Did McLaren destroy Alonso or did Alonso destroy McLaren?
After I had written and published my first analysis, in which I looked at the race performance of Ocon, Gasly and Leclerc over the first 12 races of this season, I thought of doing the same thing with 3 prominent midfield drivers.
The analysis of Ocon, Gasly and Leclerc was to look at their race performance and try to ascertain whether it justified either one of them being considered to move up to the main team. The results seem to indicate that Ocon probably is ready to move to Mercedes, while it’s very questionable whether that holds true for both Gasly and Leclerc. Recent events have had an impact on that analysis. Ocon won’t be moving to Mercedes next year as Bottas was re-signed. I wonder if Hamilton is using a similar system and decided he didn’t want Ocon as a team-mate. Ricciardo’s move to Renault may necessitate Red Bull to move Gasly into their main team, if they want to stick to promoting from within, as they have no other viable options. Hartley clearly isn’t qualified to be in a Red Bull, or F1 😉. And finally, Sergio Marchionne’s death, and the installation of Louis Camilleri as the new CEO, may cause Ferrari to keep things as they are, especially as Vettel and Arrivabene both indicate they want Räikkönen to stay.
While the analysis of the young drivers was to try and determine, as I mentioned above, whether they are ready to move up, the analysis of two of our mid-field drivers is to determine if starting right behind the top 6 of Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull (and usually scoring points in the process) is masking their true race performance. Our third driver is a two-time world champion who is hobbled by a (seemingly) bad car but likes to claim he is still one of the best, if not the best driver in F1 today.
The three drivers I’ll be looking at are: Haas’ Kevin Magnussen, Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg and last, but not least, Fernando Alonso of McLaren.
Since I had analysed Ocon in the previous article I decided I should look at the other top drivers of the midfield.
I haven’t made any changes in the metrics that I used when looking at Ocon, Gasly and Leclerc
First up: Kevin Magnussen
I don’t think there can be much doubt that Magnussen has been the best driver at Haas this season. He has out-qualified Grosjean 9 – 3, outscored him 45 – 21. Magnussen has only had one DNF compared to four for Grosjean, and that was a team mistake when his wheel wasn’t properly attached in Australia.
The first thing you notice about Magnussen is his adjusted grid position gains him, on average, almost 1 place. He then loses that gain in his race result. In 45% of races he has lost final race positions compared to his adjusted grid position start. And cumulatively he has lost 1 place.
Second Up: Nico Hulkenberg
It’s clear that Renault are at the top of the mid-field, currently 4th in the Constructors World Championship, 16 points ahead of Haas. While Hulkenberg and Sainz are tied 6 – 6 in qualifying, Hulkenberg has outscored Sainz 52 -30 and did it while have having 2 more DNF’s. Hulkenberg is gaining on average 1.3 positions when his grid position is adjusted and another 0.5 positions for his final race. Only twice out of the 9 races he finished, he has lost places and cumulatively has gained 5 places.
And finally: Alonso
Alonso gains 2.6 places on the grid when his starting grid position is adjusted. He gains another 2.7 places from his adjusted start to finishing position. He gains a massive 21 cumulative places over the 8 races he finishes!
Only one driver of the three, Hulkenberg, was close to what I believed he would do before I started this analysis. I’ll be honest and state that I’ve never rated Hulkenberg as a great driver, but as journeyman mid-field one. The best word that you could use to describe him is consistent. 5 times out of 9 races he’s qualified 7th. In his true positions gained, he picks up one or two in one race and drops them in another. It’s fairly clear that the Renault is the best car In the mid-field, yet regardless of where he starts and on what kind of track he is racing on, he seems unable to really standout. I believe I see now why Renault decided to keep him instead of Sainz and it comes back to being consistent, something which Sainz isn’t. I see Hulkenberg’s role next season as being similar to Riccardo Patrese’s at Williams, when Mansell was his teammate. You’re not here to lead the team but be a safe set of hands that will not make mistakes and maximize the points you score. And for Hulkenberg this role marks him now as a forever number 2.
When I first looked at Magnussen’s chart my first impression was I had done something wrong. The Haas team have made great strides and the new Ferrari engine, which I believe is now the best in F1, has been a big part of this season’s success. Guenther Steiner, the Haas team principal, has made many positive comments about Magnussen; saying he has really upped his game this season.
Yet I come back to my chart and I’m afraid I don’t see it. Yes, Haas is doing better because they have a better car, but Magnussen cumulatively has lost a position. In 5 races out of 11 he’s lost places. It looks to me like Magnussen is a qualifying specialist and an average race driver, who can put his car high on the grid but doesn’t have the race pace to keep it there. 8 times Magnussen, when grid adjusted, has qualified 10th or better, yet only twice has he gained any positions. I get the sense that the Haas car is making Magnussen look a lot better than he really is. I would like to see Haas replace Grosjean with Leclerc and keep Magnussen in much the same role as Hulkenberg will have at Renault, a solid driver who can score points as I don’t think Magnussen has the talent to take Haas any further than it is now.
And finally, Alonso… It’s hard to know where to start with Alonso. If you don’t adjust his grid position and look at his final race position, he is on average gaining 5.3 places a race. When grid adjusted its 2.7 places. Cumulatively he has gained 21 places from his adjusted position over 8 races. Those are massive position gains. Some will simply say that Alonso is the best driver around – that’s why. But there are still a lot of questions I have.
The main question I have is: why can Alonso, it seems, easily pick up positions during the race, but can’t qualify his car well? Alonso’s average final race position is 7.2, which means he is finishing just behind the front runners of Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes. Yet his adjusted grid place is 9.9, meaning he is effectively on average, the worst Q3 qualifier.
That then begs the question is this a car issue or an Alonso issue. If it’s a car issue, the fault lies entirely with McLaren. And Boullier’s head rolled because of it. If however it’s an Alonso issue, meaning the car was essentially designed and is set-up for Alonso, and while in race trim it seems to suits Alonso perfectly, but it doesn’t in qualification, Boullier was a sacrificial lamb and McLaren have a much more serious problem. Brown has allowed Mclaren to effectively be turned into a one-car team to suit Alonso, as I believe Vandoorne isn’t as bad a driver as his record this season indicates.
If, as I speculate, Alonso has pushed Brown so McLaren focus on him to the detriment of Vandoorne, I can see why other teams, when coupled with his toxic influence within a team, are reluctant to consider him.
Doesn’t this mean the downfall of McLaren has only just begun? Rather than working towards a solution the will are feeding the problem even more…
Is the news that Alonso quits after this season good news for McLaren? Or did McLaren destroy Alonso’s career?
Let me know in the comments.
Article by Cavallino Rampante edited by Phil Bruznic