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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