Tag Archives: Stoffel Vandoorne

Formula One: “Grand Prix Driver” – The Conflicted Review

Screen Shot 2018-02-07 at 11.58.12.png

I’m conflicted. Last week I was sent an advance copy of the Amazon Prime documentary series Grand Prix Driver. This fantastic series offers previously unimaginable of levels of access to the McLaren F1 team as they prepare for the 2017 Formula One Season. Recorded over a period of four and a half months, Manish Pandey, Chris Connell, and Anwar Nuseibeh have produced an in-depth study into the life of a Formula One team with seemingly no topic being off limits. All of which, for a lifelong F1 fan such as myself, sounds incredible. So why am I conflicted?

It is said you should never meet your heroes. After watching Grand Prix Driver, I think this phase should be modified to ‘never watch a documentary about your heroes. I want to make it clear, the production values of the documentary are second to none. To gain the level of trust required to film some of the scenes depicted through the episodes is a testament to the passion, dedication and commitment of Manish Pandey and the team surrounding him. This series is a must-see for any fan of motorsport. Unfortunately, however, it’s also a must-see for anyone studying business management looking for examples of how not to run a successful business, and perhaps most importantly, for Toro Rosso and Red Bull Racing on how not to work with a Power Unit Partner.

If you have seen a trailer for the documentary, it will be clear the series charts the breakdown of the relationship between McLaren and Honda on the eve of the 2017 season.

 

Analysing the series and reflecting on narrative documented, I have tried to break down my assessment of the team into a few key sections.

Partnerships

The key rationale for the McLaren Honda partnership was that Ron Dennis and/ or the team felt it would not be possible for McLaren to challenge for world championships as a customer team. Logic and recent history suggest this assessment is absolutely correct. The mantra throughout the McLaren Honda partnership and throughout this series is that of “One Team” and “We win as a team; we lose as a team”. The documentary shows those words to be largely empty. Relations between McLaren and Honda employees at every level of the business seemed strained at all times. There is a constant feeling of us and them.

An interesting insight into teams using customer power units in Formula One is when the customer receives the power unit. As a customer team, power units very rarely enter the team facility. One unit will be made available for the first time the car is fired up ahead of the season. After this, Power Units will be delivered to the circuit by the supplier and taken away again at the end of a test or race weekend. The benefit of direct / works relationship with a power unit manufacturer should be these limitations are removed. Team and Power unit manufacturer work as one in parallel. Based on the Grand Prix Driver documentary, this unity was never achieved between McLaren and Honda.

The first time McLaren physically saw the 2017 power unit was in the days preceding the first fire up of the unit. This is not an integrated partnership. Heading into 2017, Honda were playing catch up, they decided to overhaul their design philosophy. This decision, it is implied, was one McLaren did not have a say in. After taking such a decision, communication between McLaren and Honda should have been continuous, when it came to installing the power unit there should have been no surprises. As the documentary will show, this was not the case, with components having to be re-engineered on the fly.

The relationship between McLaren and Honda was not a partnership. It was barely more than a customer relationship, where the supplier happened to be supplying power units free of charge.

Humility

In speaking to Manish Pandey about the documentary, the topic of humility came up. Manish’s view of humility was interesting. His perspective was that both Honda and McLaren demonstrated great humility as they prepared for the documentary. He and his team made several attempts to get the team to discuss ambitions for the season. Looking for the soundbite of ‘returning to the top step’ or ‘challenging for the championship’. No one offered such remarks. Manish’s view was that this demonstrates the team were realistic in their approach to the season, and on this, I agree.

However, as the McLaren Honda relationship fell apart around them, it was the team’s complete lack of humility that struck me. Throughout the entire series, no McLaren representative takes any level of accountability for the partnership failing. Honda is made entirely responsible for the shortcomings of the team performance. This is wrong. We’ve all had relationships that haven’t worked out, at no time is one party solely responsible for a relationship failing. It comes across as hugely arrogant of McLaren to place all the blame for their performance through the Honda partnership at the foot of the power unit manufacturer.

Honestly, I am amazed McLaren are happy for this lack of humility to be made public. At times I wasn’t sure if I was watching a documentary series set in Woking or a Mockumentary series from Slough.

Communication

In the opening episodes, meetings are filmed from outside rooms giving the viewer a feel for events taking place without the content being made public, by the final episode cameras have been invited into meeting with no talking points edited or removed. Whilst again, this is great access, being part of these meetings will be quite distressing for any fan of the sport. Time after time the viewer is shown milestone dates on timelines being missed or management interactions in which it seems almost impossible to offer a clear answer to basic questions. To me this again comes down to accountability, no one in the organisation seems willing to accept their role in the failure.

McLarenHQ_Boulevard_SM_060.LA.jpg

Sponsorship

The topic of sponsorship or partners is something frequently addressed through the series. In a bid to highlight a new beginning for the McLaren team, it was decided that a departure from silver, grey and black tones in the car livery and team environment was required. The origins of this decision and influencing factors are a little conflicted in the series, but the message for change was clear. The ambition being a new livery concept will entice new sponsors to join a new McLaren.

For me, the professionalism around this decision is diminished somewhat by branding being applied on the eve of the launch in what appears to be a corridor. Nevertheless, the ambition is clearly communicated. This desire to rebrand after a challenging period also explains why McLaren are expected to reveal another new livery concept for the 2018 season.

The McLaren team has developed a strong reputation within the technologies sector for its work outside of Formula One in recent years. Major FMCG’s consult with the group on numerous challenges. The McLaren Formula One Team depicted in this documentary is not one many FMCG’s would look favourably upon. I do not believe the McLaren commercial team will look favourably on the way in which the team is portrayed.

Even Handed Approach

In my discussion with Manish Pandey, in an interview for Paddock Magazine (click here to head to the interview) I raised the question of the way in which McLaren and Honda were depicted within the series, highlighting my concern that Honda did not have the opportunity to offer their side of the story.

Understandably Manish did not hold my opinion. The narrative of a documentary is often defined by the events it covers from the perspective of the lead. This is not a Honda documentary. It is a McLaren documentary and the views within it are communicated as such. Again this is not a criticism of the documentary, more a reflection of the brief and the client.

 

I sincerely hope my interpretation of the McLaren team based on the series is not an accurate reflection of the way in which the business operates. 12 months have passed since this documentary was filmed. With new management structures in place, much-needed process and accountability may have been successfully implemented. I, like many other F1 fans, hope to see McLaren back at the front of the grid challenging for race wins.  With The McLaren Team seen through this 2017 documentary, I doubt this would have been possible. Whatever the power unit.

Grand Prix Driver is available on Amazon Prime from February 10thClick here for more.

 

Advertisements

Formula One: McLaren set to badge Renault Power Unit – McLaren

Mclaren White label

As the F1 world awaits confirmation of the widely expected split between McLaren and Honda, attention has turned to the team name and branding for the 2018 season and beyond. It is fairly certain McLaren will switch to Renault power unit supply for next season in a deal which will see the Woking based team become a customer team for the remainder of the current iteration of Formula One Power Unit regulations.

Through social media, Fans and F1 pundits have been speculating on the likely name under which the McLaren Renault partnership will operate, with the overriding sentiment being that legacy of the respective brands not quite sitting well together. With almost every brand within the Renault-Nissan Alliance being touted as a possible fit for the partnership, from McLaren Infiniti, to McLaren Alpine, McLaren Nismo, and my personal favourite McLaren Dacia, the most logical naming convention appears to have been forgotten.

Zak Brown, Executive Director McLaren Technology Group, has been quoted as suggesting the team will consider producing Power Units under the McLaren brand under the new technical regulations, should costs not prove prohibitive. With this in mind it should be expected that the Renault agreement for 2018 will be delivered under a white label agreement, as already in place with Red Bull Racing who included naming rights to their Renault Power Unit in their partnership which LVMH, which sees the Power Unit branded Tag Heuer.

McLaren as an automotive entity in its own right will likely brand the white label Renault Power Unit as McLaren. Suggesting to the casual F1 follower or fan that the team is already producing its own power unit. Such a move will serve to further enhance the credibility of the McLaren Automotive Group and remove confusion around relationships between the road going cars and track based power unit partnerships.

After three of the worst seasons in the team’s history, it is highly unlikely McLaren will be in a position to sign a title sponsor for the 2018 season, the team must rebuild its reputation with brands and partners. As such when the 2018 team listing is announced expect McLaren to be listed simply as McLaren with no reference to any power unit supplier.

Should, for what ever reason, the Renault Power Unit fail to elevate McLaren from its current plight expect to hear some awkward interviews in which an unbranded power unit is held accountable for challenges facing the team.

Formula One: Castrol Mclaren Honda partnership confirmed

Screen Shot 2017-01-18 at 10.12.23.png

In a PR engagement broadcast on social media yesterday Mclaren Honda’s Stoffel Vandoorne inadvertently revealed the team’s 2017 teamwear, on which Castrol branding is evident the left sleeve.

At this time Mclaren have not commented on the 2017 plans around fuel and lubricant supply. It is widely understood BP have entered into partnership with the team. Based on the image of Stoffel BP have chosen to promote the Castrol brand through the Mclaren partnership.

Thank you to Laura Leslie for posting this image online. Her original post can be seen here:

 

Formula One: Win a Go Kart driven by Mclaren Legends

Earlier this summer Mclaren legends of the past present and future raced against each other behind the wheel of the great motoring equaliser, the Go Kart! In an event hosted by Esso and Mcalren Honda at Fernando Alonso’s go karting circuit in Spain, Alonso, Button, Coulthard, Vandoorne and Hakkinen competed on the same track together for the first time.

Check out this film to see how they got on:

Mobil One’s The Grid are offering you the chance to win one of the Go Karts used at this event. To take part follow this link and answer the question:

How many Grand Prix did David Coulthard win during his F1 career?

Best of luck!

 

 

 

Formula One: Belgian Champion in waiting?

Stoffel Vandoorne will head his home Grand Prix in Belgium this weekend as Mclaren Honda’s reserve driver. After securing the GP2 championship in dominant style in 2015, Stoffel is splitting his 2016 season between his role with Mclaren, which saw him stand in for the injured Fernando Alonso in Bahrain earlier this year, scoring the team’s first points of the 2016 campaign, and competing in the Super Formula Series in Japan.

Stoffel has done more than enough to convince the F1 paddock he is ready to make the step in to a full time drive in 2016. It is widely expected he will replace Jenson Button in the 2017 line up. Mobil One’s the Grid caught up with the Belgian to hear about discuss his 2016 year to date and expectations for the future.

 

 

Formula One: Past, Present & Future – Go-Kart Racing With McLaren-Honda

In an event for Mobil 1 and Esso, Mclaren Honda driver’s; Mika Häkkinen, David Coulthard, Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso, and Stoffel Vandoorne recently got together at Fernando Alonso’s Go Karting circuit in Spain to pit the skills of Mclaren drivers from the last 3 decades against each other.

The event saw Mika, David, and Jenson return to Go Kart for the first time in years, giving them an opportunity to roll out some tried an tested excuses for performances (of lack there of) on track. Jenson who is very media event you see him in comes across more and more like a presenter enjoyed the challenge, but was keen to point out Fernando’s home advantage.

Who ultimately took the chequered flag? Check out the film above from Mobil One’s The Grid to find out for your self!

For more films from Mobil 1’s The Grid, head to thier You Tube Channel here

 

 

Formula One: Alonso could have split the Williams

Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 09.32.13.png

Mclaren Honda continued their resurgence to the top of the grid this weekend with both Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button finishing in the points, finishing 6th and 10th respectively.

For the first time since his return to the team Alonso appears able to push the car with confidence:

“Fernando drove a brilliant race, displaying all the guile, aggression and opportunism for which he is so well known” commented Racing Director Eric Boullier

The team are confident the result could have been even more impressive. Fuel efficiency is still an issue for the Honda power unit, the Sochi circuit represents most challenging event for fuel consumption on the 2016 calendar. Yusuke Hasegawa Head of F1 Project & Executive Chief Engineer commenting:

“We knew that our longer stints were good here, but it was a job well done for our team and drivers to manage our one-stop strategy and fuel-saving during the race, which led to today’s results. 

Eric Boullier went on to comment:

“We can see that we are the team that have a lot of fuel saving for obvious reasons, But with Fernando you could see towards the end of the race he was more than 1.2s faster [per lap]. without fuel saving we’d save another 50s which we would’ve had at the end of the race.”

Had Alonso been able to approach the race without a fuel saving mindset and chased the 50s Boullier refereed to he would have had the pace not only to pass Massa, but also challenge Bottas, elevating his finishing position to 5th, challenging 4th.

Considering challenges the team faced through the 2015 season, progress seen through 2016 to date has been deeply impressive. Honda have 14 development tokens available to them through the 2016 season, leaving the scope to make further advancements significant. Boullier has been keen to point out the Mclaren Racing and Honda are not the only factor contributing to the teams resurgence;

“This race showcases the collective efforts of the entire organisation – not just McLaren Racing and Honda, but also our key technical partner, Mobil 1, whose oil and lubes have played such a key role in our ongoing development. To our partners, too, their faith and belief is starting to be repaid”

Improved performances from the team could make them a formidable challenger by the end of the 2016 season and a genuine contender for 2017. A competitive Mclaren in 2017 could add further spice to ‘silly season’ with many driver contracts expiring at the end of this season.

Mclaren Honda now sit 7th in the  Constructors Championship with all 3 of the teams drivers having scored points this season.

Formula One: Stoffel out-qualifies veteran Button on his début

Screen Shot 2016-04-02 at 20.43.02.png

Qualifying in Bahrain was almost a carbon copy of Mclaren’s qualifying performance in Australia a fortnight ago.

Both drivers conducted two runs on the Option tyre in Q1, comfortably edging through into Q2. In the second session, without a second set of tyres to take the fight to the cars at the front, each driver completed a single run, establishing us on the fringes of the top 10, just as in Melbourne.

Stoffel will start his first grand prix 12th; Jenson, who wasn’t entirely happy with his car’s balance during his Q2 lap, will line up directly behind him in 14th.

Stoffel Vandoorne

I think I can be pretty happy with today’s result. I didn’t really know what to expect, but from yesterday onwards I’ve felt quite confident in the car and today was all about fine-tuning it.

“Free practice earlier today was quite good; I still knew there was a bit more time to come, and I think we more or less maximised everything in qualifying today. It was a close call in Q1, but then in Q2 I had a clean lap without mistakes. We could see it was very close in front of us, and if we’d gained one or two tenths we could maybe have got into Q3. So unless you’re on pole there’s always some margin for improvement, but overall I’m very happy with the qualifying I just had.

“I knew after yesterday and this morning that I had quite similar pace to Jenson, and that if I improved a little bit I could maybe therefore challenge him. He’s a world champion, and an excellent driver obviously, so he’s been a really good benchmark for me this weekend. I have a lot of respect for him.

“I’ve won here in Bahrain before, and I like the circuit. I know it well – and it definitely helps if you know a circuit before you make your grand prix debut there. Obviously I didn’t know the car before getting here this weekend, but it helped that I knew the circuit.

“It’s a good feeling to have done a decent job, but now our focus in only on tomorrow: to try to have a good race. It’s not really sunk in yet that tomorrow I’ll drive my first grand prix – I’ve just been focusing on qualifying so far – but now I’ve got some time to think, prepare for the race and do my very best to make a good job of it.

“There’s lots to analyse before tomorrow, lots of different strategies to go through, but I feel confident I can do an okay job. What it will bring us, I think it’s still too early to say, and I don’t want to make any predictions. So we’ll see.”

Jenson Button

“The car has been really good all weekend: I’ve been mostly struggling with a bit of understeer, but, for my Q2 run, we came up a tiny bit on the front wing, and the car was the complete opposite – big oversteer.

“Oversteer is not something I particularly like – so I wasn’t very happy with my Q2 lap. Having said that, Stoffel did a good job today, and I didn’t do such a good job. He’s very competitive, he’s quick, he’s won here before, and I think he’s proven how good he is around a place like this. We knew how quick he could be – especially over one lap. He’s been a big part of this team for the past couple of years, and as I say he did a really good job.

“Still, we know the pace is in the car, so hopefully tomorrow will be a bit better. Nobody really knows what’s going to happen in the race. It’s a tricky one – we’ve got three different tyres to work with, and I think we have a reasonable understanding of what to do, but you never know until the race starts. There are so many options – and we fell foul of that at the last race, so hopefully we won’t do that here and we’ll have a stronger performance on Sunday.

“There’s definitely more to come from the full package.”

Eric Boullier

“Although we’ll never be exultant about 12th and 14th place on the grid, undoubtedly Stoffel’s qualifying performance on his first ever grand prix Saturday was pretty special.

“We already knew he was quick – he’s shown that countless times in World Series by Renault 3.5, in GP2 and indeed in testing for McLaren – but what has been so particularly commendable these past two days has been his studious dedication to the complex procedural endeavour that constitutes getting the very best out of today’s state-of-the-art Formula 1 cars. He didn’t put a foot wrong. Chapeau!

“I also want to say ‘well done’ to the team, who have prepared him so well for his grand prix debut weekend, and who made sure that he was able to slide into Fernando’s car so seamlessly here at such short notice.

“Jenson did his usual very professional job, and may well have gone quicker still had we optimised his Q2 set-up. In Q1 he’d had a bit of understeer, so we’d attempted to dial it out in Q2 by giving him a little bit more front wing. But, as things turned out, we slightly over-compensated, and the result was oversteer.

“Having said all that, both our drivers are well positioned to mount a sustained attack on the Bahrain International Circuit tomorrow evening, in an effort to score points if possible, and to put on a good show for our Bahraini part-shareholders, who’ll be watching the race in our paddock hospitality units as avidly as always.”