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McLaren and Pirelli in better shape than expected
McLaren and Pirelli in better shape than expected
Posted By: James Allen  |  25 Mar 2011   |  10:58 am GMT  |  140 comments

The first day of Free Practice in Melbourne was interesting, if not spectacular and two organisations who appeared to be struggling in testing look in better shape than anticipated.

As well as showing good reliability all day, McLaren drivers Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton set the top two times in the second practice session, prompting team principal Martin Whitmarsh to assert that the one second a lap gain the simulators indicated the team had found on the car was indeed real.

He said that in his opinion this puts them in the group behind Red Bull, which was very fast today on long runs and looks a formidable package. Sebastian Vettel was fourth fastest and Mark Webber fifth.

Fernando Alonso was third for Ferrari, while Michael Schumacher was sixth for Mercedes. The conditions were tricky with intermittent showers and gusty winds. The wind changed direction several times during the afternoon session.

Meanwhile the Pirelli tyres held up longer than had been feared from the tests in Spain. Button did 29 laps on a set of hard tyres in the morning session and a 12 lap long run towards the end of the session saw degradation of just one second over the stint, 2.3 seconds allowing for fuel effect.

This improved performance of the Pirellis is not altogether surprising as the Melbourne track surface has lower macro roughness than tracks like Barcelona in particular, which also has more of a
bias towards fast corners, meaning higher tyre energy.

Melbourne is a little more gentle on wear, especially at the front. The energy here is more on the rears and the drivers will have to manage that first and foremost on Sunday. Malaysia will be more of a challenge for the tyres because of the fast corners, but against that it is also quite a smooth tarmac.

It’s only Friday and we don’t know what fuel load drivers were using to set their times, but looking at how the times were arrived at, Button set his time on the fourth lap of a five lap run while Vettel set his time on the 6th lap of a seven lap run on soft tyres. But what caught the eye was an earlier 20 lap long run on hard tyres, which saw degradation from start to finish of 2.7 seconds over the stint, allowing for the effect of fuel weight lowering.

Webber set his fastest time on the fifth lap of a six lap run, Hamilton the second lap of a three lap run.

Vettel suffered what looked like a bad blister on his left front tyre and there was something going on with the left front of the Red Bull car, because the underside of the wings seemed to be getting damaged. Although the load tests on the front wings are tougher than last year and wings are deflecting less than before, the feeling is that the Red Bull is still the one with the most wing flex.

As expected the tyres are dropping a lot of marbles around the track, which will be a handicap to the racing on Sunday as it will be dirty and slippery off line.

In the final half hour of practice today the FIA carried out a test on the activation of the DRS rear wings, simulating race conditions. I spoke to Race Director Charlie Whiting afterwards and he said everything had worked as it was supposed to.

Hispania managed to do a single out lap after the mechanics had worked day and night for several days to get the cars ready. Tonio Liuzzi managed to get out of the pits right at the end of the second session. The front wing has had problems with crash tests and so the 2010 front wing is here, which the car has not been designed around, so it’s a real uphill struggle for them.

AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX, Albert Park, Friday Practice

1. Button McLaren 1m25.854s 32 laps
2. Hamilton McLaren 1m25.986s + 0.132 31
3. Alonso Ferrari 1m26.001s + 0.147 28
4. Vettel Red Bull 1m26.014s + 0.160 35
5. Webber Red Bull 1m26.283s + 0.429 33
6. Schumacher Mercedes 1m26.590s + 0.736 31
7. Massa Ferrari 1m26.789s + 0.935 34
8. Perez Sauber 1m27.101s + 1.247 39
9. Barrichello Williams 1m27.280s + 1.426 34
10. Rosberg Mercedes 1m27.448s + 1.594 23
11. Alguersuari Toro Rosso 1m27.525s + 1.671 31
12. Petrov Renault 1m27.528s + 1.674 29
13. Heidfeld Renault 1m27.536s + 1.682 22
14. Buemi Toro Rosso 1m27.697s + 1.843 30
15. Kobayashi Sauber 1m28.095s + 2.241 35
16. di Resta Force India 1m28.376s + 2.522 33
17. Sutil Force India 1m28.583s + 2.729 31
18. Maldonado Williams 1m29.386s + 3.532 29
19. Kovalainen Lotus 1m30.829s + 4.975 22
20. Trulli Lotus 1m30.912s + 5.058 23
21. D’Ambrosio Virgin 1m32.106s + 6.252 36
22. Glock Virgin 1m32.135s + 6.281 30
23. Liuzzi HRT No time 1

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Sorry that something went wrong, repeat again!

If your local broadcaster is only showing the highlights – The local Australian broadcaster is showing a full coverage (6hrs today).

James Allen is working with them too. Plenty of JA insight and interviews etc.



Seeing that Heidfeld’s times compare to Petrov’s, is a little worrying…

This may be rather a dumb question but here goes: do you think that the two Renault drivers will be using extra-efficient earplugs this year? 😀

Thanks for the excellent winter coverage of a new, interesting season, James. Many of us drop in to read, without contributing much in the discussions, but this doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate what a wonderful resource this site is.


I don’t know about ear plugs but they will get warm in the cockpit with the exhausts wrapped around them!


RB will still dominate, but I’m very happy to see McLaren going in the right direction, even if we aren’t anywhere near the RBs. I believe we will get there during the course of the season and Jo and his red fanboy ilk can say whatever they like about us, I don’t really care!


Thank God the season has started! James, thank you for keeping up with the F1 circus in the off-season. I look forward to reading your articles here often this year.


following the practice coverage on BBC, which I wouldn’t normally do. This must have been said on here before but Ted Kravitz is a class apart from those two 5 live guys. Embarrassing at times.


Yes, Ted is always great value.

Those other two guys, Hamilton and Philips, shocking stuff. I thought 5Live had actually worked this out for themselves last year when they were dropped (well Philips getting the elbow from Force India helped) … but apparently not, now they are both back to torment the fans.

I was riding the mute button like a maniac.

I don’t know who you offended in BBC Towers, but there is no way 5-Live can reasonably and realistically justify giving 95 minutes airtime to an Ian Philips, especially on any occasion where a James Allen is available in the paddock.

A bit of relaxed colour-commentary during the odd practice session now and again, bit of minformed context for the punters, sounds ideal, go and grab Swales and make this happen.


I’m flat out presenting the coverage on Australian TV this weekend.



Do you think re introducing the 107% qualification rule for slow cars is a good thing?

Either we want a full grid of cars or not. I don’t see the point of this rule, having accepted their bids to enter F1.

If they fail to qualify, the team sponsors will rapidly disappear and along with it their ability to survive in F1.


Perhaps Jean Todt doesn’t believe that overall numbers on the grid is what matters.


That final shot in the trailer — with Mansell and Senna side by side down that straight, with time seemingly standing still — is, IMHO, the most exciting moment ever seen in F1. I remember it well. Simply stunning.


Sorry, somehow posted this in the wrong thread — meant to be a comment on the Senna trailer.


I have a litlle moment of satisfaction.

I have written after last day in Barcelona that I have strong fealing that Mclaren is not in such a bad shape as test might have suggested.

It was strange but I suppose normal for sensationist world of internet, that some people had written them off completly.

Good to see them fighting. Can’t wait for Sunday.

It looks like this years trick with exhaust is to have it as simple as possible. To get most out of lower wing element, clean airflow arround the car seems to be best achieved by disposing hot gases behind the car. Renlaut system is inriguing, but idea of creating heat-skirt kind of effect sounds like laboratory enviroment possibility.

All credit goes to Red Bull again… drinks company (what a silly thing to say).

Unfortunatly however I am dissapointed by midfield. I really hoped that someone might challenge establishment a bit more. I hoped for more from Williams in particular. They developed ugly habit of trying to make cars look better in testing and often on fridays than they really are. Is it desperation in trying to atract more sponsors? I hope to feel better about them comes Sunday.


I wonder if HRT will only be running one car, this weekend?


look at RBR Front Wing. same again, scrape asphalt.


Why do so many journos,mags,tv give so much creedence to a rubbish driver like Chandhok?His record is poor but he speaks well!

If Fernandes is so committed to pushing Team Lotus to the front why is he running clowns like him?

Renault wont do anything until they put a couple of proper drivers in their car not journeymen…

I thought HRT were ready to go on the friday of the last test bar the dampers stuck in customs?What a joke that Kolles is!

Ok rant over…i’m going to lie down now…


My favorite part of this posting was the description of one of Jenson Button’s stints as a “12 lap long run”. I’m loving the paradigm change in the tire wear.


Whether it’s real pace or not (we’ll know) it’s great to see McLaren leading the pack.

If they have pulled a rabbit out of the hat, well could any other team do likewise? Me thinks not!!


james, what did you think of the tyre markings, having seem them in action? I noticed the commentators saying they found it difficult to see who was on which tyre, and I have to agree.

Last year, with the car coming towards the camera, you could see the stripes on the top edge of the tyres, to know whether they were the softer compound. This year, you are having to wait until a side shot of the car is shown. But by this time, the camera is tracking along with the car through a corner, and you don’t have time to focus.

On the T-Bar camera, you could see the yellow, but not the silver, however when looking at the rear wing, you couldn’t see any, due to positioning of the FOM graphics, and the bodywork. Any other camera angle on board also failed to help.

Even so, the yellow didn’t stand out enough, and the silver really merged in with the black at speed.

We have a few races to wait until we see the red and white, but I do feel another marker may be required, especially with all the different camera angles at the side of the track, and the speed at which these cars move!


Thanks James, always look forward to your comments. Though it is a free practice, so all of this is taken with a grain or two of salt. How’s the weather looking for quali and the race? I think its interesting that the tyres are a bit better at Melbourne even though the temps are lower. Will we see continued improvment if the temperature increases over the weekend?


Hi James,

Really enjoyed your commentary on OneHD today.

I have a question I am hoping you can shed some light on:

The McLaren DRS seems to move the entire wing, whereas most of the other cars seem to have a much smaller part of their wing (top section/flap) that moves. Can you explain the pros and cons of having a larger section of wing that moves when the DRS is engaged?


I said in a comment a couple of days back that I believed McLaren had something different up their sleeve with regards to the rear wind and Ted Kravitz confirmed in commentary that they have one of the longest. My theory is this:

The longer length provides a slightly lower drag reduction/top speed than the shorter systems, but McLaren have found a way to make that gain whilst loosing a little less downforce meaning that they can use it for more of the track during qualifying. If my gut feeling is correct, expect to see the McLaren’s wing open a lot more than other teams during qualifying


“..racing on Sunday as it will be dirty and slippery off line.”

Why not have a street sweeper clean the track daily? This would seem to at least help prevent some ‘offs’.


the track is definitely already swept after most significant support races or F1 sessions.

The marbles after the V8 Supercar race yesterday were extraordinary, but F1 practice didn’t really produce the feared buildup to any unusual extent.



I saw tweet this morning about Charlie Whitings mic being left on in the press conf, and that it caused some amusement in the press room with what he said.

Anything publishable? 😉


James, can you please explain just why Hispania are so far behind. They didn’t do a single lap of pre season testing and didnt do a single flying lap in todays practice sessions. This kind of build up to the season was to be expected by the new teams this time last year, given the time those teams were put together in. Given that this is their 2nd season in the sport, why is it that they are so unprepared??!!!


Lack of money due to lack of sponsors = lack of parts. Their biggest setback was when Toyota pulled out on the deal to provide technology on the TF110 to HRT, this meant that they had to design their own car and find new people to build it for them. The latest big set back for them is the nose of the F111 did not pass chrash tests, so they’re temporarily fitting the F110’s nose to the F111.


Overheard Button on his radio complaining about under-steer just as went and did his fastest lap….

I suspect there’s more to come from McLaren!


I agree. If this aggressive design would work, it will work!! If it fails, it would fail spectacularly. I wish they got it right this time.


PR topping the time sheets eh?

Macca on Sunday starts somewhere between 5th and 8th.


I am glad things are turning out the way they are. Last thing I wanted was to see RB disappear on the horizon.

Renault outside of the top ten? Petrov on top of his team mate? This would never have happened if Kubica was here! lol, Just joking. Hope they will improve.

Talking of Kubica, his absence leaves me without a driver to support as he was my No.1

I think my replacement No.1 this year will be Lewis.

C’mon Lewis!


So McLaren used testing to gather data and to experiment. Seems sensible. Now testing is finished — except for the bits in P1&2 — they have decided the way to go and we’re seeing the result. I really hope Jenson is as good with those tyres as we think — if so he could be in with a shout for the title.

I predict this year that racing will be characterised by drivers swapping positions with much greater frequency than before. After a few races Hamilton and Button will work out that if they work together they’ll be able to make up ground or pull out a greater lead by using the DRS rule to allow them to leapfrog each other repeatedly lap after lap. None of the other leading drivers like each other enough to agree to this.

Of course, I could be completely wrong.


But how would they agree who takes the win?

I don’t think any of those two, as nice as they are to each other, would just let it go.

Do you remember Turkey last year?



Whoa…where did they come from? Very impressed how McLaren and Mercedes have turned around their pre-season testing form.

I think the McLaren isn’t quite as quick as the headline time suggests and it’s a bit hard to read Ferrari’s pace as their times were all over the place, the consistency of the Redbulls over a long run is quite scary though.

Best hunt out the lucky t-shirt ready for quali!


Considering if you don’t qualify, you will only be let in if they decide your practice pace was good, there will be a couple of nervous teams.

I’m sure HRT and Virgin will reconsider their options if they cart cars, people and equipment to several races/countries and don’t qualify for the race.

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