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The past two world F1 driving champions, Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton unveiled the 2010 McLaren F1 car to a worldwide audience via a webcast. The new car of the all-British team features an innovative engine airbox that flows backwards and melds into the rear wing.
The wraps came off a visibly different McLaren on Friday morning, but the British team has retained its silver livery despite the departure of Mercedes as a works backer.
World champion and team newcomer Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton pulled the covers off the MP4-25 at title sponsor Vodafone's Newbury headquarters, in front of a massed media contingent and a live global internet audience.
"The car looks so much different, completely different," said 2008 title winner Hamilton, as observers opine that it is the third 2010 car seen so far that incorporates a 2009 Red Bull-style high front nose.
Team boss Martin Whitmarsh said the car is so much longer than last year's that it did not fit in the factory's custom lifts, and for the first time McLaren has incorporated a radical 'shark fin' engine cover.
He also said the car's double-diffuser design is "fairly extreme", and admitted that the car was positioned on the stage to shield the rear from the photographers' lenses.
At the Ferrari launch on Thursday, designer Aldo Costa said he thought at least one team was "on the limit" of legality with its 2010 double diffuser design.
Fielding a question about the car's silver color, Whitmarsh referred to McLaren's long-standing and ongoing relationship with Mercedes, which has included periods of increased and decreased involvement.
"It's a McLaren brand color, it works for our partners and us," he added.
In 2010, the German marque is only an engine supplier, but the three-pointed star as well as the full Mercedes-Benz name remain on the car.
Meanwhile, Button will revert to his usual Union Jack-colored helmet livery in 2010, after using an incandescent yellow version with Brawn last year.
And despite Whitmarsh attending the Mercedes GP livery launch on Monday, Norbert Haug was a no-show in Newbury on Friday: the official line was that he has lost his voice.
Just as at Ferrari, the new McLaren was designed with a nose lifted up higher and wider than on the MP4/24. While last year's Brawn was highly successful with the low nose to carry ballast, this year's reduction of front tire width reduces this need to carry weight at the front of the car.
As the nose went up, more space is available under it. McLaren decided to design a snow-plough device, just like Williams used last year to provide better airflow under the nose cone and towards the rear end of the car.
The front wing is a visible evolution of a special version last year that was raced occasionally. The upper deck specifically is mounted to hang over the inner plate of the front wing endplates.
In the centre of the car, the team have added small barge boards just as with Ferrari's F10. These boards are located just ahead of the zone where a minimum radius of bodywork is specified by the regulations.
A very aggressive approach has also been chosen in the sidepod area where more compact solutions were possible due to leaving out - its highly successful - KERS this year. The sidepod cooling holes are positioned high above the ground and are nearly rectangular in shape, pushing the cooling system further to its limits.
The rear end of the sidepods shows another departure from recent design approaches, as the team have chosen for a steep downward slope, instead of a an undercut. In fact the approach is somewhat similar to the Red Bull RB5, while many thought this design was not going to be seen anymore. It was generally believed that this approach is not optimal for a double deck diffuser car. Just as with last year's Red Bull, the McLaren now also has a rear pull rod suspension system.
McLaren have chosen some interesting design routes on their new competitor. McLaren's Tim Goss and Paddy Lowe explain why some decisions have been made in light of the regulation changes.
The MP4-25 looks very different from last year’s car – what are the principal changes?
Tim Goss: “Following last year’s clarification involving the interpretation of the underbody regulations, the 2010 car has been designed to take greater advantage of the aerodynamic benefits we can derive from the floor. That interpretation led us to change the layout of the rear of the car.
“The car is longer than last year’s car as a result of the additional fuel capacity and we’ve lowered the chassis and bodywork. Plus the removal of KERS has opened up opportunities on internal layout and weight distribution. It’s quite a different aerodynamic treatment to last year.”
The dorsal fin that attaches the top body to the rear wing is very striking – what does it do?
Tim Goss: “The principal knock-on effect of the larger fuel tank was the repositioning of some of the car’s internals. One of the outcomes of that was a decision to move some of the car’s cooling to sit centrally at the rear of the car.
“The dorsal fin is partly to accommodate the additional cooling duct and partly a logical development of the high-downforce wing we ran last year at races like Monaco, which feeds air more efficiently to the rear wing upper element. They’re both quite simple solutions, but they’re actually very neat.”
On a human level, what has the organization learnt about itself over the past 12 months?
Paddy Lowe: I think we’ve learnt that as a team we can operate effectively and we pull together both in success and in adversity. I think one of the greatest things about last year was the fact that on no single occasion throughout the whole team, whether that’s from shareholders, sponsors, team principal, management through to the night shifters, did I come across any individual blaming another That was a very encouraging situation, and spoke volumes about the degree of team spirit that exists here.”
Looking at the 2010 regulations, the biggest news is the banning of in-race refueling – how has that affected the packaging of the new car?
Tim Goss: “It has definitely been a big challenge fitting twice as much fuel into the car, because you don’t want to increase the chassis length by too much, and you also don’t want to compromise the aerodynamics by making the car too wide. You’ve got to fit radiators into the sidepods, so you’re limited as to how wide you can push the chassis.”
How did you tackle it?
Tim Goss: “In the end, we elected not to compromise the aerodynamics of the car, and, through a rethink of the cooling system layout and electrical packaging, we managed to provide space for the additional fuel capacity while maintaining our aerodynamic philosophy for the bodywork.”
The drivers will be carrying twice as much fuel at the start of each grand prix as they were last year, how will that affect the car’s handling and balance characteristics?
Paddy Lowe: “The biggest problem is just the sheer weight of the fuel – it obviously increases the stopping distance quite considerably. Running with high fuel puts demands on braking – and it means you have to design the brake discs and pads to overcome that. And with a narrower front tire, you’ll lose grip, which will change the fundamental balance of the car. So we’ve looked at weight distribution, aero balance and mechanical balance in order to compensate for grip balance moving rearwards.”
Do you think the banning of refueling and its effect on the car’s tires and balance will spice up racing in 2010?
Tim Goss: “It could make the show significantly better, yes. Previously, you knew when everyone was going to stop and refuel, so each team based their strategy decisions on overtaking cars during the pitstops.
“What’s changed for this year is that we won’t know when people are going to stop. The only thing affecting drivers’ mandatory stops now is that they have to run both the Option and Prime tire, so the strategy choices will be less predictable and will become a little more complicated. Races could be one or two stints with both early and late stops for tires.”
“And it will definitely make the racing more challenging and interesting – and, hopefully, it will promote more on-track overtaking and less overtaking during the pitstops.”
Finally, what’s on your job list going into the four crucial pre-season tests?
Paddy Lowe: “Initially, the most important thing is proving that the car is robust. Just about everything has changed on the car, there’s very little that hasn’t changed, so we want to make sure we’re fully reliable for the first race.
“At the start of 2009, there were teams who were more competitive than us, but we were still able to pick up a good number of points because we were more reliable. These tests will be about establishing the durability of the car and giving ourselves enough time to fix any issues we encounter.
“In addition, we also want to get a very thorough understanding the new tire, its degradation and durability, and how to get the best out of it.
“Beyond that, it’ll be about performance development.”