It sounds odd that Jenson Button will not drive McLaren’s Formula One car before he fills in for Fernando Alonso at the Monaco Grand Prix, but it makes sense if you’ve ever been on the level of failure McLaren’s dealing with. McLaren’s car is so bad, they’re even starting to act like a 24 Hours of Lemons crapcan racing team.
McLaren racing director Eric Boullier spoke to the press this weekend to explain why Button won’t test this new car he’s never driven before. Boullier argued that the elderly Button is already familiar with 2017 downforce levels given his career running in the V10 era. Also, Button can just drive in the simulator.
Simulator time is fine and all, but these all smell like excuses to me. As someone who races sometimes-questionable beaters in the 24 Hours of Lemons, I recognize exactly what McLaren’s doing. McLaren is not sure their car is even going to work, so they’re doing what they can to limit the hours spent driving it.
Lemons, of course, is a crapcan endurance series that actively encourages participants to bring terrible cars. During a Lemons weekend, teams attempting to race the least-prepared beaters tend to skip the pre-race practice session entirely. The thinking is, if you have a Hyundai Scoupe with an eyebrow-raising death rattle, you’re not sure it will even go the full distance of the race, so you’re not even going to try testing it out.
McLaren driver Stoffel Vandoorne didn’t even start the race in Bahrain due to a Honda power unit failure. Alonso’s broke and he had to retire during the race, within minutes of the finish. McLaren even suffered four power unit failures in total before the race in Bahrain even started. The fewer laps they can get away with running, the fewer problems they’ll hit.
At this point, I think a “ran when parked” Lemons-spec Renault Fuego has a better chance at finishing an F1-length race than this year’s McLaren. It’s insane to think that it’s easier to talk about the McLaren in crapcan racing terms than like it’s a normal F1 car.