McLaren – The Giant Awakes
McLaren is much in the news today. Ron Dennis has been assuring the press that his team are ready to hit the big time again next season and he is confident that the new MP4-22 is the car to do it.
Certainly the team is looking good in testing; at Jerez today, Lewis Hamilton was third fastest behind the two Ferraris of Massa and Badoer. And he was quicker than Pedro de la Rosa, another good sign for the future. Testing times are always a poor yardstick since the teams are trying different tweaks and getting used to the Bridgestone tires, but they are a pointer at least. If Hamilton is already able to stay with the Ferraris, he is clearly something special and can only get faster as he adds to his experience.
McLaren are also expecting to be debt-free by the end of January and Ron Dennis says that they are more financially healthy now than ever before. Add to this his determination that the drivers will be given exactly what they want so that they can give of their best in the races, and you have a team that is getting down to the business of winning championships again.
It may well be that Fernando Alonso remains the man to beat in 2007, in spite of everyone’s expectations of Raikkonen. Ron Dennis has already mentioned that the Finn does not listen to advice and this may not sit well with the Ferrari team. Alonso is much more professional in his attitude and probably just as quick on the track, so McLaren might have a better driver/car combination now than would have been the case if Raikkonen had stayed. With Lewis looking good already, this driver pairing promises to be ideal.
It would help, of course, if Alonso could get some time in the car before January. Ron Dennis is asking Renault to release him before the end of his contract and is hopeful that this could happen in the next few days. Perhaps if Ron were to allow Raikkonen to test for Ferrari as well, he would demonstrate a flexibility that would encourage Flavio Briatore to look more kindly upon his suggestion. Although what Flavio gets out of the deal is difficult to see – he has his drivers free of contract and they are testing already.
What it all means, however, is that McLaren are suddenly looking a lot stronger, just as suggested in my post, Alonso and McLaren, back in October. If the MP4-22 is as good as Ron expects, Alonso is going to make me look silly with my prediction that Jenson Button will be World Champion in 2007…