McLaren has finished the last two constructors’ world championships in second place, a point made today by team principal Martin Whitmarsh. His message was clear: 2012 has to be the year when they get one over on main rivals Red Bull and take back at least one of the world titles.
Today, McLaren launched their 2012 car at their headquarters in Woking with Lewis Hamilton praising its refinement and describing it as “the finest-looking car we have had for some time.”
The version unveiled today is not in the specification it will be seen in come the first race, it’s not even as it will appear in the February tests. It’s a good looking car, the designers have managed to avoid making it ugly at the front due to the new regulations on nose heights.
If this is the car that is to provide the stiffest challenge to Red Bull, then it’s quite a low key birth. McLaren trust in their ability to develop and they want to avoid the errors of last winter where the initial iteration of the car simply didn’t work.
That episode proved beyond doubt that you cannot draw any conclusions about competitiveness until the tests and even then it’s only the first two races that show you the pecking order.
The MP4-27 represents an evolution of the 2011 machine but the team have abandoned their U-shaped sidepods – in the interests of maximising the new exhaust positioning rules – and returned to a more conventional design.
It features a more tightly packaged rear end but there is no sign of the stepped-nose design, which appeared on the Caterham, as the whole front end of the chassis is lower.
There’s also a revised cooling system which re-directs the gearbox oil-cooler while the rear view mirrors are also new. “Felipe Massa will be happy with that,” joked Lewis Hamilton in reference to the duo’s numerous clashes with each other last year.
“The back of the car is much neater, it’s much tighter,” added Hamiton. “The focus was on getting it as tight as possible for aerodynamics.
“The biggest changes for 2012 are the modifications to the exhaust regulations – that will reduce the downforce and grip that we had last year, but it just puts the emphasis on the designers to try and claw some of that back in other areas.
“I get the feeling the MP4-27 is going to feel very new and exciting when we get to drive it for the first time.”
Button added: “This is a beautiful car. Many you see will not be. There are some good rule changes giving the engineers and aerodynamicists something to really think about.
“These guys have been flat out since we finished racing in 2011 on improving the car as much as they could in the simulator and I’m looking forward to getting out in it at Jerez.
“With the regulations remaining relatively stable, we’ve really been able to focus on the detail with this year’s car.
“I still think we had a very fast package last year – it was very strong in certain areas – and our race pace was almost always fantastic, but we’re hoping for a further step forwards in 2012.”
“We are there or thereabouts. We don’t like losing. The last two years have had their frustrations. We are proud of the [six] victories we achieved but ultimately we want to win and win World Championships.”
McLaren, who have not won the constructors’ championship since 1998, have finished second behind Red Bull in the last two seasons and Button expects them to be the team’s main challengers once more.
“The Red Bulls will be strong,” added Button. “They are not suddenly going to build a bad car. They’re still going to be good competitors in 2012 but the important thing is we stay focused on what we’re doing. “
Hamilton added that he was confident the team had learnt from their mistakes last season which saw them struggle with reliability during the pre-season tests. And thus put them on the back foot at the start of the season.
“It’s always important to start off with a good foundation and I think we have that,” said Hamilton.
“The guys have learnt a lot form last year. The car is an evolution of the car we had last year which, if you remember, we were winning with towards the end of the year so that’s comforting.
“If we can start on a better foot this year, I think we’ll start this year with a lot more running which allows you to build upon there.
“We are the strongest team in terms of development so that should give us a strong position to start the season.”
Whitmarsh echoed those thoughts: “We had by anyone standards an abysmal winter testing session last year. We didn’t have reliability or pace.
“It was a tribute to a fantastic team that we were able to respond to that and arrive in Australia in reasonable shape.
“It was a relatively stressful process and I’d be much happier not to be fighting those kind of issues.”
Button will get the first taste of the new car when testing gets underway in Jerez next Tuesday.