For five years McLaren F1 Team had been the laughing stock of Formula 1 with the Honda experiment being a complete disaster and a succession of team managers who all failed to repair the damage left behind by Martin Whitmarsh.
2019 saw McLaren find it’s feet once again in the higher echelons of Formula 1 with their fresh driver line up of Carlos Sainz Jr. and Lando Norris becoming fan favourites on and off the track.
The team finished in fourth place in the constructor’s championship their best since 2014 and the Woking-based team’s first podium since Melbourne 2014, with Sainz scoring third in Brazil after a great comeback drive after starting last on the grid.
High Point of the Season – The Smooth Operator comes good in Brazil
McLaren and Sainz had both waited for years for a podium with several near misses in the past, causing a feeling around both camps that they were doomed to extend their streak of never reaching the podium.
The streak looked set to extend in Brazil after Sainz’s McLaren suffered an ignition wiring issue which caused his McLaren to be brought back into the pits unable to set a lap time in qualifying, with McLaren electing to gamble on a new power unit for the race.
Sainz drove an empathetic race from last place, carving his way through the order to finish fourth on the road.
The Spaniard then got his podium hours later after Lewis Hamilton was given a five-second time penalty for hitting Alexander Albon in the dying laps of the race, promoting Sainz to third to wild celebrations in the McLaren garage and on the podium.
Low Point of the Season – Mexican calamity
In a season with so little blemishes, Mexico was nothing short of a disaster as they threw away double points finish after a good qualifying.
The race was nothing short of a disaster with Norris being let out his pitstop early without all four wheels secured tightly, Norris was chased down the pitlane by his mechanics who hurriedly pushed him back into the McLaren box to fix the error.
From then on McLaren’s race went downhill, as Norris went a lap down, and was then under investigation for a pitlane infringement, whilst Sainz fell down the order and quickly lost ground with the midfield battle.
Eventually, Norris was retired and Sainz only managed thirteenth place, making Mexico the first race since Belgium that McLaren hadn’t scored a point.
Norris came out on top of the qualifying battle between teammates, with the Brit making Q3 fourteen times out of the twenty-one qualifying sessions this season.
In contrast, Sainz at times struggled with qualifying, failing to make Q3 seven times this season, the result of which saw Sainz lose the qualifying battle 11-10 overall to Norris.
Norris may have won the qualifying battle but Sainz won the race battle, the Spaniard outscored Norris by almost double the points the Brit had earned over the season.
Sainz scored ninety-six points and a best finish of third whilst Norris scored forty-nine points and a best finish of sixth.
Sainz earned a big bulk of those points through his charges from the tail end of the grid which earned his nickname of the smooth operator, whilst Norris struggled in some races where the McLaren occasionally failed to handle it’s tires properly.
What to look out for in 2020
The only way is up for McLaren, with the Mercedes engines arriving in 2021, a driver lineup who get on like a house on fire and with a top team manager in Andreas Seidl poached from Porsche’s sportscar programme, it would be wrong to write off McLaren to get more podiums.
The only issue that might hinder McLaren is with expectations up, 2020 might be a tougher year for Norris and Sainz and with added pressure comes pressure on the pair’s relationship, and it could get to the point where the bromance between the two hits the buffers.