A close look at McLaren’s standard ECU

McLaren Electronic Systems, Autosport International, 2008At the Autosport International show last weekend I came across the stand for McLaren Electronic Systems – the company which won the bid to provide the standard engine control unit to Formula 1 teams for 2008.

Although the deal attracted little attention when it was announced in 2006 it has become a bone of contention, particularly since McLaren became embroiled in the Ferrari espionage scandal last year. Ferrari and other teams have suggested it will give McLaren an unfair advantage as they will be familiar with the system.

This picture shows the little back McLaren-branded box that will be inside every F1 car this year and should provide the FIA with the means by which it can police a ban on traction control. The company had some interesting things to say about it at the show.

The MES spokesperson I chatted to explained that three different companies put in bids for the contract, one of which was long-term Ferrari suppliers Magneti Marelli.

Winning the contract has meant a substantial increase in business for MES, which like the McLaren Formula 1 team is owned by the McLaren Group. In order to fulfil the contract to supply the entire grid they have taken on several extra staff.

He suggested the cost to other teams of purchasing ECUs from McLaren would be less than half of what it currently costs them to produce their own units. However the price of a complete set of control units and sensors for a single car would be measured in tens of thousands of pounds, which is a mere fraction of the millions spent on engines, aerodynamics and the like.

The teams should also save money on staffing, as they will no longer need to spend resources on developing their ECUs. Not good news if you’re an ECU software developer…

McLaren Electronic Systems, Autosport International, 2008As to the vexed question of whether it would give McLaren an inherent advantage, he explained the unit bore some similarities with the system formerly used by McLaren.

What intrigues me is this: since Renault escaped their spying hearing with no punishment, when McLaren received a substantial fine, many people have made remarks about the FIA being biased against McLaren. Surely the fact that MES won this contract shows this is not the case.

As I wrote at the time, there might have been more of a fuss if the contract had been won by Ferrari or Magneti Marelli.

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30 comments on A close look at McLaren’s standard ECU

  1. Cooperman said on 15th January 2008, 9:33

    As every team will have McLaren Intellectual Property on their cars for 2008, is it going to cost them all £50 million??

  2. “Surely the fact that MES won this contract shows this is not the case”

    i say this deal was all about microsoft, MES was a secondary concern. the fia wanted formula 1 to be associated with that brand (and have done for a long time), to hell with everything else. macca knew that and thus chose them wisely.

    just look at how much input microsoft have actually put into this partnership… absolutely nothing.

    it’s a brand name that the fia can trot out when feel the need.

    i’m guessing on the timing screens / tv captions during every race:

    “Live timing provided by Microsoft in association with FIA”

    or something along those lines.

  3. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 15th January 2008, 9:57

    That’s a good point – the ‘Microsoft’ word never came up once and I haven’t heard much of it since the original announcement.

  4. Critics would have born also if another one won the bid for the ECU

  5. Perhaps and that is a big perhaps – the fia have become closer to allowing a market driven solution in that out of the providers themost competive/cheapest product has won? – we’ll see

  6. Steven Roy said on 15th January 2008, 11:39

    I must admit to disliking the idea of a spec component being provided by one if the teams. It doesn’t matter to me which of the teams had been awarded the contract it is just plain wrong that any of them should have been given it. The contract should have been given to an independent company.

    I am sure the Microsoft brand was appealing to the FIA and that together with the price swayed the FIA.

    It is a huge leap of logic to say that giving a contract to produce a small component proves there is no bias against McLaren when stacked against the evidence of all the previous cases.

  7. steve m said on 15th January 2008, 11:53

    this component must be made by a independent as you end up with one team saying mcLaren getting work though back door

  8. So, if Magneti Marelli was one of the candidates, and MES was another, who was the third candidate? Since the former two had a duopoly on the grid, I would have thought that the third option would have been the wiser move in terms of fairness.

  9. Journeyer said on 15th January 2008, 12:10

    You’re right, Keith. I wonder why. Could it be because Microsoft has never been interested in racing as a whole before this? Also, maybe they don’t want the negative publicity if the ECU goes belly-up.

  10. Journeyer said on 15th January 2008, 12:15

    Steven, this isn’t one small component. This is the ECU we’re talking about, basically the brain of the car. All sorts of data pass through here, and the FIA would have needed to be OK with whoever was going to make it.

  11. “Could it be because Microsoft has never been interested in racing as a whole before this? Also, maybe they don’t want the negative publicity if the ECU goes belly-up”

    unlikely.

    since when have microsoft had any objection to releasing shoddy software? and when was the last time youi saw them run away from bad publicity?

    the ‘collaboration’ has nothing to do with technology, it’s purely a marketing thing.

  12. Yeah, I don’t think Microsoft had any real involvement with the ECU, it was just a marketing stunt.

    Concerning the live timing comment made in the 2nd post: I don’t think that is going to happen personally. I still think timing is going to be provided by Siemens.

  13. The best thing FIA should have done was to call for an independent to build the ECU. The problem is that eletronics in F1 is so complicated and tecnically-demanding, so it would have been very difficult to do an ECU for a newcomer.

  14. “I still think timing is going to be provided by Siemens.”

    sorry, yes i do too.

    but i think they’ll squeeze some MS branding in there too. maybe a ‘start menu button’ in the corner or something.

  15. Steven Roy said on 15th January 2008, 13:39

    “Steven, this isn’t one small component. This is the ECU we’re talking about, basically the brain of the car”

    I understand what it is I was thinking financially. I read somewhere that the whole contract is only worth a few hundred thousand pounds. It hardly compares with losing the Prodrive business for example. It won’t even come close to the money they have spent and lost on the Prodrive project already.

    I have to agree withesidepodcast on the timing. The ECU and the timing are entirely separate. The one thing which would be good and could use the Microsoft branding is if we got real time data from the ECUs on TV.

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