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Formula 1 2017 team preview: McLaren

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Following a bumpy start to life back with Honda in 2015, McLaren came on leaps and bounds through the 2016 Formula 1 season, ending the year a solid sixth in the constructors’ championship.

While it remains far-off where McLaren wants (and, some may say, deserves) to be, the result marked a significant step forward after a troublesome period.

So entering 2017, will be upward trend continue? Or was it the rise before a fall?

DRIVERS

2. Stoffel Vandoorne (Belgium)
14. Fernando Alonso (Spain)

CAR

McLaren MCL32

ENGINE

Honda RA617H

TEAM CHIEFS

Zak Brown (executive director)
Jonathan Neale (chief operating officer)
Eric Boullier (racing director)

MONTMELO, SPAIN – MARCH 10: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MCL32 on track during the final day of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on March 10, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

What went right in 2016: The misery of 2015 was avoided, which was a big check-mark for McLaren. While Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button were unable to hassle the front-runners, both regularly appeared in the lower-reaches of the top 10. Alonso in particular squeezed all he could out of the car, putting in some mighty displays. It was a year of big progress for the team.

What went wrong in 2016: It still wasn’t where McLaren and Honda expected to be in year two. McLaren isn’t a team that should be consigned to P7 at best; it should be fighting for world titles year after year. The internal struggles may have affected things, but they eventually came to a head with Ron Dennis departing at the end of the campaign. 2017 marks the start of a very new era for McLaren.

What’s changed for 2017: As mentioned, Ron Dennis is no longer in charge, with American businessman Zak Brown instead taking the helm. Stoffel Vandoorne will get his big break in F1 after replacing Jenson Button, who has most likely made his final F1 start. The Honda power unit has changed layout (more on that later) as the Japanese manufacturer looks to make some big gains. And most obviously, the car is bright orange. Yep, the Dennis-ian era is well and truly over.

What they’ll look to accomplish in 2017: McLaren would have you think that it is aiming to fight at the front of the field and rediscover its past glories in 2017. The reality is a long way away from that. Trouble through pre-season testing with the Honda power unit left both Alonso and Vandoorne on the sidelines time and time again. Right now, McLaren would happily take a repeat of last year. Sixth in the constructors’ may be the best it can hope for.

MONTMELO, SPAIN – MARCH 09: A member of the McLaren team inspects the car of Stoffel Vandoorne of Belgium and McLaren Honda after it stopped on track during day three of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on March 9, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

MST PREDICTIONS

Luke Smith: The first time I went to the McLaren Technology Center, I left asking myself how the team doesn’t win every single race. As a facility, it is spotless. The team looked to run in a superb fashion. And yet here we are, at the start of another season, and McLaren looks marooned. Honda’s plight has only deepened over the winter, with the change in power unit layout to try and mirror Mercedes’ offering backfiring. This year, I don’t see things getting any better. Alonso will drag the car kicking, screaming and spluttering to a few great results – by great I mean fifth at best, say – and Vandoorne will impress. But in the end, McLaren will end up worse off in the final standings than last year. How much longer can this go on?

Tony DiZinno: Oy. Launch day beckoned with excitement, anticipation, and a return to orange. The only concern that day was that it wasn’t the original McLaren orange. But suddenly weeks later, that lack of recapturing the original is manifested in the actual car. Whereas this isn’t the old orange McLaren color, this also isn’t the old McLaren-Honda that was a race winner or championship contender. An utter nightmare of a test season has brought the word “crisis” into play and for a team that needs this year as that next step forward, a huge step back could have severe consequences. You desperately want McLaren-Honda to be good… but is it really attainable?

Kyle Lavigne: Simply put: McLaren Honda had an awful outing during pre-season testing, with five of their eight days limited due to various mechanical ailments. After making progress with last year’s car, and its Honda power unit, both pieces have regressed mightily. Fernando Alonso was very vocal about their struggles, detailing that the car is both slow and unreliable. Rookie teammate Stoffel Vandoorne has indicated that the Australian Grand Prix will essentially be a test session. It is incredibly disappointing to see a team with so much history and accolades struggle so badly. Nevertheless, things do not look good for the Woking outfit and it’s very possible they could finish last in the championship, although you hope they don’t.

NBC Sports presents IndyCar Grand Prix of Alabama Sunday live at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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From NBC Sports Group PR:

* Sunday’s Pre-Race Coverage Begins with IndyCar Live Presented by Verizon at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

* Pre-Race Coverage Includes Robin Miller Feature on Rookie Zach Veach, Following Career-Best Fourth-Place Finish at Long Beach

* CNBC Presents Live Qualifying Saturday at 4 p.m. ET, Airs on NBCSN at 6:30 p.m. ET

STAMFORD, Conn. – April 19, 2018 – NBC Sports continues its coverage of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series this weekend from Barber Motorsports Park with live coverage of the Grand Prix of Alabama on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Pre-race coverage begins with IndyCar Live presented by Verizon at 3 p.m. ET.

NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app — NBC Sports Group’s live streaming product for desktops, mobile devices, tablets, and connected TVs — will provide live streaming coverage of the Grand Prix of Alabama.

Alexander Rossi (Andretti Autosport) delivered a dominant performance at the Grand Prix of Long Beach last weekend, winning the pole and leading wire-to-wire for his third career victory, and third consecutive podium finish to start the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series campaign. Rossi currently leads Josef Newgarden (Penske) in the driver standings by 24 points. Newgarden won last year’s Grand Prix of Alabama, his second career win at Barber, while Rossi finished fifth.

This weekend’s live coverage from Barber Motorsports Park begins Saturday at 4 p.m. ET with qualifying on CNBC. NBCSN will air qualifying on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. ET. Sunday’s pre-race coverage begins at 4 p.m. ET with IndyCar Live presented by Verizon and will take place from the grid in the lead up to the command, bringing viewers even closer to the action prior to the race.

Pre-race coverage will include a feature by IndyCar on NBC pit reporter Robin Miller on rookie driver Zach Veach, who’s coming off a career-best fourth place finish at the Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Lead IndyCar play-by-play commentator Leigh Diffey will call this weekend’s Grand Prix of Alabama, analysts Paul Tracy and Townsend BellMarty Snider, Robin Miller, Kevin Lee, and Katie Hargitt will report from the pits.

NBCSN will also present coverage of the Indy Lights race from Alabama late night on Monday, April 23, at 1:30 a.m. ET. Current IndyCar driver Conor Daly will join the NBCSN booth for the race broadcast, alongside Kevin Lee and Anders Krohn, with Katie Hargitt reporting from the pits.

Following is this weekend’s IndyCar schedule on NBCSN and CNBC:

Date Coverage Network Time (ET)
Sat., April 21 Grand Prix of Alabama – Qualifying LIVE CNBC 4 p.m.
Grand Prix of Alabama – Qualifying (Encore) NBCSN 6:30 p.m.
Sun., April 22 IndyCar Live presented by Verizon NBCSN 3 p.m.
Grand Prix of Alabama NBCSN 3:30 p.m.
IndyCar Post-Race NBCSN 5:30 p.m.
Mon., April 23 Grand Prix of Alabama (Encore) NBCSN 12 p.m.
Indy Lights – Alabama NBCSN 1:30 a.m.

NBC SPORTS GROUP AND INDYCAR PARTNER ON COMPREHENSIVE, MULTI-YEAR MEDIA RIGHTS AGREEMENT

On March 21, NBC Sports Group and INDYCAR announced a new, multi-year media rights agreement in which NBC Sports acquired the rights to present all INDYCAR races, qualifying, practices, and Indy Lights races across its platforms beginning in 2019.

The Indianapolis 500 and seven additional Verizon IndyCar Series races will be broadcast annually on NBC, with all remaining races televised on NBCSN. All races will be live streamed to authenticated subscribers on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app. Details of NBC Sports’ 2019 INDYCAR schedule will be announced at a later date.

NBC Sports Gold – NBC Sports Group’s direct-to-consumer product – will offer a package to INDYCAR fans that features all qualifying and practices not televised live, all Indy Lights races, and full-event replays. Additional details, including the cost of the Gold offering, will be announced at a later date. Click here for more information.


VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES ON NBCSPORTS.COM AND THE NBC SPORTS APP

NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app — NBC Sports Group’s live streaming product for desktops, mobile devices, tablets, and connected TVs — will provide live streaming coverage of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series via “TV Everywhere,” giving consumers additional value to their subscription service, and making high quality content available to MVPD customers both in and out of the home and on multiple platforms.

NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app are powered by Playmaker Media and available on the iTunes App Store, Google Play, Windows Store, Roku Channel Store, Apple TV and Amazon Fire.