#22 – Jenson Button – Britain – 11 Starts, 60 Points, Best Finish: 3rd (Australia), Championship Position: 8th
After a podium-less season in 2013, the McLaren-Mercedes team were hoping for an improved display this year, especially with Ron Dennis taking back the reigns of the team from Martin Whitmarsh. Mexican Sergio Perez was released after just one season at the team, replaced by last year’s Formula Renault 3.5 Series champion Kevin Magnussen.
It all appeared to be going well for the team when the season began in Australia, with both Magnussen and team-mate Jenson Button claiming places on the podium for second and third behind the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg, but it appears Melbourne was just a one-off.
The team have not achieved another podium in the ten races since, with Button’s fourth places in Montreal and Silverstone the closest they’ve managed. The reliability has been there, apart from a double retirement in Bahrain with matching clutch failures, but far too often the pace has not been there, even with the benefit of the Mercedes-power. The team went through three pointless races in Bahrain, China and Spain but have scored points in every race since.
Magnussen’s debut in Australia was great. He qualified fourth on the grid and was running in the top three all afternoon, inheriting second after Daniel Ricciardo was disqualified. Since then, while he has done relatively well in qualifying – he qualified inside the top six in Austria, Great Britain and Germany – his best finish has only been seventh at both the Red Bull Ring and at Silverstone.
He has had a few issues with other drivers in 2014. He collided with the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen in Malaysia that resulted in the Finn getting a puncture, and also hit Felipe Massa of Williams in Germany going into the first corner. The incident with Raikkonen cost him two points on his Superlicence, while the Massa clash was deemed a racing incident.
The start of Button’s season was overshadowed by the untimely death of his father John, and his performance in Melbourne would have put a smile on his fathers face. His pace in the subsequent races hasn’t been as positive, but his fight-back in Canada was tremendous. He was running ninth in the closing stages, but managed to finish fourth after some good moves for position.
Button’s best weekend since Australia was at his home grand prix at Silverstone, when he took advantage of the changeable conditions in qualifying to start third, and then came so close to his first home podium by finishing less than a second behind Ricciardo’s Red Bull. If the race had been one lap longer, on his much fresher tyres, the podium quite possibly could have been his.
It is not just the drivers who are under pressure. The strategy calls from the pit wall at the Hungaroring in Hungary last time out were baffling. Had they taken dry tyres at the pit stop instead of intermediates – the only team to do so – they could have been fighting for a podium finish, but ultimately Button finished tenth after the extra stop to finally ditch the wet tyres, and Magnussen twelfth. The team were gambling on a rain shower that never materialised, but lost out badly in the shuffle.
McLaren historically have been one of the top teams in Formula 1, but right now they are firmed engulfed amid the midfield. They were the quickest team at the end of the 2012 season, but now find themselves fighting with the Force India’s and Toro Rosso’s for the minor points places, something Ron Dennis will not be satisfied with.
Upgrades have arrived on the cars, and they are gradually getting closer to the ultimate pace, but with the team switching from Mercedes to Honda in 2015, they might be worth focusing their primary efforts on getting their car ready for next year. They have two drivers who will want to show they deserve to remain in the team next year, and they have eight races to convince Dennis they are the ones to take the reigns of the 2015 McLaren-Honda’s.