NEWS FEATURE

What is wrong with McLaren?

Ron Dennis gets mildly annoyed when people ask him the question of which all F1 fans want to know the answer. What's gone wrong with McLaren this year? Five Grands Prix into the season, Nigel Mansell has 50 points, Ayrton Senna has eight. In the Constructors' World Championship Williams-Renault has 74 points, McLaren-Honda 16.

"The subject is capable of being explained with one line," says Ron. "The results so far this season reflect the huge effort which we put in which saw us stop virtually all of the long-range design and development for the new car from the middle of last season onwards. We finished last season having won the World Championship, but also having squeezed out of our respective corporations: Honda, McLaren and Shell, everything we could bring to bear to win that championship. There was a degree of fatigue after that process which then led to the necessity of running the MP4/6s for the first two races this year. On balance I felt they were going to be adequate to at least be capable of third and fourth places - which they probably were - but the demotivation that came from the gap (to Williams-Renault) being so big was difficult to cope with and it was obvious that we needed to accelerate the MP4/7.

"We never intended for it to run before Barcelona and we worked hard to get the cars to Brazil. We did that. The problems with both of those cars were relatively minor and did not constitue significant development problems, but then, of course, we had to sort - and are continuing to sort - the inadequacies in the performance of the engine and the new car.

"I think we have quite a good understanding of the inadequacies in the package. We know what we have to do and it is a question of how fast we can do it. Anybody who writes McLaren off is a fool."

There is no question that in the F1 paddck McLaren's lack of performance has had too effects: people are enjoying it, and others are seeing problems ahead for the incredibly-successful McLaren-Honda-Ayrton Senna combination.

"We concentrating on solving our problems," says Dennis. "We certainly are not wasting any time on listening to - or contributing to - the inaccurate trivia that constitutes, by and large, most people's opinions."

But what about the stories of pressures within the team?

"I know that what is written and spoken is just inaccurate rumour. I have nothing to contribute, retract or participate in. The majority of the people participating in the so-called accurate perception of McLaren are virtually the same people who put us on the pedestal. It's human nature to put you on a pedestal and as soon as you are there, knock you down. We never put ourselves there and, therefore, we don't have any problem at all with just getting on with the job. There is nothing that is written or said that is going to influence the performance of the car."

Would it be true to say that McLaren has fallen behind Williams-Renault in the technology race?

Ron pauses.

"I think the semi-automatic gearbox on the Williams lost them the World championship last year," he says. "It lost Ferrari the World Championship the year before that. It could well cost us some results this year, but so far that part of the programme has been extremely good. As with any technical innovation that is brought into F1 the question is not just to have it, but to have the best. Lotus started active ride years ago, then Williams paid a significant price for not mastering the technology. We are not going to make similar mistakes.

"There is little to be achieved by either myself or anyone else in the company spending time explaining what our perception of our inadequacies are and what we plan to do about it. It serves no function at all. I find it an incredibly stupid and wasteful use of my time. I know, my engineers know, what we have to do and we are getting on and doing it. All the people who are deriving some degree of pleasure at seeing us not in our normal frontline position and dominant race-winning form, will be the same people who will slip back into their sycophantic attitudes when - and it will be when - we get the team back to the position it normally has."

It is cleraly time to change tack and move on to another subject. What about the proposals being discussed for the future shape of F1. Where does the McLaren boss stand on these?

"There is a need for us to address the future quality of F1," he says, "both in the sense of the show it puts on - and the costs associated with that. I think that the thing that is lacking - and it is often lacking - is a desire or an understanding that change needs to be correctly timed. There is too much knee-jerk and shoot-from-the-hip approach to introducing change. No-one is going to resist change if it is properly implemented. Now, what that change should be is currently being debated, but what clouds that issue all the time is the pressurisation which comes into the equation to make the change happen tomorrow, as opposed to with a timing which allows it to be cost-effective."

Timing is part and parcel of the Dennis philosophy. It has to be right and no time should ever be wasted. Certainly, down at the McLaren factory and out on the testing tracks of Europe, a huge effort is underway to put Ayrton back on track for another world title...

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