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Barnard: McLaren lacks leadership


His introduction of carbon-fibre to Formula One in 1981 was to radically change the sport, while in 1989, now with Ferrari, he introduced the semi-automatic gearbox.

During his time with McLaren the Woking outfit was almost unbeatable, and while he never reached the same dizzy heights during subsequent spells with Ferrari, Benetton and Arrows he was responsible for some of the best looking race-winning cars ever to grace the grid.

Speaking to Reuters, just hours ahead of McLaren's announcement that it had parted company with race director Eric Boullier, John Barnard suggested that his old team lacked leadership.

"I think it's a fundamental problem of technical leadership, because I don't think there is any there," he said. "Somebody needs to be sitting on top of that technical pyramid pulling it together, keeping everybody going in the same direction. And I don't see that happening."

Comparing the Woking team to a slow turning oil tanker, he said: "If you've got people on board who are fundamentally saying that's a load of rubbish, we're going in the wrong way, this is no good' then you've got two choices. If your technical boss is no good, then he should be moved out. Or the people that are saying it down the ranks should be moved out. It's a tough old game. It's not a pleasant game. You've got to be a bit nasty.

"I think it needs somebody to set the direction and somebody to make sure that everybody is going in that direction and wants to go in that direction," he added.

"They've had three years of... well, frankly we don't know how good or bad an engine. But they've all been saying 'we've got the best chassis on the grid, it's all the engine'.

"I mean, come on guys. If somebody doesn't stamp on that and say 'we may be wrong' then this is where you are going to end up. At the bottom of the pile. And that's the way they're going," he concluded.

While McLaren might point to its subsequent management reshuffle, it is unlikely that Barnard will be impressed.

Though some had their doubts about Boullier, he appears to be the sacrificial lamb here, the scapegoat.

He is not the designer of the MCL33, or indeed the MCL32. He is not responsible for the decision to drop Honda in favour of Renault - a move that Zak Brown claims Ron Dennis would have made also.

Boullier is not responsible for the vast spaces on the car totally devoid of sponsor decals or the claim that title sponsors are no longer the thing - this at a time Red Bull and Sauber clearly think otherwise - he is also not responsible for Fernando Alonso effectively being given Carte Blanche to pursue his various motorsport goals whilst still being allowed to use McLaren as a personal hoarding for his clothing company.

Anyone who believes that Boullier's 'departure' will witness a turn-around in fortune for the Woking team is in for a rude shock, sadly the team is in freefall and the buck stops a lot higher than Monsieur Boullier.


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1. Posted by Bill Hopgood, 04/07/2018 19:51

"As the saying goes, there is no such thing as bad team members, only bad team leaders.

Leadership is key to having McLaren pull out of the spiral of decline that the race team is in (from most accounts the Applied Technology and Automotive divisions are going OK) and it is the race team that is the face of the group.

Opinions are like a!@#holes, everyone has got one.

I do not know how McLaren is structured, who is responsible for what and where or why as they appear to be such a complicated outfit with job titles I have no idea of. That being said, the person at the top of the tree sets the direction of the organisation, relationships and culture.
I suspect (I don't know for sure of course) that something was up before Ron Dennis was removed and he saw change was needed hence recruiting Jost Capito who then never even got going before Zak Brown was recruited. I can't remember why Capito wasn't given a crack though I suspect it was political as the other shareholders saw Capito as Ron's man. It will never be known if Capito would have had McLaren in a better or worse situation than now.

Strength and confidence (without arrogance or cockiness) and most of all being humble and listening to subordinates are key leadership traits. Looking at this from the outside and what John Barnard (and the employees that went to Whitmarsh and the media) is alluding to, the current leadership of McLaren does not seem to have enough of those traits.

Now, the leadership intentions I'd say are good. They want to win as much if not more than the rest of the firm. It is their actions that are wanting.

Either current leadership sorts itself out with external help or new leadership comes in and does this.

Panic is not necessary however prioritising and executing of items that fix the issues is. Sharp focus on the mission without distraction i.e. No Indy Car program until everything else is squared away.

Simplify everything as much as possible and make sure that everyone involves knows what the mission is and why they are needed to do their part.

Most of all, debrief properly. After each session and race the team will have a debrief about what happened and what to change and what is learned. It seems that McLaren needs to do this to their whole organisation in order to learn from the past. Senna pretty much had a race by race hold over the team and there was a decision to never have that happen again. I don't know what the contract situation is with Alonso (who is driving very well, which is his job) however it seems he does have a lot of say as to what happens.

Again, I've never run a big organisation or a race team but some of the above needs to happen, at least to the McLaren racing division, to get things sorted at least at the leadership level.

People don't leave jobs, they leave bad management."

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