Anyone else experiencing the 5 stages of grief following Ron’s departure?

I couldn’t write about this before, I couldn’t order my thoughts, I was angry and upset. I thought I would wait a day or two before putting something together but many days later I was still confused and my head muddled. Then I realised. I was experiencing the classic stages of grief.

Denial

The denial phase for me began long before the actual announcement of Ron’s leaving. In the weeks before there had been much speculation of his exit, as inevitable as it seemed there was no way it was ever going to happen. Ever. I mean they couldn’t do that. No one could oust Ron. He is McLaren. All of the media are wrong. ALL of them. Never mind the fact that he’s fallen out with all the shareholders and failed at an attempted take over bid with the Chinese, that doesn’t mean anything, they’ll work it out.

Anger

The anger hit as soon as I saw the breaking news. I still struggle to express myself on this, but I think many McLaren fans felt the same way as I did. Like they had just stolen away something we had believed in for decades. That without Ron, McLaren would just be an empty shell of a race team, robbed of its heart. I was angry reading Ron’s angry statement, I was angry reading McLaren’s lacklustre statement and then I was inexplicably angry at Zak Brown. How dare he be celebratory in this time of anger. I’m not ready to celebrate the fact that you’ll be very good for the team yet, I’m still angry.

Bargaining

I’m not really in any position to be bargaining for Ron Dennis’ career, but I definitely did more than my fair share of looking back and thinking “what if…?” Going back and reading through the history of each business deal made within McLaren. At what point did Ron give people the power to kick him out of running his own company etc etc. Obviously a total waste of time, but me sitting quietly reading for hours definitely gave my friends and family a break from my constant angry ranting about how much McLaren will rue the day they messed with Ron.

Depression

After there was nothing left for me to read and I had asked every “What if?” question I could think of I hit the depression (although to be honest it’s still intertwined with the anger). I stopped caring about the upcoming nail biting, title deciding finale, I wasn’t even sure I could support McLaren anymore. I started going through in my head who I could support next year, sure there’s loads of drivers I love, but no one that I love with the same unwavering belief as I used to have in McLaren; but if I don’t love them anymore what is the point in watching formula one, or any motor racing at all in fact (except WEC and maybe WRC if I can get over the despair of Volkswagen’s departure and Andreas Mikkelsen gets a good drive next year). A life without motorsport! This is unspeakable. McLaren how could you do this to me!?

Acceptance

I haven’t quite reached this phase yet. I don’t think I will ever accept the decision to get rid of Ron and I’ve never really experienced a stable set of emotions when it comes to McLaren anyway, so maybe I’m expecting too much from this whole “acceptance” thing; however I am beginning to be accepting of some new and positive change and will wait and see what the future holds, although since that’s Stoffel Vandoorne and McLaren 650S GT3s x 4 with the brilliant Strakka Racing in the Blancpain GT series it’s probably going to be pretty exciting.

Three McLarens and 24 hours of racing

I tentatively approached committing myself to another 24 hours of racing after my utter heartbreak over Toyota at Le Mans. I still can’t even think about that without a tear (many tears) coming to my eye; but you know what they say about getting back on the horse… so I dived right in, and it was glorious. Just beginning to glance over the entry lists made me giddy with excitement. So much coolness in one race. Bernd Schneider already super cool for having once tested a McLaren F1 car as a present for winning DTM for Mercedes, was back yet again, having previously won the race in in both 2013 and 1989! A true 24 hours of Spa veteran. The driver listing is full of supreme driving talent from around the motorsport world not least those in the three car line up of Garage 59. Yes that’s right THREE McLaren’s. What could be more exciting than that!? Alongside regular Blancpain GT series contenders car #58 and #59 we had a very special #60, beautifully decorated with a Bruce McLaren heritage livery. A joy to behold for every McLaren fan, it should have got points for its beauty alone.

We had the usual stellar line up of Rob Bell, Shane Van Gisbergen and Come Ledogar in #58 and McLaren academy drivers Alex Fontana, Struan Moore and Andrew Watson in #59 with a Brazilian vibe in #60 with Bruno Senna, Duncan Tappy and Pipo Derani. With this, it was already clear before the start of the weekend that regardless of what happened, this would be spectacular to watch.

Free practice and qualifying

I was a little nervy through free practice as the times set by the McLaren’s were a little less competitive than could have been expected. The first qualifying was also quite nerve racking as #58 car only just managed to scrape through into 19th place (the top 20 cars from the two qualifying sessions would go through to the super pole shoots out). Shane Van Gisbergen stating that he was initially unhappy with the car, but happily a lot of set up work really paid off for the second qualifying session where he killed it, launching the McLaren into a seemingly easy first place and very safely through to the Super Pole session. Andrew Watson in the #59 car was less happy, having found it hard to find any space amongst the 65 cars out on track and as a result ended up a frustrated 38th place. #60 also unable to quite get it together on the busy track qualified in 49th. After such a stunning performance in the second quali session I was looking froward to the super pole shoot out, each of the 2 drivers getting 2 flying laps to se their time, starting with the 20th car and ending with the fastest Shane Van Gisbergen, an exciting, but slightly scary concept given the forecast for rain towards the end of the session which could have disadvantaged the McLaren with its late time slot, but none of this mattered in the end as unreliability struck and the McLaren ground to a halt at the side of the track during its outlap. Game over. 20th place, or so it would seem, but thanks to the stewards handing out random penalties to almost half the Super Pole competitors, Rob Bell earned the luxury of starting 12th.

Race

If you read any of the race summaries afterwards, you could be forgiven for thinking that it was an uneventful race for McLaren. Let me put you straight. After somewhat of a disastrous qualifying we knew there was lots to do, so much potential that had not yet been reached.

There was a long safety car period early on, of around 70 minutes, after a Porsche and Ferrari collided resulting in a lot of work for the marshals, however once the race was back on proper, it didn’t take long for all three McLaren’s to start making up some ground. Just under four hours in both the #58 and #59 cars were inside the top ten, with Ledogar rapidly hunting down the first place BMW #98 Catsburg. After dodging traffic and worrying the BMW driver for a good 10 mins, Ledogar went for it and swept past taking the lead and making it look oh so easy. Come then ducked into the pits and handed back control to Shane Van Gisbergen. A good pit stop enabled the team to keep the net lead of the race (although it doesn’t show on my wonderful graph below since pit stops meant that the McLaren was not technically first on the hour). The order was constantly changing due to random pit stop strategies caused by the extended safety car period at the beginning of the race, meaning that at one point we had #59 up into second place. Sadly we never got to see the #58 make its way back into the lead as a long pit stop was required resulting from some contact on the in lap when lapping back markers in the darkness.

After their successful charge through the field, the number #59 guys seemed a little over eager in their speedy McLarens as they seemed to sustain quite a bit of damage with much pitstop work occurring until they were eventually forced to retire shortly before the halfway point. Car #60 was also a bit war torn as it battled its way through, and by the end of the night had sustained too much damage and spent too long in the pits to be able to mount any kind of a come back, ending up in P40.

After a long and gruelling race, #58 brought the car home in 32nd, however since points are awarded at various points throughout the race, they still managed to score at the six hour mark, therefore allowing McLaren and Rob Bell to maintain their positions at the top of the Blancpain GT series championship.

Intercontinental GT series

As well as being part of the Blancpain GT series, the 24 hours of Spa also forms part of the Intercontinental GT Challenge, this being the second round of the inaugural season. Last time out was the Bathurst 12 hours which of course was won by McLaren, with Shane Van Gisbergen taking the win alongside Alvaro Parente and Jonathon Webb. The result at Spa measn that Shane is now down into 2nd place in the championship standings, with Laurens Vanthoor taking over the top spot and Bentley taking the lead in the constructors championship. The final round will be the Sepang 12 hours at the beginning of December.

For those who would rather have a race summary in graph format – here is a depiction of how it went, hour by hour.

Spa 24h McLaren lap chart

F1 Hungarian GP: McLaren + new regulations = bad things

It’s Hungary time! Or “Monaco without walls” as it is sometimes referred to which seems a little unfair because it’s WAY more exciting than Monaco. Although overtaking is difficult I always enjoy watching the attempts at overtaking in Hungary, there’s always some controversial action to discuss afterwards. Unlike Silverstone, the Hungaroring is not a traditional power circuit so should suit the Honda engine better. Downforce is much more important here and since everyone knows beautiful equals fast in the world of aerodynamics, McLaren totally have that covered already.  According to Alonso, in the McLaren race preview, the best way to succeed at this track is to attack the corners, like in carting. Well he was certainly doing that in free practice with a few little spins along the way, but that’s what free practice is for right? Finding your limits and perfecting it for qualifying, or just spinning off in qualifying too, but as you like Fernando. Besides, everyone was doing it. Both JB and Alonso have previous form here and McLaren are all time Hungary pros having won more times than any other constructor, so points were always on the horizon.

Qualifying was exciting with both JB and Fernando getting through into Q3 for the first time this season. I am glowing with happiness over the steady progress McLaren are clearly making. I never stopped believing this would happen. It feels almost as good as winning to me. I’m excited every weekend and I actually enjoyed watching qualifying for the first time in ages (aside form when we did that crazy qualifying thing that everyone has forgotten about now. That was amazing, just to see the outrage).

The race was a little less exciting though admittedly, from a McLaren perspective. Jenson’s issue early on in the race was disappointing but my disappointment turned to rage as race control went all out with their batshit crazy new radio regulations. JB had no brakes, pretty serious when driving round at nearly 300kmh so after he had dropped back a million places the team found out what was wrong and told him what setting to choose, then he went in the pits as per the new regulation regarding radio messages. But oh no Jenson, because you were on the track at the actual time that you got the message, not in the pits as the regulations state, now you must have a drive through penalty as well. That’s two penalty trips through the pitlane because the team thought maybe it wasn’t the best thing for him to drive around with no brakes. I mean, he was already flat last. What was the point of that? Happy Jenson complained about the regulations for a bit before retiring due to another issue and then continued to complain about the regulations in the post race interviews. I look forward to next weekend where we can here him complaining a bit more. I will most likely do the same thing. What is up with these ridiculous regulations? Sure no one wants to see drivers being told to brake here, speed up there, take this line round that corner, but fixing technical issues, in my opinion that’s fine. I don’t need my racing drivers to be able to understand everything that every switch on that steering wheel can do, I just need them to be able to drive fast round the track using their own minds.

Alonso had a very consistent Hungarian GP managing to finish 7th for literally the whole weekend although he was lucky to also not get a telling off from the stewards for exceeding track limits. With the new electronic sensors being able to tell when a car has all four wheels off the track, it seems the stewards were super focused on just watching that and totally ignoring all the other shenanigans that happened over the weekend. (With the exception of the above). “Oooo shiny new sensors that make our job way easier.” Probably a little harsh but I’m still bitter. I’m surprised they were even allowed to tell Alonso he had a warning for going off track. “Fernando, stop driving off the track.” Sounds like driver coaching to me. *Rolls eyes.* At first I thought I liked the idea of the electronic track sensors system but now I’m not so sure. It’s great if it stops people from gaining an advantage where it really matters, such as qualifying or in a real battle for position, but I just got sick of it being used through the middle of the race. I was happy not knowing that they were always cutting the corners and driving wherever, that’s just racing. Maybe a case of overregulation this weekend?

Second place to McLaren in inaugural GT3 Le Mans Cup

Exciting news! There’s a completely NEW racing series, and it has a McLaren in it! It’s the GT3 Le Mans Cup and it runs with the European Le Mans Series which is brilliant because it gives me another excuse to watch Le Mans Prototypes. The series will consists of five races, each race lasting two hours and one special one hour race before the 24 hours of Le Mans. It’s like a stepping stone to the World Endurance Championship GTam category. The GT3 Le Mans Cup races are run on a Saturday which means plenty of time to keep up with all the other McLaren Sunday action. Happy news.

FFF Racing Team will be running a McLaren 650S, but that’s not even the most exciting part. Adrian Quaife Hobbs is back in a McLaren! This is a dream pairing, I love Adrian, he’s a fantastic and exciting driver. I’m not sure why he never really made it in GP3 and GP2 but he absolutely killed it during his AutoGP championship year and I love watching him drive. Japanese driver Hiroshi Hamaguchi teams up with Adrian in the McLaren.

The first round was at the legendary Imola. Despite being both the team’s and Hamaguchi’s first time ever driving in Europe they showed blistering pace all weekend, with Adrian topping the time sheets in free practice. The pair qualified in fourth, which turned out to be for the best as it allowed them to keep out of the chaos at the start as the second place Porsche collided with the first place Ferrari, taking them both off. This boosted the McLaren up into second place behind the TF Sport Aston Martin. The Aston was just a little too fast for the McLaren to keep up with but they held a strong and very impressive second position, making the race look easy. The next round is the extra special Le Mans on the 18th June and I am very excited, just in case I hadn’t conveyed that already.

McLarens topping leaderboards everywhere

Blancpain Sprint Series

I love the Blancpain GT series, it’s super accessible. There’s a nice app that reminds you of all the sessions and you can watch all of the action live on the website. There’s also comprehensive youtube coverage. It’s a fan’s dream. http://www.blancpain-gt-series.com/

This weekend Come Ledogar was substituting for Craig Dolby to make his sprint cup debut in car #59. His first time racing at Brands Hatch (I believe) meant that he was disadvantaged from the start with other drivers having a superior knowledge of the track, not least Rob Bell in the #58 McLaren who had raced there just a week earlier in the British GT championship.

Bell and Parente ran well all weekend, keeping near the top of the 37 car line up in free practice 2 and finishing Q3 in 6th place. They were unlucky in the qualifying race when #84 Bauman tapped the back of the McLaren, forcing them aside as he overtook. A move which he later got a drive through penalty for, completely ruining his weekend and thus considerably helping out in the championship following two previous very successful weekends. Whilst the commentators were surprised by the penalty I actually shouted at loud at the news. Vindication! A bit too much passion maybe, it was only a battle for eight place in the qualifying race… It was the Mercedes AMG of Schneider and Szymkowiak who got the top spot.

The main race happened just hours later. From a McLaren fan perspective it was a quiet race, a quiet weekend even. In fact, as we approached the final ten minutes of the hour long race I began to wonder what I might write about, but true to Parente’s usual style, there was a nail biting finish as a safety car bunched the field together, creating a final sprint to the end. Parente in 5th place at the time launched a final attack on the cars ahead of him. Easily leap frogging his way into 4th place, Parente then proceeded to hunt down third place, however sadly he just ran out of laps. Still snapping at the heels of the Bentley as they crossed the line, he finished just one tenth of a second  behind. One more lap and it would have 100% have been a McLaren Garage 59 podium. It was the #33 Audi of Ide and Mies who took the win.

Following the success of the previous sprint and endurance rounds, rather excitingly it is now Rob Bell who leads the Blancpain GT drivers championship. Silverstone up next.

Australian GT

Just to caveat, I find it quite hard to keep up to date with the Australian GT in detail, not least because I’m on completely the wrong side of the world, but it is worth the effort. There are five McLaren 650S GT3s competing in the series! FIVE! With a quarter of the field McLaren, it’s a delight to watch regardless of the actual racing.

Klark Quinn is the dominant McLaren driver, currently heading up the top of the championship, ahead of second placed Nathan Morcom in another McLaren. When googling Quinn to try and find out more I instead stumbled across some man who seemingly has a whole website dedicated to asking the question “are you ready to Quinnovate?” By the time I realised I had spelt his name wrong it was too late. I had spent way too long distracting myself trying to find out what quinnovating actually is and had no time to do any genuine McLaren Klark Quinn reading, so you’ll just have to wait for any deep and meaningful insights picked up by my thorough google researching.

The third round of the Australian GT series was held at Barbagallo Raceway. A big accident on the second lap led to a 20 minute safety car and a trip to the hospital for Geoff Emery. The race was then red flagged to enable officials to to get Emery out of the car and to the hospital and fix the barriers. He is reportedly “in good spirits” which is good news. The race was restarted with 20 minutes left on the clock of what should have been an hour long race. However, to compensate for the lack of pitstops, the race director decided to confuse everyone by adding half of the compulsory pitstop time on to everyone’s time at the end of the race, so no one really knew who was going to end up where. As it was, Quinn looked like he was going to win, was overtaken at the last minute by some Mercedes AMG and then ended up in fourth place after all the random times had been calculated. I literally have no idea what happened, but there are five McLaren’s racing so what else really matters?

Points all round for McLaren

This weekend we had both F1 in Sochi and British GT action in Rockingham. Similar results, but slightly different moods.

Formula 1

For the regular F1 fan, McLaren’s weekend may have seemed reasonably ordinary, ending up with a pretty good points finish, but for me it was a rollercoaster of emotions; nail biting through and through. Let’s start with Friday practice. McLaren have often looked pretty good on a Friday, raising hopes of a forward advancement only for a little disappointment when this does not materialise in the race on Sunday. This Friday was looking good. Saturday practice looked good too. The tension was mounting for qualifying, Twitter was alight with speculation over whether Button would make it into Q3 or not. Apparently there was some kind of Hamilton/Rosberg thing going on too but I barely even noticed that. I held my breath as Button crossed the line to finish Q2, but alas it was not meant to be. Less than one tenth of a second too slow and Torro Rosso had stolen our 10th place. We’d get them back though. Later.

Kvyat in the Red Bull gave Alonso a good start to the race by taking out a load of the mid field (and one front runner), clearing the way for his charge through the pack. JB was a little less lucky but at least managed to stay on track unlike many who found themselves in the wake of the young Russian. (That’s a little unfair to Kvyat but I just like the drama). The rest of the race for me was just nerves, would this end up with the glorious points McLaren deserved, or would something terrible happen – a crash, a mechanical failure, a bird on the track?  But no, Alonso finished in a well deserved 6th place. Jubilation! I peered further down the field, my heart sank as it looked as though JB was going to finish just outside of the points, until I realised that we were getting our comeback for Torro Rosso beating us in qualifying. Tenth place Carlos Sainz had been handed a 10 second time penalty, to be applied after the race, for forcing Jolyon Palmer off track during an earlier battle. Brilliant. That promoted Button up into 10th place and a double points scoring finish for McLaren, in addition to Alonso doing the 5th fastest lap of the race. Not bad for a Honda eh? Go team!

British GT

Meanwhile in the British GT championship, there was a little less elation and so much that could have been in a frustrating weekend that started off so well for both GT4 and GT3 McLarens. Just to get it out of the way – my major complaint about British GT is that it is comparatively difficult to follow. There are weird TV times several days after the event, no online live streaming or post race downloads or highlights that I can find and the reports are quite long and confusing if you haven’t had time to keep up constantly. This slightly spoils my experience of the championship which is sad because the racing itself is brilliant. However having said all that, they do have very comprehensive information about the drivers, reading a little too much like a dating profile, which completely adds to my entertainment.

In the GT4 class, Ciaran Haggerty and Sandy Mitchell in the #59 McLaren 570S GT4 secured third place in qualifying and were looking favourites to win the race at one point, only to be handed a six second stop/go penalty for being too quick in their pitstop. What kind of a ridiculous rule is that anyway? The pair were then hampered by some intermittent electrical issue for the rest of the race but somehow McLaren magic (and good driving) enabled them to finish in 5th place. The race was won by the second place team, car #407, Aston Martin, in yet another post race exclusion as the first place #73 Ginetta naughtily did some overtaking under yellow flags. What is going on this year? I’m almost getting used to this post race exclusion thing for the victors and just cheering on the second place drivers to begin with. Still, it moved McLaren up one place.

Rob Bell and Alisdair McCaig in the #79 McLaren 650S GT3 didn’t have much more luck. Starting second on the grid but dropping back through the field early on due to an electrical issue meant that they were unable to manage any higher than seventh. Sad times after such brilliant qualifying from both cars, clearly they have the speed, roll on Oulton Park!

McLaren take triple victory

There has been so much spectacular McLaren action this weekend it’s been almost impossible to keep up ad I’m still a bit confused about who won what and where, however basically our GT3 superstars have been showing the world what McLaren is all about by taking three victories across three different series. Count them. Three.

Pirelli World Championship

Another week, another couple of rounds of the Pirelli World Championship and another chance for McLaren factory driver Alvaro Parente to show the world how the McLaren 650S is the best GT3 car on the planet, and he’s pretty awesome too. This week we were in Barber, otherwise known as the Grand Prix of Birmingham, which has a whole other ring to it as a British person. Putting aside that mental image and focussing on the racing, one of the Cadillacs tried to drag race the McLaren to the first corner. Clearly not going to win that one and that was that. According to Parente it was a little more challenging than that but he made it look easy. Parente finished second in the second race of the weekend and is now third in the GT class driver championship.

Blancpain Endurance Cup

Back in Europe, the opening round of the Blancpain Endurance Cup was everything I love about endurance racing. After three hours it was a mere three tenths of a second that separated the winner from the losers. It was the #58 McLaren with Rob Bell, Come Ledogar and Shane Van Gisbergen that took the victory from the second place Mercedes (it felt so good writing that!) It was a tough battle in the last half an hour but the McLaren won out, naturally.

Sadly for the #59 car there was contact on turn one which meant they had to spend some time in the pits and only managed to finish in 36th place, which was still better than 21 other cars, so, er, good.

International GT Open

The first round of the International GT Open was bitter sweet. To give some context to my perspective, there’s a special place in my heart for car #88 with Kevin Estre and Swede Alexander West. As my adopted home and place of minimal motor racing (comparative to the UK), it is truly a beautiful thing when I get to support a swedish driver in a McLaren. It also gives me plenty of excuses to talk about McLaren with random swedish people. Garage 59 had been on track for a double podium finish right up until the last lap when tragedy struck in the form of some other random competitor in an unimportant Lamborghini. Luckily the second McLaren of Benham and Tappy was there to step into the void ensuring a McLaren win. As it should be.

Super Formula

Last but most definitely not by any means least, let us not forget McLaren reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne’s exciting Japanese debut the Super Formula. Clearly all warmed up after his fantastic points scoring venture in the Bahrain GP a few weeks ago, he finished in third place. I don’t care if people say it’s just hype, he will be a champion one day.

Brand new McLarens (and some WEC)

I missed a bit of McLaren action last weekend as I was too busy schmoozing with the endurance elite at the WEC six hours of Silverstone. The sun was shining (after a flurry of snow) giving an illusion of warmth, there were six hours of pure racing and there were plenty of  cups of tea; the only thing missing was McLaren. I long back to ‘95 when the stars all aligned as Le Mans and McLaren came together and the McLaren F1s GTRs (multiple!) destroyed the rest of the field, finishing in 1st, 3rd, 4th and 5th. Please, please, please McLaren! Anyway, for the purposes of the World Endurance Championship I transfer all of my McLaren love over to the Toyota Hybrid. Now that is a gloriously beautiful car. I think I may possibly love Le Mans Prototypes more than anything else on Earth.

FullSizeRender

I digress… So while I was freezing to death on an airfield in Northamptonshire, McLarens were strutting their stuff all round the word. Well, Shanghai, Long Beach US of A and glamorous Brands Hatch (which incidentally claims to be the UKs best loved circuit) competing in F1, the Pirelli World Championship and the British GT series.

F1

The third grand prix of the season and a third win for Nico Rosberg, it was a slightly different story for McLaren. Whilst obviously disappointing that both cars finished just outside of the points (12th and 13th) a few positives could be taken from the race. Firstly, that since no cars retired, it gave McLaren a chance to really understand their race pace and it is a noticeable improvement on last year. Not only that, but the fact that reliability is also going in the right direction is something to take comfort from. I am also particularly excited to see that Eric Boullier has truly taken on the spirit of McLaren with some epic Ronspeak in his post race reflections including describing Jenson’s fastest lap as “a spirited circumnavigation of the Shanghai International Circuit” and summarizing his overall race as having “pugnaciously realised the maximum available out of his necessarily more dynamic three-stopper.” Please somebody let me be a fly on the wall in a Dennis/Boullier meeting one day.

Pirelli World Championship

The PWC season is also already in full flow with Long Beach marking the 5th race of the season and the first PWC win for McLaren factory driver Alvaro Parente, after a post race technical infraction relegated first place all American sounding Johnny O’Connell in the Cadillac down to second place. It was a close race for the 650S GT3 and whilst Parente obviously would have preferred to win on track, I’m pretty sure McLaren deserved to win anyway so I’ll take it.

British GT

Meanwhile, exciting things were also transpiring across the pond at Brands Hatch for the first round of the 2016 British GT series, so exciting in fact, I don’t really know where to start. I guess it should be with the McLaren 570S! The money cannot buy (yet) coupé version will be the safety car this year. I have never wanted to see a safety car out on track so much. Bring on plenty of small and safe crashes which much debris requiring an averagely long safety car stint. But wait, there is another brand spanking new McLaren 570S in the GT4 form actually taking part in the racing. The cars are in their final development year before being available to buy for those lucky so and sos who can afford one. Although with the fancy luggage compartment in the 570S maybe I could get myself some McLaren luggage (yes, that is a thing and I want some), sell my apartment and move into the car instead. After all it has a whole 220 litres of storage. What more could a girl need?

The season kick off didn’t go as well as it could have done for the Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse team and their McLarens (a team name that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue but admittedly does look cool in writing). The 650S GT3 entry got screwed around primarily by a multi-car accident that saw luck against them as they fought in a crowded pitlane. Eventually the race was red flagged due to another incident leaving the team forced to settle for 7th having already battled their way through the field, however pace was good and things are looking promising for the future rounds. The GT4 sister car (can it be a sister car if it’s actually a different type of car…?) had 16 year old Sandy Mitchell at the wheel. Sixteen years old! The youngest driver ever in British GT history, as well as it of course being the debut for the McLaren 570S GT4. Having similar bad luck to the GT3 car, they ended the race in sixth but having shown that their pace was blisteringly fast in comparison to the rest of the field. Roll on the next round of British GT with hopefully less rain and crashes and red flags. Hmm it is British GT, I won’t hold my breath.

One step away from the podium

The Blancpain GT series has kicked off for real this weekend with the sprint series. McLaren GT customer team Garage 59 are the team to watch out for with two glorious McLaren 650S GT3s, in stunning black, white and orange Mclareny colours. With an insane 38 cars signed up for the first round and a wealth of hot young talent throughout the field, this year is surely going to be a brilliant year. Not least for Garage 59 with arguably the best driver combo of shiny gold and platinum ranked McLaren superstars in Alvaro Parente, Rob Bell, Craig Dolby and Martin Plowman racing in cars #58 and #59

First up, Misano, Italy, and things are looking promising as Alvaro Parente makes it into second place in an insanely competitive qualifying session that sees the top 15 cars all within one second of one another. As the drivers all line up on the grid for the cold, damp, darkness of the night time qualifying race, Lady Luck’s evil sister struck with car #59 which failed to get away from the gird and proceeded to spend the first 15 minutes of the hour long race in the pits. Dry/wet/in between conditions which are not a McLarens friend, coupled with incorrect tyre pressures meant that car #58 slipped right down the pack, however with a new set of slicks on a drying surface, Bell, the fastest man on the track, managed a speedy drive back up to 9th.

Rob Bell started in the #58 car, managing to get up to 6th, helped along a little by the scuffles up front and a drive through penalty for Vanthoor. It was pretty much a race on his own until after the pitstops when, with some pretty special overtaking, Parente made short work of Rast in the Audi, and moved the #58 up into 5th place. Car 59 was not so lucky as they were dished out a drive through penalty for speeding in the pitlane. A mechanical failure for third place Rosenqvist moved Parente up once again, finishing only one step away from the podium. A solid finish for the first race of the season.

Despite the army of Audis, there were four different cars finishing in the top four and I can’t wait to see how the McLaren is going to get along when not hampered by non-McLaren friendly weather conditions. This is shaping up to be a very exciting year in the Blancpain GT series. Roll on Monza in two weeks time when the endurance races also kick off!

A plea to give formula 1 some love (and to say NO to an aggregated qualifying system)

Just to qualify, this is not a McLaren related post, but still something dear to my heart (apparently) and ultimately a plea to care for our beloved F1, for without it, there would be much less McLaren to dazzle our screens every other weekend. Normal service shall be resumed shortly.

I’ve been pretty laid back about what everyone else has been referring to as the qualifying debacle,  (at least in polite circles). I’ve defended the change despite its many, wide ranging flaws and sat back and tried to enjoy everything, good or bad. I’ve been a loyal F1 fan. However just the mere hint of some kind of aggregated style of qualifying has finally hit a nerve. Daniel Ricciardo took the words right out of my mouth; qualifying should be about that one perfect lap. Not two pretty good laps mashed together. What if someone did a stunning, mind blowing, lightening fast, nothing you’ve ever seen before lap, but didn’t make it to pole because on their way to doing that eye wateringly amazing thing they had put a couple of wheels in the dirt. What if someone who had done two mediocre but tidy laps then got the pole. I would cry. Actually cry. It can’t happen.

In addition to this scare, imagine my horror when I stumbled across a qualifying system poll going on over at Sky Sports. Not wanting to be lumped in with the grumbling change haters I was reluctant to click the “go back to 2015” option, but I knew it was my duty as someone who had to do anything it took to steer away from the injustice of aggregated qualifying. Click. The current results popped up. As expected, the overwhelmingly popular choice was to return the qualifying of yonder year, but in the minority of those who had opted for a new system, the winner was somehow the aggregated format! No! No formula 1 fans, what are you thinking!? Is the “thrill” of seeing a clock ticking down to zero in a final lap shoot out, with the addition of having to review precious lap times and then do some maths to work out what lap time each driver needs to do in order to be on pole position, really more important to you than seeing the artistry of that one perfect lap rewarded?

I imagine this will be the only time I write something so overwhelmingly negative about the state of the sport I love. I have deliberately kept away from this most hot of hot topics for the reason that in all this qualifying craziness we are forgetting what formula one is about. The fastest drivers competing in the best cars on a shimmering world stage. It should be a showcase of that, not a maths challenge. But let us not lose hope, don’t let us turn our backs on the thing we love. Instead of criticising we must work for positive change. As we fumble through many strange qualifying formats we should ask ourselves what is the problem we are seeking to solve? How do any of these things help to solve that problem? What do we want from F1? Let’s take a step back to lovingly nurture our sport and let it grow, let us facilitate positive and exciting change rather than kicking it while it is down. For those who are truly disillusioned, take a short break, watch some Blancpain GT series, British GT championship or Asian Le Mans series, come back when you’re feeling ready but don’t add to the negativity. Don’t keep breaking it down until it is no more. You’ll miss it when it’s gone.