McLaren’s 2007 campaign really started way back in late 2005 when it was announced that Fernando Alonso would be switching from his championship winning Renault to the silver car for this season. With this contract in place, team principal Ron Dennis started to put in place all the necessary components to see his team return to winning form. New sponsors have been signed, new drivers have been acquired or promoted, new staff have fallen into place and generally speaking, McLaren appear to be on the up. Can anything prevent the Woking squad from lifting the championship trophy this year? Well, there is the small matter of the red cars to contend with.
Alonso’s defection from Renault was a very big deal. According to Ron Dennis, it all started with an off-the-cuff remark just prior to a podium celebration. But the signing of the contract was done without Alonso’s manager knowing, and as the man in question was also Renault’s team boss, Flavio Briatore was not happy.
With Alonso contracted to Reggie until December 31st 2006, Alonso sat on the sidelines for much of the early winter. He was given a tour of McLaren’s impressive Technology Centre where the cars are designed and built, he was introduced to those he’d be working with for the upcoming year, but drive the Mercedes powered beast he was not allowed to do. For this to happen, Fernando would need permission from Briatore, and as I’m sure you could imagine, Flavio wasn’t keen to talk. However, just prior to the final day of testing at Jerez, Fernando made a final plea to his Italian boss, and was granted a day at the wheel of an unbranded McLaren. The papers read something like, “Friends again.” I’m sure some cash was transferred as well, just to cement the relationship.
So Fernando finally got to drive the car that will become his 2007 office, which up until then had been in the capable hands of McLaren’s experienced test driver lineup, and 2007 rookie Lewis Hamilton.
Pedro De La Rosa is an enormous talent. While he may appear to be somewhat casual in his driving technique, you cannot take away from the Spaniard his impressive drives in the Arrow’s many years ago, and the podiums and points he secured last year in the absence of Juan Pablo Montoya. And despite driving for what are often considered to be the coldest team in Formula One, Pedro always looks to be the warmest person in the paddock.
After filling in for Montoya, who upped and left mid-2006 to seek a stateside-drive in NASCAR, one couldn’t blame Pedro for getting his hopes up about driving full-time for the team in this season. However, with one Spaniard already contracted, it wouldn’t have been the best marketing move to contract another. I’m sure that wasn’t the only reason, but it is one that would have definitely played a part in the negotiations.
Pedro wasn’t signed, and neither was McLaren’s second test driver Gary Paffett. Instead McLaren went with a young protégé they have been keeping an eye for a good few years. He won the GP2 championship last year and hails from Great Britain. As I’m sure you already know, his name is Lewis Hamilton.
Lewis is only a young lad – just 22 – but he speaks with wisdom well beyond his years. Lewis is also a great talent, that much is very clear. Whether or not he can drive well in motorsport’s elite series will have to be seen, but for now, McLaren’s lineup looks interesting. It also worth mentioning here that Fernando Alonso is barely out of nappies as well at only 25 years of age – is this Formula One’s youngest ever lineup?
So what about the car? Well, the MP4-22 has been going well in testing. Alonso, Hamilton and De La Rosa have all seen themselves at the top of the timing sheets since January, and Ferrari have said publicly that they see McLaren as their biggest threat. Certainly the car looks to be a winner, and if they have sorted out their reliability issues, I cannot see why either McLaren driver cannot win races in 2007.
McLaren do appear to be on the rise again, and Alonso has every chance of taking the title for a third year in succession. In fact, while I haven’t mentioned the driver’s title yet in these build up posts, I actually think Fernando will win it. However, with such a young driver lineup, and because both are relatively new to the race team, I’m slightly cautious about suggesting they can manage the constructors as well. And as we will see tomorrow, I feel another team has the capability of taking that one.
But for now at least, I think we can safely say that the intra-team battle at McLaren is going to be fascinating to watch, Alonso and Hamilton will be on form individually and because of all this and more, 2007 is going to be a vintage year for Formula One.
2007 Constructors Prediction: 2nd