Category Archives: McLaren

3 Things I Learned from the Senna Movie

As much as I love Formula One, I have to admit I only started watching it in 2000.  I’ve always been into motor sport, but as many of my fellow Americans know, exposure is low here, so it’s the sort of thing you either stumble onto (which is much easier these days with the internet, expanded cable, satellite TV, etc.), or someone shows you.  I was lucky enough to have someone show me F1 racing, and I was hooked from day one.

The above stated, everything I know about Formula One in the 1990’s, and more specifically about Ayrton Senna, was learned from the internet.  For the last 11+ years I’ve spent considerable time between races and in the off-season scouring F1 sites, Wikipedia, and YouTube to learn everything I can about the rich history of the sport I love.

But the internet – even with all the wonderful written content, amazing photos and infinite video clips – can only paint part of the picture for you.  Seeing something unfold on the big screen that you’ve only read about from various perspectives shines a whole new light on things.  From watching the body language between Prost and Senna to seeing the tears of Ayrton’s fellow drivers that fateful day at Imola — seeing SENNA on the big screen taught me some things (while reminding me of others) that I would have never fully realized without the aid of this fantastic film.

Ayrton Senna

Senna Movie Poster

1.  Senna’s commitment was awe-inspiring, and occasionally, downright frightening

I had read as much already, but to actually see Senna driving like a man possessed in his damaged MP4/5 in pursuit of Alessandro Nannini in the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix was absolutely thrilling; even though I knew the outcome of both the race and the championship.  With deranged front-wing and all, you could feel that Senna setting off again was not a move of desperation, but rather Senna going after what he felt was his birthright.  You can read the words all day long; but actually watching the driving, the demeanor, and even the more candid shots with fellow drivers, friends and family all highlight the determination and commitment that made Senna stand alone in his era.

2.  Prost was a bit of a dick at times

As the only man with 4 F1 World Titles to his name today, I’ve always had a special place in my heart for “The Professor”.  While most fans seem to side with either Prost or Senna, I choose to admire both for who they were and what they accomplished in their careers (admittedly, this probably wouldn’t have been so easy if you were watching them race during the period – particularly if you happened to be Brazilian).  Not too surprising for a guy whose favorite current drivers are Hamilton and Alonso; I don’t get too wrapped up in intra-team battles, particularly those where the F1 media themselves tend to pick sides.

With that said, seeing Alain Prost rub elbows with FISA president Jean Marie Balestre while fully embattled with Senna for the championship does distort the image of Prost I’d always had in my head.  I already knew about the Williams contract that stipulated that Senna could not be his teammate for 1993, and always thought this showed a bit of cowardice on Prost’s part, but seeing things like Prost trudging off the the race stewards office after each perceived injustice was a side of him I’d never have known without the film.  I am very happy that the film came full circle in the end, however, to show that Prost was both a Paul Bearer at Senna’s funeral, as well as a trustee for the Senna Foundation.

3.  Ron Dennis still has redeeming qualities I’ve yet to uncover

I’ve always had a bit of a love/hate feeling for Mr. Dennis.  When he was basically a father figure to twice World Champion Mika Hakkinen for almost the duration of the Finn’s career, I always thought to myself, “What a great guy.  I’d love for my son to drive for Ron some day”.  Seeing Dennis come to tears as Kimi Raikkonen crossed the line in Malaysia for his first F1 victory was another “I like Ron” moment for me.  Soft-spoken, yet intense.  Pragmatic, yet emotional.  I have always admired Ron Dennis.

Then the 2007 World Championship came along, a brand-new driver line-up of Alonso and Hamilton, and everything went to hell; including my feelings for the McLaren team principal.  To be short about it, I saw a favoritism for Hamilton and a mistreatment of Fernando Alonso that completely turned me off.  The only great thing Ron did in this year was a quote he had while in Paris for the Spygate hearings involving stolen Ferrari technical data:

We have the best car, and we have the best drivers, and it’s our intention to win the World Championship.

Genius.  What a great line that was.  Unfortunately for Ron, then-Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen famously swooped in and took the World Championship in 2007 by a single point.

Having watched Ron Dennis for the last 11 years, I’ve learned quite a few things about the man’s demeanor, how he runs an F1 team, and how he treats his drivers.  So what came as a bit of a surprise to me when I saw the Senna film was how fairly he not only spoke about Prost and Senna, but how fairly he seemed to treat them as teammates at McLaren.  Listening to Ron talk about both drivers, he seemed equally impressed with both men, and I get the feeling he truly wanted the partnership to work out (it certainly had more time to grow than the Hamilton / Alonso partnership).  Sure, I’ve read things to the contrary from Prost and Senna fans alike, but as far as what the film shows and where the story goes, I was very impressed with how impartial and patient Ron was.  For me, he was back to the Ron Dennis I knew and admired when I first started watching Formula One.

At the end of the day, I’m not quite naive enough to let a documentary change the thoughts and opinions I’ve had about these colorful and interesting people in my years of watching F1 — Senna could be a bit of a bully, Prost even at his worst was a driving genius, and Ron is only human and has probably done many dastardly deeds I’ve never heard about — but I’m very grateful for this film for showing me a side of these 3 magnificent people that I would have never otherwise considered.


Top 6 Reasons Why McLaren Fans Shouldn’t be Worried in 2011

McLaren MP4-26 in Berlin

"Ain't she a beaut, Clark?!"

EDITOR’S NOTE:  This article was originally intended to be the “Top 10” reasons for McLaren fans to feel good going into 2011, but I could only come up with 6.  Apologies.

If you have access to an internet-enabled web device and decided to read about F1 in the last 2 days, then you already know that McLaren, their drivers, and most of their fans are cautiously pessimistic about the impending 2011 World Championship season.  Tweets, news, and statuses were all doom and gloom about the MP4-26’s performances and limiting running thus far in testing, and so in turn were McLaren’s prospects according to many a worried fan for the upcoming season.

Well, fret not my tea-drinking Macca friends from o’er the pond.  I’ve come all the way from Amarika to give you my top 6 reasons why McLaren fans shouldn’t worry a bit about the upcoming Formula One season.  It will be a cracking, spot-on banger!*

*I don't know what any of that means

REASON 6:  The MP4-26 is the best-looking car – again

To clarify, best-looking is not synonymous with fast-looking.  But the MP4-26 – as the McLaren challenger has been for the last 14 years; ever since the MP4-12 was launched in 1997 – is the most beautiful machine on the grid.  Sure, I realize this doesn’t affect performance and therefore points scoring potential, but dammit, it should be worth at least 5 bonus points per season.  McLaren and their livery design team take what others treat as just a 200mph billboard with pinstripes, ghastly colors and goofy tribal shapes and turn it into something truly beautiful — every year since 1997.

McLaren MP4-12

Are you starin' at my McLaren?

From sidepod (title) sponsors West, to Johnnie Walker, and now Vodafone – no car has a better-looking paint scheme than the McLaren.  Even when it just said “Mika”, “David”, “Kimi”, “Juan”, or “Pedro” on the side, it was still the sharpest color-scheme around.  It’s all in the sidepods, baby – it’s all in the sidepods.  And now that they’re U-shaped, we should all feel like that’s going to make it faster over time and (for reasons unknown to myself and fellow non-engineers / aerodynamicists) shouldn’t be surprised when we see other teams changing their own sidepod profiles throughout this season and next to match the McLaren U-Pod.

REASON 5:  One of your drivers is named ‘Lewis Hamilton’

He’s about as “gangsta” as…  well… a British racing driver; but damn he’s fast.  And entertaining behind the wheel.  And perhaps most importantly, he’s damned ballsy, too.  Surely McLaren fans must feel the same amount of reassurance as I do fear when Lewis is on a charge through the field with his next target in sight.

And for the record, he won Spa 2008 fair and square.  That tremendous drive from a 2nd year pilot in mixed conditions against the likes of the one they call “the ICEMAN” was epic.  Lewis gave the position back and then some, slowing while crossing behind the Finn from left to right whilst out-smarting and later out-braking veteran Kimi that rainy day in Belgium.  That should be gospel coming from an Alonso fan.

Lewis Hamilton

Luck does not come into it

I assure you, it’s every bit as awkward to compliment Hamilton when you’re an Alonso fan as it is for Hamilton fans to say something nice about Alonso.  Lucky for me (while puzzling for others), they’re my 2 favorite drivers.  When you have Lewis Hamilton driving for you, it’s a reassuring feeling.  Sure, he might make a dumb mistake or 2 a season where he bins the car, someone else’s in the pit lane, or just dumps it in the gravel during a high pressure race; but it’s all the times in between where he’s pure magic.  He’s the outright fastest driver in the sport, and he would have won WDC last year with 2 races to spare had he been given the RB6 to drive.  Much like his counterpart at Ferrari, Hamilton doesn’t need the best car.  It just needs to be good enough.

REASON 4:  Nobody gets on with development throughout the season like McLaren

In the last 10 years, McLaren have continually managed to demonstrate that not only is the car they end the year with radically different from the one they start the year with, but it’s generally much faster, too.

Sure, recent testing restrictions have infringed upon McLaren’s ability to close or increase the gap throughout the season, but even still 2010’s challenger usually got a bit better every race.  No reason to expect less this year.  And there’s every reason to expect good development feedback from Button, too.

REASON 3:  McLaren invented the F-Duct

Need I say more?  Sure it’s banned for the 2011 season, but still…  they came up with it.  Who knows what other ideas are on the MP4-26 that don’t require a plainly visible snorkel?

McLaren F-duct

Not to be confused with the D-duct or N-duct

REASON 2:  Dennis may be “gone”, but he’s still looking over Whitmarsh’s shoulder

While seeing Ron Dennis on the McLaren pit wall isn’t exactly a sign of encouragement for some McLaren fans, it is for me.  See, under the control of Ron, McLaren has won 10 Driver’s World Championships.  If my math is correct, that’s 10 more championships than Martin Whitmarsh has won as Team Principal.

I realize Ron Dennis is tackling many new ventures not associated with grand prix racing, but I also happen to know 5th-hand that his mouth is in Whitmarsh’s ear.  He may not be wearing the white shirt and Kenwood headset much anymore, but he still wants McLaren to win, and he’s keeping a close eye on the happenings in Woking and around the F1 calendar while advising Whitmarsh and other team personnel.  And lastly, Lewis is like a second son to Ron; Mika of course, being the first.  I’m not really sure how Mr. Dennis feels about the 3 children he actually has…

REASON 1: They’re due

Last 5 years of WDC teams and drivers:

  • 2006 – Renault – Alonso
  • 2007 – Ferrari – Raikkonen
  • 2008 – McLaren – Hamilton
  • 2009 – Brawn – Button
  • 2010 – Red Bull – Vettel

If you study the pattern carefully, you’ll understand why Hamilton and McLaren are due for WDC glory in 2011:

Championship Calculator v2011

Championship Calculator; version 2011