McLaren problems could take “quite some time” to fix
Posted By: James Allen  |  04 Apr 2013   |  9:11 am GMT  |  133 comments

JA on F1 technical adviser and former Williams chief engineer Mark Gillan believes it will take McLaren quite some time to fix problems with their 2013 car.

The Woking-based team ended last year with the fastest car, but decided to go for a significant change, rather than evolve the 2012 design. They have been well off the pace in the first two races of the season, with ride issues among their problems.

The team has just four points, 62 less than championship leaders Red Bull, with Jenson Button and Sergio Perez scoring a ninth place each. However Button was on for a top five result in Malaysia before a pit stop problem slowed his progress.

Although McLaren are renowned for starting slowly, but improving the car quickly through the season, Gillan told the latest edition of the JA on F1 podcast that it might not be so easy to do that with this car, as the problem is not simply aerodynamic, but more fundamental than that,

“I was surprised at how slow they were at the beginning of the season,” said Gillan. “They’ve had a couple of poor starts, but typically get it sorted.

“The fact they are obviously concerned about the development and how quickly they can improve things probably means the problems are down to suspension and the pick up points into the chassis which are quite difficult to change quickly.

“If it was just purely aerodynamic changes, I’d expect them to deal with it within a race or two, so it’s probably going to take them quite a while.”

If the McLaren does require new mounting points for the suspension, there are two options – to build a new chassis, which takes 90 days or cut the affected area out of the existing chassis and bond in new pick up points, but this adds weight and requires the chassis to be in Woking, which will not be possible over the China/Bahrain period.

But even if they start building a new one now, the chassis wouldn’t be ready until the Canadian Grand Prix, round seven of the championship, at the earliest.

To listen to the full interview with Mark Gillan on all of the teams plus interviews with James Allison, Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, make sure you listen to the April edition of the JA on F1 podcast available to download directly here.

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It appears the new car was based on Button’s driving style… now they have learned the lesson the hard way, they are lost at the helm.

They need the feedback of a talented driver to give them some real direction. The engineers have nothing to work with…


Button is severely overrated… it was always going to be this way.

Tornillo Amarillo

Many wouldn’t be McLaren fans anymore.

The team should look for another management profile. They have taken many bad decisions or procedures lately, anyway results are not there because of somebody to blame, it never was bad luck, it never was the drivers.

Reset the team. They are not performing according with their resources, they are not really fighting Championships, and people can get tired of that.

You will prefer a smaller team that outperforms its resources and get results that you can talk about with proud, like Sauber, or Lotus.

Ferrari is in the hunt lately, thanks to Alonso, and Mercedes has reset everything last year, so they still have some time to tell about their improvements, getting some good points so far.

Liam of Sydney

I just still can’t quite figure out why McL would decide to design a totally new car rather than redesign the fastest car at the end of ’12. Seems nuts to me.


Imagine this situation: You’re almost halfway through the season, the design for the next year’s car is due to get serious.

Your engineers are getting out of ideas what could be improved on your current car. Sure, there are some in the pipeline, but your engineers think that they will soon need some fundamental changes to get new breathing space for further improvements.

You know one of your hardest competitors, Ferrari, has just introduced an interesting car, some of their ideas look pretty intriguing, even though they’re having problems with it. Of course you’re talking it through. You know that most of the teams went for a nose that was significantly higher than yours and of course your engineers have discussed it and they feel that there is a lot of potential there. After all the whole of Formula-1 can’t be that wrong, can it? What will you do? Will you stick to your design that you believe is a dead end street, or make the changes that you think will be necessary to get more headroom for improvements? McLaren has often been quite aggressive in terms of development, of course you’re taking the chance!

Now as your development of the next years car progresses it turns out that to the end of the season, the changes that you had in your current car’s pipeline have been spot on and it has now become one of the fastest cars around, if not the fastest. You feel that your next years car will have even more potential.

Will you ditch its design and play the safe card, even though you fear that Ferrari now has everything on their car that you expect will give you the room for improvement with your new car? Of course you’re going for it! The new car seems to have anything it needs and it would be stupid to throw all the work out of the window.

Now you’re entering tests, looks good first, but not so good later, but still you think you’ll get that sorted. After all: The competition’s tests are hard to judge anyway. No need to give up.

Comes first race, everyone is letting their pants down and you’re standing there with a dong that is way smaller than expected. Tis is not the first time that happened and you managed to turn that around pretty quickly before. After all this race is rather unusual, you need to see the situation on a more common course.

Comes Malaysia with the same car, a more usual course, and your problems have become less dramatic, but still you’re struggling. You now have some weeks of development time in front of you, what will you do? Mind you that getting the old car back on track will cost a good amount of time and money too, since the rules have changed, not much, but slightly. And can you be sure the old car will be any better? Hard to judge!


I’m both impressed and lost for words at the same time. Kudos 🙂


James, I don’t understand. On one of the earlier winter tests JB went out on hard tyres on a green track and did a time something like 1:18.3 and massa made a comment that that was a seriously quick time and wasn’t bettered for most of that test other than by people on super softs doing low fuel runs.

That being the case how is the MP4 so slow now, is it as a result of changes since then? If so then it can be reversed and corrected suitably quickly?

I’d put money on them having 70% of the issue sorted over this 3 weeks with newer parts and then looking to correct it by euro season??


I read that McLaren admitted that Buttons great time was caused by mistakingly installing some part in the suspension the wrong way round. Unfortunately that lowered the front to a point where the car was not race legal, so they can’t just turn it around again to fix their problem.


At least the talk of reverting to last years car seems to have died down, possibly due to the Better Result in Malaysia. I’m not technical expert, but I would have seen that as a Massive Backwards step, yes the Car may have been Quicker, but the full understanding of this Car and any Problem it may be carrying, is going to Push McLaren Forward over this Season and in Seasons to come.


With respect, I doubt that it is a straight suspension issue. The teams should have pretty good test rigs by now that should uncover major suspension gremlins pretty swiftly, just by comparing it to previous data.

Also the McLaren’s suspension setups have always looked quite stiff in the past years, I don’t see anything unusual there. The new line of the suspension rod may be something the aero department has no experience with though.

However, packaging does have an influence on vehicle dynamics and aerodynamics and both are inherently linked together, building a pretty complex system that is hard to simulate – you don’t have yaw and turn movements in the wind tunnel, no tire deformation and throttle effects at the same time, and even if you did it would be hard to get a clear picture. And if it’s true that their car has a pretty small sweet spot, then my best guess is that their problem may be easy to fix, but hard to find.


Purely speculating here, but while I think there’s certainly something wrong with the suspension setup (the comments about the ride & inconsistency would suggest as much) I’m not sure it’s necessarily the root cause of the problem. I think McLaren’s biggest issue relating to the suspension is that it’s been so long since they used a pullrod design on the front end that trying to get their heads around it has clouded other issues with the car – predominantly, a lack of usable downforce. Gary Anderson did a very interesting comparison of the front wings of various 2013 cars at Malaysia for the BBC, and McLaren’s looked like it was about two years behind in complexity and development. Given the front wing generates getting on for half of the car’s overall downforce, and influences the rest of the car’s profile as well, that’s not a good position to be in. I suspect redesigning that to incorporate more elements would give McLaren a good starting point. Once they’ve got a consistent level of downforce to work with, they can then address any issues relating to the suspension.


Enjoying the articles JA


Man, I would like to know how LH would be performing with this car…

McLaren developed dog cars while LH was driving for them, and I never watched him out of Q3 or in a bad position other reason not bad qualifying decisions by the team.

It would be great to see LH through the season’s test and how they would deal with it and how he could provide feedback for the team. Everyone knows about the raw race speed of LH, and how gifted he is… but I believe a lot of the develpment and improvements that McLaren has is much related of this talent that LH has of giving inputs and setup the car. Last year JB needed to copy the LH setup because he was lost… in RBR was the same, in the begining of the year SV was not handling the new car and was running with old spec. While MW have adpapted himself and sorted out the setup.

Bring China ON!


Can’t say that I see things quite as dark and gloomy as the article portrays, particularly after their relative competitiveness in the last GP, but we will see…


Everybody seems to agree that traditionally McLaren seems to be slow at the start of the season, and good at catching up. This would indicate that they are somewhat slow (in F1 terms) to innovate, but excellent at reiterating and implementing outside ideas.

I can’t help but wonder if this is a direct result of management style?

The McLaren organization seems really structured. Such structured organizations are, in my experience, usually better at reacting than innovating. Innovation needs a bit of free-thinking, creative chaos, if you will. Highly structured organizations is more into following plans and holding people accountable to those plans, neither of which encourages innovation. They may also have trouble attracting and keeping really creative people, as they usually hate the structural overhead (meetings, documentation, etc).

I have no way of knowing, and maybe I am totally off the ball, but I believe it might explain the pattern we are seeing.


It certainly will take time to solve their problems if Sam Michael has anything to do with it…


I have said it before and will say it again……JB is no good at quallly! Put this with the fact the car is poor and there you have it. Mcl are well known for building fast but very complicated cars.But there lies the problem as they do not appear to have the staff to maintain or develop this car for the 2013 season. By the time they do it will be to late and the new regs will need to be addressed. As a fan of Mcl I am frustrated as this seems to happen over and over again with drivers having to push the car beyond it,s working capacity which leads to more problems. Someone or something needs to change if Mcl are to challenge again!


I think you are right about JB, and I suspect the problem is compounded by his inability to drive cars he is not completely happy with. One of Hamilton’s assets was his ability to drag a half-decent pace out of a car that is not balanced properly. When JB is happy with a car he is one of the fastest guys out there but when he is not he has often been a second or so behind Hamilton’s lap time.


Given that he led the race in Malaysia and was running close to the leaders’ pace for much of the race, I guess that proves that McLaren’s car is in fact nearly perfect.


Not really. The performance in Malaysia was helped by the track being a rather smooth one, which helped hide the ride problems that have been bedevilling them – the team said as much during the quali. Go back to any street circuit, and they will be slow until they fix the ride problems.


I don’t think it will take Mclaren all that long to be as quick a the lead pack. I think it may even come before the summer break. Its like Mclaren trying to say “anything Ferrari can do we can do better & even quicker”. The real issue will be consistency I think and getting the set-up right at each race will continue to be challenging giving the sensitivity of the high nose cars.

Do they have the drivers to get everything out of it with this years tyres is the other big question which Ive always doubted. Lewis was certainly a guy who could make the most of what he had- Jenson & Sergio will struggle ai believe.

Craig in Manila

Or an “April Fools Day” joke ?

It was posted on the ClubLexus site on 01 April …..


Im not sure I buy into the idea of suspension geometry being the core problem. If you remember during the first pre season tests JB was scratching his head as he couldent understand why the car felt good one lap to feel like a dog the next, His words were “the car is struggling for any consistency from one lap to the next”. This being said then the mechanical setup and so called “suspension pickup points” do not change from one lap to the next, once its set then its set. This leaves only tyres and aero as the other main areas to look at, Im fairly sure Mclaren would of soon ruled out the tyres as the problem. The really only leaves the areo as the major factor. I suggest that the areo is not fully attached in all areas and thus performance is fluctuating from one lap to the next. The reason for the areo dropping off is the problem they are working on. There seems to be a lot mentioned about ride height effecting things, could they be using some sort of progressive damper/spring setup that from one corner to the next combined with wind speed and direction is effecting ride height enough to upset the areo flow over one section of the car thus the areo is becoming “detached”? It seems to me that the progress made in Malaysia was far too great for the suspension geometry and pickups to be the core problem, as its suggested that would not of been fixed with in the few days between races.


and what will they say if button is on pole in china?

we had many comments about how hamilton would struggle this season and it came to nothing.


John Watson is saying that McLaren are suffering because they have a weak driver pairing:


You mean, of course, how slow John Watson drove as the team’s #2 driver all those years ago at McLaren.


Or maybe his being so slow in his time has given him the unique insight to suss the problem as weak driver pairing.


I guess he means like how they achieved nothing in 2008 when they had a bit of a mediocre second driver.


So does this now put to bed the ‘fundamentally good car but something wrong with the geometry’ theory?


As far championship is concerned, nothing has turned around for McLaren. Lewis winning the wdc is basically the only thing McLaren has achieved in the last decade!!


This has happened way too much and it really is the time for heads to roll. Whitmarsh out, I hear there is a very succesful man who maybe leaving mercedes. If anyone can sort out this problem it would be Ross Brawn.

The dilema is could Ross Brawn and Ron Dennis work together? Considering their history I must say no. But if Rons ego is the issue then Mclaren could end up going the way of Williams and even worse Lotus( pre 2010)


Never had much time for Whitmarsh – too concerned with appearances and media perception to be effective as a TP of a F1 racing team.

Has all the time for interviews but not able to lead the “car troubleshooting phase” as he calls it.

In the space of 1 week he has gone from

hint hint u no who I’m talking about


full blown naming Paddy Lowe as culprit -in his oh so gentlemanly way.

Doesn’t sound that confident in his current TD and the current noises he is making seem to back up Gillan’s opinion.

Shanghai should be interesting to observe their progress – less smooth tracks will expose any suspension issues so ff Bahrain will be of particular interest too.


Could they not run the old car until they get the new car on song? Or perhaps run one driver in the old car to bag more points while another tries to sort the new one? Is that even legal or feasible?


How can they get it on song without running it at race weekends? There is zero in season testing. And giving I dunno, Button the 2012 & Perez the 2013 would be a nightmare for the mechanics.


I think it must be remembered that we are talking fractions here, and that it is far easier to make something that dosen’t work properly than something that is very fast and agile. That said McLaren have been in the game long enough, but perhaps they lack the definitive expertise, and continuity in design to keep all the ducks in a row. The obvious comparison is with Red Bull who apart from driver management seem to do most other things all too well, certainly they have the continuity and expertise with Adrian Newey’s team. It’s obvious mclaren have done something without fully understanding it which is fatal these days in F1.

Steven Pritchard

Early indications is that there is not a suspension problem.

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