcelona.

Mercedes Still fast

Despite some fans potentially hoping for a slight downfall, F1’s reigning Drivers’ and Constructors’ champion is still looking like the fastest team despite the changes in regulations. 

Ferrari has led some of the final classifications, with Kimi Raikkonen on top twice. The Italian team has topped sessions before and will do in the future; it doesn’t necessarily mean anything special. The other two days have been led by both Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton as they quietly go about their business.

Apart from an apparent electronic problem on day four, the team seems to continue to have a competently reliable car and the possibility of being towards the sharp end of the grid. Its W08 machine completed 558 laps during the four days, and only 68 on the final day, the highest total of any team on the grid.

McLaren Still Seemingly Struggling

The team is still having unreliability problems as they prepare for a third season with Honda. You would be forgiven for thinking it was Groundhog Day at times during the test.

The first two days were tough for the team, including an oil systems issue and a necessary power unit change as they completed just 69 laps (Fernando Alonso 29, Stoffel Vandoorne 40), the least amount of any team.

A final total of 208 laps came from the test, the second-lowest amount of any team, just slightly better than Toro Rosso.

Racing Director Eric Boullier was unsurprisingly cautious about the problems after the first day of running.

“Of course, it’s disappointing to have encountered issues so early in the running, but this situation is not too unusual with a brand-new car,” he said, “It’s better to have these issues here than in Australia.

“Honda is investigating the problem carefully in order to find the proper solutions, so we need to let them do that before drawing any premature conclusions.”

If, and that is a big if, these problems continue, it will surely be frustrating for Fernando Alonso as he comes to the end of his career. Someone being 35-years-old, as barbaric as it is, is effectively nearing retirement age and he might not have many races left to have many opportunities to shine near the front of the grid.

This is also potentially harmful to Stoffel Vandoorne. He is effectively the next possibly special driver that McLaren has found and if he cannot get results it may affect parts of his driving while he is still in a learning stage towards the sport.

Time will tell whether McLaren can return to the top-five in the Constructors’ Championship for the first time since 2014.

Stroll-ing into the gravel

F1’s newest arrival, Lance Stroll, has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons – using testing to find the limits of his Williams car and damaging his car in some accidents.

As a result, allegations have already surfaced about Stroll not being up to F1 and a line of questioning over whether a jump from European Formula 3, skipping two series in GP2 and GP3, and competing in the new era of F1 is a wise move. However, recall the same type of overreactions surfaced surrounding Max Verstappen possibly being too young for F1. We all know how that ended up.

The team failed to run on day four due to safety concerns over previous damage, despite this day being a day designated for learning about Pirelli’s new wet tire range and the team being one of the worst teams on the grid for racing when rain hits a track.

Many will surely be concerned about their potential standing on the grid and whether they can remain in the top five of the Constructors’ Championship with so many competitors, like Renault and Toro Rosso, aiming for new heights in 2017.

Other issues

Stroll was a target of criticism, but some of the other members of the F1 grid also explored the run-off areas, including Bottas (Mercedes) and Jolyon Palmer (Renault). It wouldn’t be too surprising, due to the longer span of an F1 car in 2017 and wider front wing if the first Grands Prix sees many stupid crashes as drivers find their feet with the new dimensions. An Australian Grand Prix featuring just the points finishers completing the race has happened before and could always happen again.

One other minor problem with testing was the final day being put aside for wet tire testing, something that the teams didn’t do a lot of and the track had to be specifically dampened artificially which didn’t actually work. With thoughts that Pirelli is still developing a new set of wet tires, rain-filled sessions at the first race may be interesting.

Although a lot of focus was put on McLaren, another team which ran into high-profile technical issues was Toro Rosso. Its car completed just 183 laps over the four days after some problems including engine and drivetrain issues, which is just under three complete distances of the 66-lap race.


The final test sessions take place at the Barcelona track on March 7-10 before cars get packaged away again ahead of the first round of 2017 at the Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne on March 24-26.


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News Open Wheel

McLaren Delivers Black and Orange MCL32

The first major livery change in 20 years sees McLaren use a black, orange and white design for the 2017 Formula 1 season.

McLaren has released their MCL32 car to the world with prominent aerodynamic parts on their entry as it continues its team-wide refresh.

Despite a small change to a darker color of gray in 2015, the team has not changed this dramatically since moving from red and white to gray and black alongside West sponsorship and their then-existing Mercedes engines in 1997.

These colors are heavily noticeable as the team continues to have just a few sponsors on its cars, and having many of these logos appearing in small sizes across its design.

Along with the standard lower rear wing and wider pointed front wing featured on every current car, this machine features a black shark fin engine cover and many aero elements including parts above the suspension which resemble fish gills to the eye.

Its driver overalls are also changing slightly after using all-white suits for a few years. White remains a base colour, with black and orange down the sides of the drivers’ bodies. Black also appears on the waist and sleeves of the suits.

For McLaren, it’s the third season running the Honda hybrid power unit, the third season with Fernando Alonso and a debut year for 2015 GP2 champion Stoffel Vandoorne.

McLaren will be expected to make progress in the Constructors’ Championship as part of a potentially tight midfield battle after finishing in sixth place last year.

The team has not made consecutive years of major progress in the championship since moving from ninth place in 1980 to sixth in ‘81 and second in ‘82.


The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.