I’m wondering if the air in Woking this Fall is feeling foreignly thick or simply faintly familiar and not missed. I wonder how the followers and leaders in the house of the flying kiwi are coping with this kind of unseasonable heat as the McLaren kingdom delves deeper in to one of Ron Dennis’ inner-most circles of hell: disorder. I’d guess it probably depends on how long you’ve been worshiping here.
Patrick Head and Sir. Frank led the revolution against McLaren’s last ruling dynasty. Since then, the white and day-glow cars have gotten a little darker, then a little brighter, but, are now just sort of... gray. No one really knows what is going on with the team or why they’re failing to, at least occasionally, out-pace the competition. I mean, it’s McLaren.
It’s just a name. Success in sports usually takes teams of people. At the risk of sounding condescending or stupid - depending on your attitude: People aren’t names, people are people. You can call anything any word that you like, but that doesn’t make any thing any word that has been said... or at least it shouldn’t. So if McLaren is just a name, then who are these people?
In the past, companies and their owners had a much closer personal relationship with individual people. As the industrial and subsequent technological revolutions occurred, the largest companies stopped building individual relationships and started building universal brands, instead. In the middle of this era, McLaren was just a racing driver building racing cars. Bruce’s name is still on the buildings, but I think we all know that the ghosts of Project Four are a much larger part of what’s inside.
Human beings feel the need to organize things, it’s in our DNA. So, we’ve reacted slowly over time by re-organizing our relationship with our economies based off of what we were told a company was through its branding. Eventually, this became commonplace. The modern world is full of so much information that most people can’t be bothered to take something as trivial as a corporation’s mission statement, operational practices, or origins in to perspective unless maybe the media is warning you about how terrible one of them is.
Even if we’re well-read, how transparent are the documents and public opinions that leave back-offices and upper floors? In our modern-era of potentially instantaneously viral social media and squeaky-clean political correctness, not many other entities wish to hold on to their dirty secrets as deeply as an organization with shareholders. Capitalism and the economy are a murky swamp of shit that most “normal” people don’t want to take the time to dive in to in order to gain some real-world understanding. Auto-racing is just another part of the pond.
F1 is a fickle bitch that we love like a puppy. That’s part of entertainment-based industry. One reason this occurs in F1 is because of the ever-increasing amount of electronically farmed statistics to put in front of your face and scrutinize. With so much data, it then becomes that much harder to find people that are visibly faultless... go figure. You would think the process of elimination for a driver would be a mathematical analysis of these numbers over hundreds or thousands of laps. A clean and pure approach that ensures the top-tier drivers that are lucky enough to pilot some of the quickest and most technologically advanced cars on earth are the evolutionary cream of the crop of civilization in terms of will, desire, drive, and talent.
F1 isn’t quite so foreign. This sport is driven by cold, hard cash. The numbers game from the in-car sensors has got nothing on the importance and capabilities of the accountants and their owners’ modernized awareness of the money that the cars are making.
If Crashtor Maldonado has taught us anything (I refuse to call him by any other name, as it’s against my
religion personal constitution,) it’s that cash is all it really takes to strap your way in to an F1 seat for a few rides around Curcuit de Monaco with the big boys. These seats of glory for Sunday warriors that supposedly cherish them as holy have become rental cars for rich dare-devils with low self-esteem. The one true math of modern F1 is the financial bottom line.
There are certainly deserving drivers on the grid. I’m not saying these guys don’t like their paychecks or that their agents don’t work hard to shoot these numbers to the moon. I don’t think anybody could say with any validity that Lewis Hamilton didn’t labor for a long time to get where he is, now. I also equally feel that Kimi Raikkonen didn’t really work that hard for his chance, but he didn’t need to because both of these drivers were selected for a shot based off of their contributions of talent, not finance. For Kimi, it seems like when you put him in something intuitively fast, if he gives a shit and can focus on that, it’ll go faster.
There are also certainly people outside of the cars that are dedicated to their passion and would be at their post regardless of their paychecks. These heroes don’t change what the overall machine of auto-racing has become.
McLaren has a former world champion and one hell of a driver in Jenson Button. He’s one of the most dazzling guys on the screen, in or out of the car. When he’s on in a car he likes - he’s one tough driver to beat. His epic run-down of Vettel at the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix shows how cool he can be under pressure whilst enduring poor conditions.
Yet, all signs are pointing to the Brit’s remaining countrymen in Woking giving him the boot at the end of this season. Despite the fact that he’s matched a 22 year old for one-ups in resulting positions this year and appears to be, honestly, not all that different from any other year that I’ve watched him race apart from the fact that his car is just really ugly, now.
The tough fact is: McLaren Formula One cars aren’t that good these days. No matter how much anyone wants this to change, no one really knows if or when it will. As McLaren hasn’t been bringing home the big purses from the racetracks these last few seasons, they need to be extra certain that whatever business decisions they make are air-tight and extra-savvy in order to protect the castle from beginning to crumble. Their last Prince has left them to fight under a new flag. The Williams crew is, again, regularly outrunning them (though, this time on the same power-plant and without magic struts.) To add to this mayhem they’re getting a completely untested engine platform from a brand new manufacturer for this set of rules, next season.
So, as much as we all may like JB, he just isn’t adding up to McLaren or apparently Dennis as a safe enough bet. With McLaren’s other big money gambles already sitting on some pretty long odds, their lack of a primary sponsor has them reeling for a driver who’s name may drum-up fresh interest. It seems that Jenson Button isn’t a name that invokes all that much prestige at the round table, lately. Is it the knight or the sword? It doesn’t look like we’ll get to find out. I would imagine that he isn’t the type of Champion that would in-dignify himself by purchasing a seat in any car with less prestige or shared perspective on the probability of success. I don’t see that team anywhere on the grid. I don’t think Jenson does, either. We’re gonna’ miss you, buddy.
photo credit: Jenson Button’s Facebook, mclaren.com
xmarkedspot is Jesse Alan Shaffer, former Director of Information Technology and Network Analyst for Pittsburgh Technology Management @xmarkedspot