Bob McMurray: Optimism or a flight of fancy?
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It was almost like old times for me.
The journey from Singapore to the UK by way of a Singapore Airlines A380 was in tandem with personnel from many teams from the Formula 1 paddock.
Among them was Brendon Hartley, on his way back to the simulator to do yet more testing and development work.
Red Bull certainly get value for money from our Kiwi F1 hero.
There was talk of the race at the weekend, much of it centred around happenings off-track rather than on it — the race itself was, for many, a little too underwhelming to cause much comment.
Certainly, the move of Kimi Raikkonen from Ferrari to Sauber was a point of discussion, with many commenting that it would be a major boost for the Swiss team from Hinwil near Zurich.
One of the fastest men on track in a Ferrari — even in what many have called the twilight years of his career — returning to the team with which he made his F1 debut in 2001 is a huge boost to a team that has struggled almost since its formation in the early 1990s.
With the current backing of Alfa Romeo, Ferrari power units, new investment in the team and Raikkonen as a driver, there is optimism aplenty for the future of the team.
Just days after arriving in the UK we were fortunate enough to visit the McLaren Formula 1 team facility.
Grandly named the McLaren Technical Centre (MTC for short), the huge, incredibly impressive structures remain a testament to the vision of Ron Dennis.
To the visitor, the complex — inside and out, and the surrounding grounds — look as pristine as the day they were inaugurated in 2004, with a display of McLaren heritage cars, from Bruce’s own Austin 7 Ulster to those of the present day gracing the enormous atrium.
The reason for our visit, arranged by the group communications director Tim Bampton, was to renew old ties and to just touch base with what I still regard as “my” team.
I have been critical of the team in recent times, critical of the dismal performance and the almost embarrassing depths to which this greatest of all teams has fallen.
I did not think it possible for a team with so much success, so much engineering innovation, and so many proud and brilliant people being part of the very fabric of the organisation, to have fallen by the wayside in such a complete and total fashion.
Proclamations by those at the top of the tree in the past few years (remember the “We have the best chassis” statement?) have done nothing to enhance the reputation, now almost in tatters.
As we toured the network of offices and departments it was clear that this short visit was to become quite a long one with colleagues of old appearing at almost every juncture, around every corner, and the quick “hello” turned into a long chat.
I expected doom and gloom about the state of the company but what became clear to me was the renewed sense of optimism among McLaren people.
There is an ongoing reorganisation of the car design team and despite myself and others feeling that too many people, the wrong people, have been let go over the past few years, that reformation has seen the return of the very experienced and respected engineer Pat Fry.
With him is the even more experienced and highly skilled Neil Oatley and they will soon be joined by James Key, currently on “gardening leave”.
That sense of optimism is, to me, well-founded. Zak Brown is still the captain of the good ship McLaren but there is a feeling of engineering leadership, something apparently absent in recent times and, the tiller of performance seems to be in good hands.
I hope the team begins to find the levels of performance needed to win Grand Prix — and that these words don’t come back to bite me.