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McLaren: Aero and suspension upgrades worth ‘more than a tenth’
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Posted By: James Allen  |  04 Jul 2012   |  12:23 pm GMT  |  44 comments

Sam Michael says McLaren will roll out upgrades expected to be worth more than a tenth of a second per lap at the British Grand Prix this weekend – although doesn’t believe the team has as big a performance gap to make up on Red Bull as the two rivals’ respective Valencia pace suggested.

Although Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso ultimately triumphed against the odds last time out in Spain it was Red Bull’s apparent big step forward that proved the most ominous story of the weekend, with Sebastian Vettel qualifying on pole by three tenths of a second and then in the race pulling a second-a-lap clear prior to the safety car and his retirement with a Renault alternator failure.

Michael, McLaren’s sporting director, believes the Woking team’s own relative traditional underperformance around the streets of Valencia was more of a factor in Red Bull’s superiority, rather than the world champion’s floor upgrades, and is confident Silverstone’s high-speed sweeps will help swing the balance back in its favour.

“I think that it probably has some circuit-specific nature to it. It hasn’t been a track that we’ve been traditionally very good at, Valencia, and if you look forward to Silverstone this weekend it definitely fits more in line with where McLaren’s car strengths are,” he said in a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes phone-in on Wednesday. “However still they did take a step forward but I don’t think it’s as big as the pace as Sebastian showed in that first stint and we’ll be looking to correct that in Silverstone.

“If you look back to Barcelona, we were I think almost six tenths in front of them before we took the penalty [with Lewis Hamilton] so looking at the type of track that Silverstone is we’re hoping for a repeat of that.”

He doubted whether Red Bull had really found a second in pace in car performance alone on the back of one upgrade package, but that Silverstone nonetheless would provide definitive proof of whether that is really the case or not.

“To find a second a lap in Formula 1 through changing some barely secondary parts on the top surface of the floor, which we know that they’ve changed, to give a second a lap in Formula 1 would be pretty impressive,” Michael said. “But when we arrive at Silverstone we’ll find out if that is the case, but I’d be pretty surprised if they maintain a second a lap gap on the rest of the field. It was very impressive pace but ultimately we’ve seen that throughout this year, if you get the tyres working properly and you fall into that window then you can generate some enormous amounts of grip. We’ve seen that probably four or five times this year and Sebastian was definitely bang on the tyres in that first stint. So I think it was reflective of that rather than the car upgrade.”

Having witnessed big progress by Ferrari since the start of the season, and Red Bull in Valencia, Lewis Hamilton has admitted in recent races that sizeable McLaren upgrades haven’t been coming on stream as quickly. Michael has revealed that for its home race the team has a bigger update than for most events, with improvements focused on the MP4-27’s aero surfaces and suspension.

“We target to bring at least a tenth [to each race] and we’ve achieved that throughout the year. For Silverstone we’ve got more than that and that comes from a series of aerodynamic and suspension upgrades. So regardless of where Red Bull were in Valencia – and they were very strong – our target is to be on the front row and be challenging for the win at Silverstone,” he said.

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44 Comments
  1. Methusalem says:

    Sam Michel seems to have launched a rare charm offensive with the media. Anyways, why it is Ron Dennis who keeps all the winners cups that McLaren drivers receive on the podium? I read that Hamilton lays his eyes on the cups to keep them for himself, and he will use them as a precondition to extend his contract with McLaren.

    1. Project 5 says:

      Ron Dennis needs all those cups for the trophycases at the MTC to divert attention from the fact that there is only a single Constructors Championship trophy in there from the past 20 years.

      1. Justin Bieber says:

        I think its fair to say that they won it in 2007.

      2. Project 5 says:

        They would still have lost it to Ferrari (204 points to McLarens 203) if they had not been excluded from the championship.

    2. Trent says:

      Have a look at the Monza ’89 podium to see what Prost thought of that policy, once he had fallen out with the team. The look on Ron Dennis’s face when the cup drops into the hands of the churning torrent of tifosi below is a priceless moment in F1 history.

  2. Andrew S says:

    James (or anyone that knows the answer)

    When McLaren say “bring a 10th to each race” what baseline is that against? the last race, the last race at that track or something else?

    1. Gord says:

      I think that they say (for example) this update brought 30 points of downforce where each point is worth a certain amount.

      Paddy Lowe explains it here in 2011
      http://www.formula1.com/news/interviews/2011/6/12144.html

    2. Scott says:

      It doesn’t really matter how much lap time improvement they’ve found – they’ll lose the bulk of the gain during one of Lewis’ pitstops.

      1. Nathan Jones says:

        Tenth of a second per lap. 60-odd laps per race. 6 seconds gained per race. 12 seconds lost in pit stops. No, I reckon they lose twice the gain through pit stops, rather than just the bulk.

    3. Martin says:

      It is against the performance of the previous race’s car in a back-to-back comparison in the simulator.

      The teams will have aerodynamic data from the wind tunnel and CFD and wheel dynamic data from seven post rigs and then this data is fed into the simulator. If you have two tracks that require the same wing levels then a comparison is relatively straightforward – and possibly completely irrelevant if your tyre model is wrong.

      As mentioned in the most recent podcast James did, 0.1 / lap / race means you are treading water in terms of pure performance. The car has a constantly evolving baseline, so the car is often best understood and most fully formed for the first race, which if it is Melbourne, isn’t a circuit that has a strong correlation to performance at other tracks. A car can get notionally faster but be less inherently well balanced and easy to drive as the season goes on.

      Cheers,

      Martin

      1. Andrew S says:

        Martin

        Thanks for the explanation
        (Brundle or Whitmarsh?)

  3. Sacha says:

    It’s nice if McLaren found 1 or 2 tenths- but look like,RedBull found 1 or 2 seconds!
    Lets hope Valencia was anomaly in therms of the speed of RBR. If not, game over.
    The points Mclaren lost at the 1st races due to pit stop problems & other mistakes would have saved them for some time. Feel sorry for Lewis, if vettrel now has a superior car again, the superior team he has, too.

    1. Liam in Sydney says:

      Its more than just aero performance. Its how well your package works with the tyres. Sure the RBR now looks fast, in that, I agree with you. But is it “game over”? I doubt it. You have to see how much these changes will help over a series of different cicuits. And even then, don’t other teams get the ability to make the same blown floor changes?

      1. Martin says:

        The other teams do, but Red Bull understands this better than most teams, since it has been doing it since 2010 and it still took from March to July to get it right. The other teams will be closer as they have a pretty good idea of what Red Bull has done, but it might not be directly applicable to any car without a Renault engine, and possibly the KERS packaging due to the necessary airflow requiremets for cooling.

  4. m smith says:

    Nice to know Mclaren are installing upgrade packages, To me it seems like Ferrari & RB have made massive steps forward and Mclaren where standing still. Lewis hamiltons race pace has been poor but Q1 good. Hope there is a lot more than a tenth in the car would love to see a one two at silverstone. come on boys

  5. Brendan says:

    Sam Michael has no choice but to play down Red Bull’s Valencia dominance as Vettel in particular looked stronger there than at any point during the season so far.

    Perhaps track conditions did play a big role in how the chassis interacted with the Pirelli’s. Lewis’ struggles toward the end suggested that the McLaren wasn’t particularly happy with the warmer track surface on a longer stint and it may be that the UKs cooler climate will allow McLaren to get a bit closer.

    However, Red Bull have been very strong at Silverstone in recent years and if conditions remain dry they will be hard to beat. Throw Ferrari and Lotus into the mix and it could be interesting.

    Personally, I think we may get an unexpected result this weekend, especially considering how dire the weather has been of late.

  6. ArJay says:

    Upgrades ‘worth more than a tenth’ will be on the agenda of a number of other teams, to state the obvious.

    If Red Bull happen to ‘get the tyres working properly’ for two or three races in succession will others then attribute their resulting pace to upgrades? How would ‘outsiders’ be able to determine the major contributing factor?

  7. LD01 says:

    This is very unlike McLaren to talk big ahead of a British GP. They really must mean business.

    1. Nathan Jones says:

      Very true. When you hang yourself out there with words like that, you’re setting yourself up to get slapped. Given the amount of egg that McLaren have already thrown in their own faces this season, they’d look [even] dumb[er] if their upgrades only had a minimal effect.

      They must be confident.

  8. Nigel says:

    “traditionally….if you look forward to Silverstone this weekend it definitely fits more in line with where McLaren’s car strengths are…”

    Two questions:

    Is tradition really that relevant to performance at particular tracks?

    Doesn’t Red Bull have a ‘tradition’ of pretty good performance at Silverstone ?

    What concerns me (as a bit of a McLaren fan) is that they are bringing one of their more significant upgrade packages to a grand prix weekend where practice is very likely to be disrupted by the weather.

    1. Andrew Carter says:

      When he says traditionally in this context he’s reffering to the charecteristics general to McLarens over the last couple of years, and since the 2009 car they havent gone all that well at Valencia.

      And because Silverstone is such a strong test of the car and two to three months after the last big update, it’s one of those races where you get a big update brought along, just like Barcelona.

      Maybe it will rain (and given the current weather thats quite likely) but we’ve seen plenty of hot and sunny races here as well and not bringing the update along could hurt much more.

    2. Martin says:

      Hi Nigel,

      1. If you have retained certain design philosophies, such as hard springs for aerodynamic control, then you are going to have a bias towards tracks with fast corners over those with lots of bumps in braking and traction zones. McLaren has done this, and of late has also had a front (or near) running car, so this is relatively true.

      2. Yes definitely. However, if you take the Martin Whitmarsh-style glass half full (and an expensive glass) view to everything to motivate your design team, you’ll say that McLaren still has the best car and that Red Bull has lost some of its aerodynamic edge that it had for the last three years.

      I wouldn’t worry too much about the weather. If the team isn’t confident that the parts will work, then back-to-back testing will still work with load sensors. The detailed chassis set-up work specific to racing well at Silverstone will be the same for everyone. Button, with his general issues, would benefit from more dry time though.

      Cheers,

      Martin

      1. Nigel says:

        Hi Martin (& Andrew),

        Thanks for your replies.

        Points taken, but I still think it’s unfortunate the upgrades didn’t arrive a couple of weeks ago.
        Today’s weather, and the absurdly stingy allocation of wet tyres means very limited running in the practice sessions. McLaren need to get on top of this upgrade package, as there’s another big upgrade planned for the next GP.

  9. David says:

    If you think back a few races to start of season, McLaren where ahead (and lost points through endless mistakes) and Red Bull almost down to midfield. And now? Very poor performance by McLaren so far, but to be honest this has become the standard since 2008, the last time they had a genuinely competitive car.

  10. Steve says:

    Hey James, would I be right in saying that teams this year are bringing more upgrades to the suspension and floor area of the car? Is this the secret in unlocking the performance out of this years Pirelli Tyres?

  11. KGBVD says:

    Sam Michael seems to get paid to make excuses. “I’d be pretty surprised if they maintain a second a lap gap”, he’s not exactly dripping confidence is he? It’s almost like he’s expecting to be surprised.

    He has brought Williams’ doldrums from the past few years to McLaren. Superb hire there, Martin.

  12. Charalampos says:

    a tenth?

    Horner must be rofling

    1. SP says:

      Haha! I’m sure they’re trembling with fear. Especially with that rapid development that Mclaren are oh so good at :P

      Mind, I bet Newey can simply dream up an idea/concept to go a tenth quicker. He sure is a genius the ‘fella.

  13. Lisa Thomas says:

    James, do you think Martin Whitmarsh should pay a visit to the Williams garage together with Jean Todt and that they should sit Sir FW and his driver Maldonado down and remind them what the FIA rule book says about overtaking and blocking and related items, in detail, so that Pastor is clear about the rules?
    or do you think this has already happened? Has Pastor developed a default strategy of driving into the nearest car then asking questions?

    1. Ian C. says:

      Do you remember Frank W and Todt going to Whitmarsh and Hamilton after last years Monaco race “and remind them what the FIA rule book says about overtaking and blocking and related items?”

    2. Justin Bieber says:

      They wont do that.. that would be like throwing rocks from a glass house..

  14. Ian C. says:

    Considering that the Red Bull(d spec)upgrades at Valencia were worth .5 second during qualifying and over a second during the race and maybe more upgrades to come at Silverstone I doubt a tenth of a second for McLaren is going to make much difference.

    1. Kidza says:

      If the Red Bull upgrades were worth so much, where was Webber?

      I have to say I agree with Sam Michael. Red Bull found something in Valencia, but not that much otherwise it would have worked on Webber’s car too. If you look back after Valencia qualifying, Hamilton was surprised to be on the front row after all the struggles they had. The gap to Red Bull at that race was exaggerated because McLaren never got the set-up right all weekend.

      The last proper race circuit was Barcelona, and we all know Mclaren were very, very strong there with Lewis. While a lot will have changed, we have only had street circuits since then so it’s difficult to draw any concrete conclusions based on the last 3 races.

      Vettel and Lotus ran away with Bahrain where it was very hot, but were nowhere at the next race in Barcelona a few weeks later. They did pretty much the same in Valencia under similar hot conditions and lots of people now think they will dominate. How quickly people forget.

      The three races where Vettel and Lotus have done very well are; Bahrain, Valencia and Canada, the hottest races of the season so far. There is no denying that Vettel’s Red Bull and the Lotus like the hot conditions and tyres are a big part of it.

      Silverstone, if it is dry or we at least get some dry running on Friday, should hopefully show the true pecking order in F1 this season. We already know the pecking order if it is baking hot.

  15. Simple says:

    The proof will be in the pudding. Standard ‘were improving’ rhetoric. I love McLaren, but they make it hard some times!

  16. Bring Back Muarray says:

    More than a 10th? Yippie. That’ll make loads of diffence compared to all the stuff ups they keep making with pit stops and all.

    (Secretly wishing they won’t this weekend and Hamilton will blitz the field..)

  17. Rob Newman says:

    Bringing upgrades are fine. But that is not the only problem at McLaren. What is exactly wrong with Button? Hamilton is doing a much better job this year with the same machinery. I don’t think upgrades will help Button because for me it looks like a different kind of problem.

  18. chisel68 says:

    As Sam said, difficult to imagine that a team finds a second in pace from 2 weeks prior, especially in this day and age. The last time a team did that was over 20 years ago (a Williams I think). Barcelona was a track that suited the McLaren and Williams and the traits are similar at Silverstone so this weekend (if we get no rain and all things being equal) will be a good indicator.

    James I found your predictions for the 2 championships on the BBC website interesting.

    McLaren to win the Constructors and Vettel to win the Drivers. That means that Jenson will find form that has eluded him since Melbourne. Most seem to think its because of his un-adaptable-ness (is that a word?) to the Pirellis which means he will overcome that issue somehow.

    It also means that Webber will have a poor second half of the season but at the moment he leads Seb in the Drivers so a massive dip in form from Webber.

    I’m surprised you didn’t plump for Alonso. Yes, he had a lot go his way last weekend in Valencia but he keeps wringing more out of that Ferrari than its got!

  19. Thompson says:

    Vettles Redbull ….lol

    if the pace he showed last race is anything to go by, the rest of the field are finshed. I can’t wait for the other teams to launch their next protest just so we can see what chea….er…upgrade made the difference.

    oh… and Why Mclaren never did a 2 stop race last time out as in the previous race in valencia is beyond me, a 10th of a sec…..prrft!

  20. Luke Robbins says:

    JB to complain on no grip and tyres not working – whether its cold or hot, he just cant use them.

    Lewis to fight his way into top 3 for quali and hopefully reach podium.

    more than 1 tenth – doubt it. Macs will just balls up a pitstop or strategy call, ….

  21. Horno says:

    James,

    Is Mclaren going for the Ferrari front pull rod suspension?

    1. Martin says:

      I’d be very surprised to see a change like that mid-season. It would require additional crash testing, which isn’t a problem in itself, but we would have heard about it.

      The different angle of the wishbones and pullrod would have a lot of flow on aerodynamic effects.

      It is more likely that there be relatively subtle geometry changes designed to control the pitch of the car. The rear suspension might be changed to get the lower arms in a different positon relative to airflow around the sidepods and the exhaust.

      Cheers,

      Martin

  22. Andy Rat says:

    I think most people overlooked that Hamilton had his own little Trulli-train going on in Valencia… he’d outperformed the car in qualifying and then had no race pace. Once Grosjean et al got past him they weren’t far off Vettel’s pace at all… but he was 20s up the road by then!
    So as Sam Michael says, it may have been track specific… Let’s hope so!!!

  23. SteveSenna says:

    Think they’ll need more than a tenth. Aero!, focus on the tyres!
    Newey could probably find a tenth of aero on the McLaren bodywork using a hole punch ;)

  24. Richard says:

    and his retirement with a Renault alternator failure.

    Do you have to be careful with who you blame James?

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