2019 F1 Guide: Is it up or down the grid for McLaren in 2019?

Lando Norris in the McLaren MCL34. Photo: McLaren

The rebuilding stage is a work in progress at McLaren, who come to Albert Park this weekend, for the start of the new Formula 1 World Championship season, hoping for some sort of improvement off the back of last season – finishing eighth in the previous year’s constructors’ championship.

McLaren field an entirely new line-up in 2019, featuring Carlos Sainz and rookie Lando Norris.

The MCL34 has shown good pace, as seen in pre-season testing, however, is yet to prove its reliability. Can McLaren keep it consistent heading into the 2019 season?

These are tough times at Woking in terms of F1 results and with Fernando Alonso gone, the responsibility of making them look good this season falls on Sainz and Norris, a partnership which some have likened to 2007 when ‘homegrown’ rookie Lewis Hamilton, an unknown quantity at the time, teamed up with highly rated double-F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso, and we know what happened there.

Lando Norris with Zak Brown. Photo: McLaren

Zak Brown, Team Principal: The American marketing guru turned team chief is a former racing driver. The 47-year-old took over from Ron Dennis after his departure in 2016. He occasionally takes part in historical races while overseeing his US-based United Autosports.

Brown also owns the 2011 Bathurst-winning Holden Racing Team Commodore while holding shares in Supercars team Walkinshaw Andretti United, who are competing in this weekend’s Beaurepaires Supercars Melbourne 400 at Albert Park.

He is also Non-Executive Chairman on the board of media company Motorsport Network. His passion for motor racing unquestionable, his leadership yet to convince.

For now, the man of many hats has a five-year plan to return the team to victory lane.

We will presume the first few years were a warm-up and now the journey back to the Formula 1 summit, where they once ruled supreme, has begun and there is no turning back.

Brown is in the hot seat, as he leads out a team vastly different from the one he walked into, and having brought in ‘his people’ to stem the downfall, there are no more excuses, his plan has to deliver from now.

Gil de Ferran with Carlos Sainz. Photo: McLaren

Carlos Sainz: The 24-year-old Madrista has replaced fellow Spaniard and idol/mentor Fernando Alonso, the latter’s departure meant his younger compatriot would to stay in Formula 1 after the Renault gig went to Daniel Ricciardo and Red Bull did not want him alongside Max Verstappen, citing the duo’s explosiveness as the reason.

Instead, they went and promoted Pierre Gasly… Go figure!

In other words, Sainz might not be as good as is made out, which means that the Spaniard will be in the spotlight with something to prove in leading his new team while setting the benchmark for the highly rated and hyped Norris in the sister car.

It will be a telling duel and Sainz’s future status in the top flight will depend on how he deals with what will be thrown at him this season.

Team members work on the McLaren MCL34. Photo: McLaren

Lando Norris: Seldom has a driver been so hyped for his F1 debut as is 19-year-old Lando Norris, and ironically he has nothing to lose.

Father Adam Norris, said to be worth over $200-million made sure his son lacked for nothing in his meteoric climb to the top. The kid caught the eye of Zak Brown and now fate has it that the teenager has landed himself a seat in one of the most historied teams on the grid.

The kid is good, how good time will tell. For now, stats that he was well beaten by Williams rookie George Russell in the 2018 Formula 2 championship which the Norris was expected to win.

Now in the top flight, his minders will ensure that he has a fair crack at the top flight while having Brown in his management camp will give him wriggle-room should the life of a rookie prove to be too challenging at times.

Nevertheless, Norris has set the bar high, and provocatively so by declaring that beating his teammate in every qualy and race is his target. A tall order, but setting the stage for another intriguing subplot ahead of an F1 season sure to be packed with them.

If McLaren can turn the MCL32 into a decent piece of kit one can expect the young line-up to perform, or even impress, but a sub-standard car can destroy a ‘hot’ young driver’s career – remember Stoffel Vandoorne…

And, of course, then there is that Indy 500 project for Alonso’s Triple Crown venture in May at the Brickyard.

Big Question: Is it up or down the grid for McLaren in 2019?

Additional Sources: Australian Grand Prix Media Office