Will Gray

Gray Matter: McLaren’s missed opportunities

Will Gray

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Last weekend's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was another missed opportunity for McLaren — but just how much have their mechanical and operational problems cost them this year?

Lewis Hamilton's fuel-related retirement last Sunday was the fifth time in six races that McLaren has suffered a problem with their car that has either caused a retirement or reduced performance and cost them championship points.

It reiterated, once again, what could have been this season.

McLaren started the year with the strongest car and, indeed, aside from the recent Red Bull form, the MP4-27 has looked the strongest car on pace for much of the season.

There have been some good results, but also some shockers, and it's fair to say that, overall, they themselves have thrown away the chance to own this year's championship.

They kicked off in Australia all guns blazing, locking out the front row and taking 40 of the 43 points on offer. Another front-row lockout in Malaysia proved they were the fastest team but bad weather prevented them from capitalising on another good points haul.

In China, Button finished second — but it was here that the team suffered the first in a series of pitstop blunders and that actually cost him the chance to overhaul Nico Rosberg for victory, missing out on a potential extra seven points.

At the next race, in Bahrain, two of Hamilton's three pitstops had problems and he finished eighth rather than a potential fourth while exhaust and diff problems dropped Button to 18th when he could potentially have finished fifth. That's another 22 points missed.

Button then started to struggle with his form and hit a downward spiral that lasted for five races as his engineers struggled to get a grip on tyre temperatures. To be fair, others also suffered these kinds of issues, but on the other side of the garage Hamilton's strong pace clearly showed the opportunities Button was missing.

Despite his pace, however, Hamilton was also missing some of those opportunities.

An operational failure in Spain led to a failed fuel sample that put Hamilton to the back of the grid. He'd set pole — so arguably could have controlled the race and won, and so missed out on 25 points.

Two races later, in Canada, Hamilton did win, despite another pitstop error, and he also won with a strong performance in Hungary.

But between those two races, bad luck saw him lose points when Pastor Maldonado knocked him out of second in Valencia and debris caused a puncture that dropped him out top ten in Germany. But bad luck can happen to anyone — and those points lost were not the team's fault.

Meanwhile, Button was back on form, taking second in Germany and winning in Belgium, but between those a strategic error in Hungary dropped him from a possible podium down to sixth — costing the team another seven points.

Then came the mechanical problems that truly put an end to McLaren's hopes of taking either title.

Button saw second stolen away by fuel failure in Italy — costing the team 18 points and a probable one-two as Hamilton took victory — then in Singapore Hamilton lost a potential victory and 25 points with a gearbox failure.

In Japan, a rear damper problem in qualifying potentially cost Hamilton a couple of places while in Korea, an anti-roll bar failure on Hamilton's car caused handling problems that turned a possible podium into just one point for tenth — losing the team another 14 points.

Then, finally, a dominant display last weekend in Abu Dhabi came to an end with a fuel pump failure that almost certainly cost Hamilton a win and another 25 points.

Red Bull and Ferrari have, of course, had their own issues too, but it does seem that McLaren has had more team-related problems than most this year — and, given their car's potential, that has proven very costly.

With such a high rate of development and a high pressure to perform, it is understandable that problems find their way in - but with the level of quality control in Formula One that should not happen.

While most problems have been isolated issues and team boss Martin Whitmarsh insists reliability issues are "not endemic", the team will clearly be looking at their processes and commitments.

Add up all those missed opportunities, and the potential points total missed out on due to team issues comes to 143, give or take. And that is a lot of points to throw away...

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