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Whitmarsh and Haug preview the Spanish Grand Prix
Formula 1 racing arrives in Europe for the first time in 2008 as the 11 teams arrive at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya for the Spanish Grand Prix. The 2008 race is the 40th Formula 1 event to be staged in Spain, with 37 Spanish Grands Prix and two European events taking place to date. McLaren has won the Spanish round on eight occasions including four times with Mercedes-Benz.

The first motor sport event in Spain, the "Copa Catalunya" road race over 27,885kms, was staged in the Barcelona area in 1908. The Spanish Grand Prix appeared on the World Championship calendar for the first time in 1951. However, it was not until 1969 that a Grand Prix race was staged regularly in this country. Five circuits have hosted the race, Circuit de Catalunya, Jarama, Jerez, Montjuich and Pedrables.

The Vodafone McLaren Mercedes MP4-23 has completed a total of 6,680kms of testing at the Circuit de Catalunya prior to the 2008 race.

Martin Whitmarsh:
Many people see the Barcelona race as a benchmark for the level of competitiveness for the rest of the season, why is this and how do you think the MP4-23 will fair?
“The Spanish Grand Prix sees us entering the European season and Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, along with all the other teams, will be in Barcelona with significant upgrade packages on the cars. The cars remain relatively consistent over the course of the fly away races and this race weekend is the first opportunity to understand how we have moved forward with performance and developed the MP4-23 in comparison with our primary competitors. We are confident that we have improved the performance of the car, but this week’s test was not an accurate indicator of performance, so we will need to wait for the race to establish how the MP4-23 will fair. 

There has been a three week gap since the race in Bahrain where Vodafone McLaren Mercedes has been able to test at the Barcelona circuit, how did this compare to the test just before the start of the season?
“A key difference is that the track and ambient temperatures are a little bit warmer and therefore more representative of the race conditions than pre-season, when it was very cold. In addition, the car was new to all of us when we were testing in the winter, it is now an established package and like any car it has its strengths and weaknesses. There is a very comprehensive package of components and systems that were fitted to the car at the test, hopefully to build on the strengths and reduce the weaknesses, but we will see how far forward we have been able to take the car. As always with these test sessions there are a range of variables such as tire specifications and fuel loads. In addition it was decided by the teams and Bridgestone that we needed to spend some time developing the 2009 slick tire. In order to test those in a representative manner you have to estimate the level of downforce that will be available under the 2009 aerodynamic regulations, and we do not know what the other teams are doing in that regard. Whilst we confined this testing to one day, this was not the case across all the teams which led to a range of times during the whole week. As a result it is difficult to make an accurate assessment as to where everyone is.”

What areas of the MP4-23’s development have the team being focusing on in the build up to the race, and at this test in particular?
“The emphasis has been on the aerodynamic performance, developing downforce, balance and aerodynamic efficiency. In parallel we have developed the suspension systems and the chassis. We have come away from three races with no testing where inevitably we discovered vices that were not analyzed before the start of the season. This period has provided an opportunity for the drivers and race engineers to focus on a bit of set-up work as well for this race.”

Norbert Haug:
What are the development possibilities after the engine homologation for the remainder the season?
“The engine rules have been specified until the end of 2012. Following the Malaysian Grand Prix, every manufacturer delivered a reference engine for homologation to the FIA. From this time onwards no more modifications of the engine are possible, except for the development of fuels and lubricants, and for improvements of the peripherals components. The engines, which have been used in the Bahrain Grand Prix, will also be used in the upcoming Spanish Grand Prix within the cycle of two race weekends.”

What are the challenges of the Circuit de Catalunya for cars and engines?
“The track at Barcelona with the long front straight and with long sweeping corners as well as tight bends is one of the most demanding of all circuits in terms of aerodynamic efficiency. It is also challenging for the engines. About 70 percent of a lap will be run under full throttle and after the new chicane before the start and finish straight, about 13 seconds will be run under full throttle. Barcelona is the circuit which all competitors know best, because it’s the test track all teams use the most, and they have a lot of data from there.”

Why is Barcelona as a test track so popular among all Formula 1 teams?
“It’s a rule that those who can win here are capable to do so at all the other Grand Prix circuits. The track is particularly demanding for a Formula 1 car’s aerodynamic efficiency. Therefore, many teams focus on the Circuit de Catalunya at Barcelona when they test, and therefore, they have more experience there than at any other circuit of the current Grand Prix calendar. Prior to the season, we completed here considerably more than 1,000 laps during the test days corresponding to more than 5,000 kilometers. Moreover, we tested from Monday to Thursday in the week prior to the race and completed another 1,600 kilometers on the Circuit de Catalunya.

What is the importance of fuels and lubricants concerning the development of the engines?
“As a consequence of the significant restrictions by the new engine rules, the significance of fuels and lubricants has of course increased. Accordingly, the improvements in this sector are important. Developing more and more efficient lubricants in co-operation with our Partner ExxonMobil, we concentrate on reducing friction, and with fuels, the focus is on optimizing combustion. As everywhere in Formula 1, we explore the practicable limits.”

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