McLaren’s Italian Grand Prix weekend was a flash in the pan. It was an event that promised noticeable improvement, with the low-downforce nature of the Monza circuit being the ideal place for the Mercedes power unit to stretch its legs. Yet, it wasn’t spectacular. Kevin Magnussen and Jenson Button both performed well to stay in the points-paying positions all race, but the former’s time penalty for impeding Valtteri Bottas, coupled with an 8th place finish for Button meant that the team’s result could be described as average at best.
But, they will still take the positives from Monza (namely, good overall pace and consistency) and try to add to them this weekend at the Marina Bay Street Circuit, for the seventh running of the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix. The track is a far cry from the previous two circuits at Spa and Monza that are characterised by long straights, sweeping bends and the continual presence of evergreen foliage. Yet, Singapore is still a place that McLaren can perform well at, should their cars stay reliable.
McLaren Singapore GP Preview
Button’s record at Singapore makes for confident reading. His average finishing position is just below 5th, and includes two 2nd place finishes in 2011 and 2012. Furthermore, his 7th place finish last year was characterised by a solid performance in the noncompetitive McLaren MP4-28 that could have heralded a better result if the car wasn’t as under-powered. Marina Bay is a circuit that strangely appeals to Button. His calm, precise driving style is a valuable asset for the challenging 61 lap contest of attrition, and should allow him to deliver a stand out performance. He certainly needs it, as he hasn’t finished in the top five in any of the previous four races (the last time he managed a top five placing was at the British Grand Prix). Button is one of only two drivers to have completed every possible lap in all Singapore Grands Prix, so if he steers clear of any trouble McLaren can be assured of a secure points finish.
While Button is fully accustomed to racing through Marina Bay’s floodlit streets in excess of 300 km/h, Kevin Magnussen’s experience resembles the polar opposite. The Dane will be making his first racing visit to Marina Bay this weekend, but his fondness of street circuits should make the journey into uncharted territory a little smoother. After all, some of Magnussen’s best performances have been on street circuits this year. He recorded his first career podium at his first race in Australia, and was running well at Monaco before an incident with Kimi Raikkonen put paid to a high finish.
The big news coming out of Woking this week concerned new race engineer Peter Prodromou, who worked with the team during their championship winning season in 1998. Prodromou’s arrival comes at the ideal time for McLaren, as heads begin to turn in anticipation of next season. Eric Boullier’s appointment of Prodromou won’t give the team noticeable track gains this weekend in Singapore, but the psychological effect of having a man who can help design a title-winning car in the pit garage will undoubtedly set McLaren in the right direction as the year draws to a close.
Overall, McLaren are in a good place, but have plenty of room to improve. This weekend’s race has an important emphasis on fuel consumption, and with the recent ban on select radio transmissions there will be an ever greater challenge to drivers as the race reaches its final stages. In terms of pace, the Mercedes power unit has been stellar all year, and the three main straights will save the team a couple of tenths during qualifying. All the ingredients are there for a successful performance this weekend, but much like McLaren’s management structure it will take time before the spectacular results arrive.
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