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?