A new engine supplier, a new technical director, two new drivers and a new team principal who has absolute control. McLaren have been through drastic changes in recent seasons, resulting in the excellent 2019 season in which fourth place was achieved. At the helm of the new McLaren is the motorsport veteran Andreas Seidl, who brings a breath of fresh air to the previously struggling side.
From ‘fake news’ to harsh reality
A Renault engine in the back instead of Honda's 'GP2 engine' which used to be in the McLaren: 2018 would be the year in which the once-strong Woking-based team would show the competition how good the chassis really is. The 2018 season started brilliantly, albeit on an unrepresentative circuit and with multiple failures and mishaps in front of veteran Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard was over the moon: 'now, we can fight!’ he said over team radio.
A few races later, reality starts to creep in: things haven’t gotten much better. Team boss Eric Boullier promises that the real McLaren of 2018 would show itself from Barcelona onwards, and that it will be much better from then on. A promise that, apart from the introduction of a new front wing, would not be kept. Boullier came under immense pressure. He denied himself he was on the hot seat, but not long after, he was let go from his position.
Back to basics for McLaren
It takes guts to do what CEO Zak Brown did: He completely restructured the side from the top down, making management much more basic; there would be one team principal who says what needs to be done and one clear manager per department. James Key is lured away from Toro Rosso (but would have to wait until he could start his new job) and a new team principal was appointed in Andreas Seidl, a well-known name in the world of motorsport, and a man who knows how to build a winning culture.
From the year 2000, Seidl already worked in Formula 1 at BMW. Even after the manufacturer's departure, Seidl remained active with the company, albeit this time at the DTM team from 2012. A year later, Andreas switched to endurance racing and the new LMP1 project of another German giant in Porsche, where he took over in 2014.
For three years in a row, a Porsche took the checkered flag at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with Seidl establishing himself as the man you need to have if you want to be successful. This showed from the moment he switched to McLaren.
From the back to the top of midfield
At the start of January in 2019, Seidl was announced by McLaren, a few months before the German actually joined the team. The side didn’t just struggle on the track but also behind the scenes with their ingrained way of doing things. It's up to Seidl to roll up his sleeves and get the project back on track.
Seidl avoided a pitfall that Willians fell into with McLaren, which was to not look ahead and move with the times: McLaren had to modernise and that started by building a state-of-the-art windtunnel. In addition, staff must also be given the chance to speak up and give input, since after years of working in Formula 1, according to Seidl, those people have an excellent idea of what works and what doesn’t.
Although Seidl would only be at the helm from May 2019, the reborn race stable from Woking were already turning things around. McLaren finished the year in fourth, ahead of engine supplier and works team Renault, sending a clear signal: the dark days are over, the midfield has been overtaken and now, it’s time to start reeling in the top teams.
Realistic despite success
The first year in which Porsche returned to Le Mans didn't go smoothly at all, followed by three years of pure euphoria. It was easy to celebrate and forget that you have to keep working hard to stay ahead. Andreas Seidl, however, believes he has stayed grounded, despite an extremely good year in 2019.
The German also knows that although there are opportunities in 2022 due to the new regulations, the top teams will always have a lead because of their current budget and infrastructure. 2023 or even 2024, those are the seasons in which Seidl hopes to challenge them.