In case you didn’t know, the Formula One pre-season is in full flow.

There have been a few technical changes, including the banning of T-wings and sharks wings, the introduction of halos - the cockpit protection device and most obvious change  and the outlawing of trick suspension, which could vary the height of the car during a lap.

With the new season, comes new car designs, the most dramatic being McLaren.

The British-based F1 team will be taking on the straights and corners of this year’s calendar in an papaya orange design, harking back to the 1960s when Bruce McLaren was behind the wheel.

According to the BBC, the design won their best looking car of 2018 award. No surprise there from the Brits. One suspects it will be the only honour they receive this season.

After, frankly, a disastrous last season in which their best finish was sixth in Hungary and their pilots retired or did not start a collective 13 times during 23 races, this year seems to be heading towards a similar conclusion, even though it is yet to start.

In the hopes of a better performance, the team cancelled their Honda-supplied engines, switching to Renault and if pre-season is anything to go by, it hasn’t helped much.

This past week, the F1 roadshow swooped on to the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya and Mclaren were nowhere to be seen, unless you count being seen in the pitlane or garage.

Actually, that might be a bit unfair.

On Wednesday Fernando Alonso completed 47 laps as compared to Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull’s 128 laps. So at least they have that.

Alonso took on the morning session for a good two hours before his car broke down due to an oil leak.

For the next seven hours, you’d imagine, he sat arms-crossed, twiddling his thumbs, staring blankly at the telemetry of the other teams’ laps as his team tackled the problem.

And if he thought he was having complications, his teammate, Stoffel Vandoorne, must feel he slighted someone in a previous life as to be consigned to the seventh circle of hell. 

On Tuesday he broke down three times, twice due to battery failures, the third a misfiring of the hydraulic pressure, limiting him to 38 laps.

This excludes other woes, such as the car overheating and cutting out, and general human error, such as Alonso losing a wheel last week due to a nut not being tightened properly.

In all, McLaren have battled four days out of six, and the other two accounted days were considered write-offs due to bad weather.

It is a sad state of affairs for double world champion Alonso especially, as his once great career limps on to a bitter conclusion.

McLaren’s faltering and flailing should make any motorsports fan downcast, no matter their team affiliation.

Once a mighty edifice of F1, their continued failures on the track has taken away special rivalries, exhilarating duels, and the quintessential definitions that identify the sport.

You’d only need think back to the legendary racing of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, the battle of wits between Mika Hakkinen and Michael Schumacher of the late 90s, and more recently the Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton duels of the mid-to-late noughties to see the vacancy in tradition the team has left.

Having a competitive and healthy McLaren F1 team is important to the health of F1 - to their fans and the larger support base in general - as it enriches the folklore, the conflicts, the racing.

F1 desperately needs a return to form, for it is the poorer for the teams’ continued woes.

This season Red Bull and Mercedes seem the most likely early pace-setters but don’t expect McLaren to be up there, despite Alonso recent protestations, saying: “From a team, point of view, we are more or less Okay.”

Sadly, they aren’t Okay and they will be down in the doldrums again this year and only hope of the heart argues otherwise.

The Star

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