Legendary former McLaren designer John Barnard has said that he doubts the team could survive the major changes he thinks are required for it to return to glory.
Barnard’s spell at McLaren from 1980 was one of major success as he turned around the then-struggling team’s fortunes. His revolutionary carbon-monocoque MP4/1 design made McLaren a winner again in ‘81 after a four-year victory drought and his McLarens then won multiple drivers’ and constructors’ titles from ‘84 to ‘86.
McLaren currently is in another lengthy success slump. The team has not won a grand prix since 2012 and has not had a podium finish since the opening round of the 2014 season.
Speaking at a launch of his biography titled ‘The Perfect Car’, Barnard argued that McLaren’s ‘matrix’ management structure needs to be ditched in order to turn the team back into a winning outfit. But he added the size of that task could make the change impossible.
“They’ve had this matrix management system installed by probably [former boss] Martin Whitmarsh, and you’ve got to break that down, I don’t think that works. You have to change the thinking,” Barnard said.
“I don’t know how long that will take, [or] whether the team can survive that kind of a fundamental turnaround.
“Considering that when we joined McLaren in 1980 the problems I had then trying to change the way things were done, we’re talking about a fairly small operation [then].
“If you take those problems to today with the numbers of people there, I wouldn’t relish that job. It’s like turning an oil tanker.”
“I was always very worried about diversifying,” Barnard added. “I know Ron’s idea was he wanted this big group of companies, this big mega operation and he would sit over the whole thing, and he achieved it. But I think he achieved it at the cost of the Formula 1 team.”
Barnard added that more recently, when Dennis was still at McLaren, he urged the chairman to focus on the F1 team rather than the wider business.
“I kept saying to Ron, ‘who is running the Formula 1 thing? You have to be back on the Formula 1 thing pulling it together; no one else can do it, just you’,” Barnard said.
“[Dennis would reply] ‘yeah, I’ve got these guys and they’re this and they’re that’.
“I’m looking at McLaren today and thinking maybe if he’d taken a bit of that on board things might be different.”