McLaren Team meeting transcript reveals ’09 key factors

With this week’s three-day Barcelona kicking off preparations for the 2009 season, the celebrations of Brazil already seem a distant memory for the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team. Indeed, everybody at Woking and Brixworth is fully focused on preparations for the new season and the introduction of some of the biggest and most comprehensive rule-changes in Formula 1 history. In order to provide a clear idea of the scope and extent of the regulation changes, and just what Vodafone McLaren Mercedes will be doing over the winter in preparation for the new season, sat down with our top engineers, aerodynamicists, engine expert, test team manager and test driver to prepare an exhaustive analysis of the changes:

The Panel

Pedro de la Rosa Test Driver
Pat Fry Chief Engineer MP4-24
Ola Kallenius Managing Director Mercedes-Benz HighPerformanceEngines
Indy Lall Test Team Manager
Paddy Lowe Director of Engineering
Doug McKiernan Principal Aerodynamicist


In terms of scale, just how different is the package of technical changes for next year?

Paddy Lowe: It’s probably the biggest set of aerodynamic regulation changes in Formula 1’s history. Almost everything – the front and rear wings, the diffuser, floor and bodywork – is affected. I don’t think there’s ever been that level of change.

Pat Fry: It’s just a matter of keeping the team focused on its priorities – it’s a lot to juggle. KERS, for instance, if you get it right, will be worth four tenths in qualifying. And on circuits with a long drag down to the first corner, such as Barcelona, it will be worth 20 meters – or three grid slots. So there are reasonable benefits for getting it right. But we’re just applying the same racing philosophy and fundamentals to the task. We’re not changing the way we use CFD or the wind tunnel to test things, we’re just working on a new product and we need time to get used to what works and what doesn’t.

Can you outline the regulatory changes that have been made to aerodynamics for 2009?

Doug McKiernan: All the top-body furniture has basically been removed. The rear wing is a lot higher, the diffuser moves rearwards, the front wing has been moved forwards and is lower and wider. The bodywork no longer features deflectors or hydrofoils. When we first went into the wind tunnel with our ’09 model, we’d lost well over 50 per cent downforce – and clawing some of that back is an exciting huge challenge when you don’t have the bodywork rules to allow you to do that.


Is it harder to make aerodynamic changes now that the rules no longer permit appendages to the bodywork?

Pat Fry: Yes, but once everything settles down, I think you’ll see teams doing bigger upgrades. For example, you won’t have three little deflector tweaks, some teams will bring an entire new floor or a whole new bib. For 2009, I think we will see performance spread across the field will be bigger. And there’s also the potential for upset and the normal pecking order to be different.

Doug McKiernan: At the moment, our biggest challenge is understanding the flow structures around the car. When you go and change the front wing it’s a huge challenge to recalibrate the understanding of how that wing’s going to perform through a corner. And that device then dictates the flow structures down the car and how they all interact as they go around the car. The flow is now much less constrained – there used to be very obvious devices for controlling flow structures around the car. Now we’re doing it with other parts – so it’s more difficult. So your objectives are similar but the challenge is harder.

Will there still be the normal upgrade from the launch-spec to the first race?

Paddy Lowe: Absolutely. The launch car package was finished in the wind tunnel several weeks ago. The pattern has become that you significantly re-clothe the car between launch and first race in any case – that’s without such drastic changes to regulations. And the launch cars will bear little resemblance to how they appear in Melbourne.

Doug McKiernan: In these early days, the rate of development is high and each team will be finding a lot more performance because the optimization is still very embryonic. So every time you spend another two or three weeks in the tunnel, you can probably justify a complete new floor. Another few weeks and you’ll definitely have a new front wing. The regulations have basically put a reset button on aerodynamics – and there’s still lots we can play with. That’s what we enjoy!

Do you miss all the aero ‘toys’?

Doug McKiernan: Personally, no; I think this is great. Aerodynamically it’s a great challenge – it’s a big motivator for the team to get stuck into something different.

KERS & Engines

What’s the plan for running a KERS car over the winter?

Paddy Lowe: Before Christmas, we’ll be running one chassis as a KERS car – MP4-23K. We will develop the interim technology on the 23K mule car before the race system is introduced onto next year’s 24A. We’ll also have an additional 23A for running our chassis and tire program.

Indy Lall: For our first proper circuit test we want to make sure the device can ride curbs and withstand a lot of the bumping that we necessarily haven’t seen in any of our previous aero tests. Equally, up to now we’ve extracted a smaller output of power from the KERS device and our step up to maximum power won’t happen instantly. We’ll build up to it.

How will you develop the KERS program during the season?

Ola Kallenius: Unlike the engine, there is full development freedom on KERS. And like any new technology it’s only natural to expect the system to develop as you learn more about it. Every team will be updating their systems during the season.

Paddy Lowe: There will definitely be constant development of the KERS device through the year. One thing to bear in mind is that the ultimate idealized performance benefit of KERS is capped – because it’s limited in power and energy. So assuming you’ve delivered to that cap, you’re looking more into the domains of doing it for less weight or doing it more efficiently or more reliably.

Is there a firm plan about how best to exploit the system during races?

Paddy Lowe: Certainly, the variation from circuit to circuit will be different. Also KERS will have more authority at some tracks than at others – so the pecking order from circuit to circuit may change a little bit.

Ola Kallenius: There will certainly be different optimal strategies for different tracks.

How easy is it to use KERS in the cockpit?

Pedro de la Rosa: We are still learning about it. It requires a lot of fine-tuning to the car – especially in the braking. KERS has to recharge itself – so when you press the brakes, it generates an extra resistance that you have to somehow compensate for to balance it out. That means interacting with the engine braking and the brake balance. You just have to find the best compromise; it’s not just fitting KERS and going quicker, you have to balance it into the whole system. If you don’t have it properly tuned, it will be very sudden. The difficulty will be to smoothen all the transitions.

What additional steps need to be done to an engine to extend it from two to three races?

Ola Kallenius: It’s certainly not an inconsiderable task. We are currently analyzing the engine’s areas of reliability as we plan what measures we need to take to extend its duty cycle. As you can imagine, there is a reliability buffer built into every engine but it’s not sufficient to easily extend its life from two to three races.

How is Mercedes-Benz approaching the winter’s engine equalization process?

Ola Kallenius: Like all engine manufacturers, we have until December 15 to submit our proposals to the FIA. After that date, the governing body will decide how best to approach the situation to equalize power between every team.


What are your aims for this week’s Barcelona test?

Indy Lall: Gary will be there for three days and Pedro will do the first day. Pedro will undertake the KERS development work with the latest-spec device. We’ve done quite a bit with it during some aero testing but it’s advanced quite a bit since then. We also have a standard chassis which Gary will drive, focusing on slick-tire work and projections of what 2009 downforce levels will be.

And for the rest of the winter?

Pedro de la Rosa: We have three tests – in Barcelona, Jerez and Portimao. There’s lot of new things to be tried on the car, starting with slick tires. And we will run with tire warmers so it will be easier to warm the tires and control the tire pressures. We will also be starting our KERS program for the first proper test at a racetrack. And we will be testing with reduced downforce, running with all the body furniture taken off the 23. It’s all about trying to learn as much as possible within a very limited testing mileage.

Doug McKiernan: For Barcelona, we’re running a stripped-down 23 with its bodywork removed and a similar downforce level to what we’d expect to run at Melbourne. For Jerez and Portugal, we’re planning to run a front wing similar to a 2009-spec to try and understand how it affects handling characteristics.

Will you be running simulated 2009 aero in Barcelona?

Indy Lall: Correct – all the deflectors, hydrofoils and flick-ups that are not allowed for next year have been taken off. There’s a suggestion that we ought to start as we finished off, as our datum, and then gradually wean the bits off – so that may change. We’ll also run wings to simulate 2009 downforce levels.

Can you get an accurate reading using a hybrid development, or mule-car?

Indy Lall: We’ll get an understanding of what sort of grip level the tires will give and what sort of downforce we are able to generate. Obviously, we have a target that we think we can obtain – but whether we can achieve that with a 2008 chassis remains to be seen.


What does a 2009-spec car feel like to drive?

Pedro de la Rosa: It’s very different. Obviously, the slick tires give you a lot more grip – so although we will be running with reduced downforce, the overall grip of the car won’t be that different to what we had. But it’s the balance front to rear that will change – the slick tires have a very strong front-end going into the corners and they have very good traction coming out. Overall, to simplify things, I think the slick tires will give us lap time in the low-speed corners and because of the reduced downforce we’ll be slower at high speeds.

Do you think it will make overtaking easier?

Pedro de la Rosa: Yes, definitely. Considering this is Formula 1 – if people think the introduction of KERS and the reduction in downforce and slicks is going to transform Formula 1, then forget it. It will still be a wide car, there will still be aerodynamic effect and offline will stay dirty. It will be easier, but it won’t be MotoGP. And people need to understand that.

The changes are headed in the right direction. The difficulty comes from having so many changes and a massive reduction in testing for next year. It will make fine-tuning your car between the races very difficult. It’s going to be very interesting – and there won’t be enough time to test everything.

What sort of impact will the regulations have on downforce levels, car balance and lap time?

Paddy Lowe: When the OWG package was put together at the end of 2007, its intention was that the cars would be slower than they were in 2008. Of course, that was difficult to predict because a) we didn’t know what that performance would be and, b) there was some uncertainty over the final performance of the slick tires.

While Bridgestone made some predictions, there’s some thought that they may have been under-estimated – so therefore the offset of the tires may have been bigger than predicted.

On the aero side, the OWG put some downforce targets into its research program for half the downforce for the same amount of drag. Even at a research level, that could not be achieved – so the drag was slightly reduced for the halving of downforce. That’s a bit of performance already.

Of course, that target naturally anticipated that the teams would be able deliver well beyond that figure – we factored that into our calculations.

Nevertheless, there was still some uncertainty over what that figure would be. And even today I don’t know that the answer – we have our own internal targets tracking progress through to next year. But who knows what the other teams have as targets or achievable levels?

Has the Overtaking Work Group succeeded in creating a formula that will produce better racing?

Pat Fry: We’ve achieved a very large reduction in downforce – although not what the OWG had targeted – so that will make the car a couple of seconds slower. But we’ll likely have less drag so that will to some extent compensate. Going to a slick tire allows for a softer compound. When we’ve tested slicks, we’ve previously been up to three seconds a lap faster – just because of the tire!

So there is a swing from taking away aero and giving you back mechanical grip with the tires. And anything that gives your tires more grip and reduces aero sort of makes the car a little less aero-dependent. But in terms of how it affects the car that follows, it’s still too early to know whether we’ll be better or worse off.

Paddy Lowe: As part of the OWG team, I really hope it does make a big difference. I am reasonably confident that the learning we gained through the OWG program will produce a good step. To say it’s the ultimate solution for overtaking in Formula 1 would be incorrect but I expect it to make a significant difference. I expect cars to be able to follow and dice with each other more closely. Perhaps drivers will now be able to take greater advantage when the car in front makes a mistake. The rules should allow for more of that – and hopefully to a balanced level.

In the OWG, we discussed how we didn’t want a ‘basketball situation’ [note: where play is rendered less meaningful due to the high incidence of scoring] where as soon as a quicker car catches a slower one, it’s a dead cert that it will get past within one corner – that would make the sport incredibly boring. We hope the regulations will make the sport more entertaining – most particularly at those circuits where it’s notoriously difficult to overtake, because circuit layout still makes a massive difference. McLaren-Mercedes

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