A close look at McLaren’s standard ECU

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

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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