McLaren struggling or sandbagging?

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Is the MP4-24 a dog or are McLaren being sneaky?
Is the MP4-24 a dog or are McLaren being sneaky?

Heikki Kovalainen’s McLaren was at the bottom of the testing times today, 2.6s slower than Nick Heidfeld’s BMW.

McLaren haven’t shown much pace in the pre-season build-up so far, and speculation abounds as to whether the MP4-24 is a dud, or whether they’re ‘sandbagging’ to fool the opposition. Let’s put the theories to the test.

The ‘they’re just slow’ theory

After the MP4-24 hit the track for the first time murmurs from Woking suggested the car producing more drag than computer simulations had suggested it would.

The sight of McLaren mechanics conducting flow-vis tests (applying liquid to the car to study how the air moves around it at speed) fuelled suggestions that what they expected from the new car and what they got were not in agreement with each other.

On top of that McLaren have spent most of the tests so far using a 2008-specification rear wing. Was this because of some defect in the 2009 design?

This could be a huge and fundamental setback for the team of the type that plagued Renault in 2007 – the team went from world champions one year to non-winners the next.

The ‘they’re sandbagging’ theory

The problem with testing is it’s hard to find out what each team is doing, and how much fuel they’re running with. At F1 Insight yesterday Steven Roy had heard a rumour that Kovalainen was persistently backing off to avoid setting quick times in Spain.

The theory that McLaren were hiding their pace is bolstered by a story on Autosport drawing attention to McLaren’s radical new floor arrangement (not shown in the picture above). Craig Scarborough explains:

A triangular section of floor is missing between the forward part of the floor, which follows the curve of the sidepods, and a squared off edge just ahead of the diffuser. […]

A diffuser creates its downforce at two points: firstly at the kick-line between the diffuser/floor, then secondly at its leading edge. By effectively moving this leading edge backwards, McLaren are also moving the downforce it creates towards the rear. This may be part of a McLaren strategy to focus downforce production on the front wing and diffuser, as both devices are efficient at creating downforce with little drag.

This in turn could explain why McLaren have been using their 2008 wing for so long. The team had said they were using it to ‘simulate 2009 downforce levels’: so perhaps they were expecting to get a lot more downforce from the final configuration including the shaped rear floor and final specification rear wing?

Lewis Hamilton will be hoping it’s the latter – or his world championship title defence might not last very long.

Are McLaren stealthily playing down the performance of their car? Or are they set for another uncompetitive season as they had in 2004 and 2006? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Image (C)

157 comments on “McLaren struggling or sandbagging?”

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  1. And lol at “Sandbagging No Doubt”. Who are you, Renaults cfd computer?!

  2. I think McLaren are having trouble. Surely you don’t spend that much time testing with a wing that bears no relation to what you’re going to have to race with unless things have gone seriously amiss betwixt wind tunnel and track. McLaren have the resources and ability to turn things around quickly, but I don’t believe they’ll have it fully sorted in time for Melbourne.

    Hamilton has a reputation for being hard on his rear tyres, and if the reputed problems with a lack of grip and excessive rear tyre wear are to be believed, then it may be a frustrating start to the season for Messrs. Hamilton and Kovalainen…

  3. Obvious sandbagging, heh, 4 seconds slower almost all day today? then last few laps they gain 2 seconds, strange..

    Also Hamilton saying that Mclaren are far behind etc, why would he say this when he allways like’s to think he has a psycological edge over his advisories? Seems a bluff to me.

    I think there sandbagging no other team is that drastically far behind on the teamsheets.

    -on another note, BRAWNGP, looking amazing for there first test!

    1. I think you are wrong. Lewis doesn’t strike me as a dishonest person. They are in trouble, pure and simple. I wish it were not so.

  4. There is also a possibility that they are confident with their equipment and are now testing aspects of the car that are not so obvious.

    I would rather think that they are behind and struggling. BMW needs to shine in Melbourne. If they don’t, it will make them look pretty bad. They nearly abandoned Kubica’s F 1.08 when he had a great chance for success and turned their efforts to 09. Now its 2009 and they need to prove strong. Ferrari and McLaren were battling hard while others were thinking of 09

  5. Sandbagging at this moment so close to the first race. Why didn’t they sandbag during the 2007 and 2008 test season. This sandbagging thingy is just to save face or should I say a ‘cover-up’. In F1 when testing don’t work out well “sandbagging” is the key word, I guess, pretend to be confident. Anyway, this is a chance for Hamilton to proof his worthiness with a lesser car. In 16 days we will know the truth. BrawnGP did well in their first test.

    1. Bringing up Brawn GP is interesting – surely they’re not going to be quicker than (fellow Mercedes users) McLaren at Melbourne? That gives me cause to think McLaren must be a lot quicker than they’ve looked.

  6. I read somewhere that the Mclaren rear wing is not working as it should and is essentially stalling the aerodynamics at the rear of the car. Which is why they have been using 2008 spec wings in the tests. It seems they have tried 3 different versions of rear wing in the previous test and it didn’t seem to work. Its a believable theory given the circumstantial evidence.

    I am sure though that the Mclaren car would be alright come Melbourne or at worst when they are back in Europe after the flyaways. This car will surely win races. But if it starts the season off the pace, Lewis can forget defending his title given how competitive other teams are.

  7. I’m no fan of mclaren, but I’d say they are sandbagging, I’d like to see them behind on development but the mclaren technical team are some of the smartest around, so I doubt they are struggling, at worst, just a few small issues, nothing that wont keep them from challenging wins

    1. MacademiaNut
      10th March 2009, 15:40

      Even Force India was not 2 seconds off the pace in 2008 racing. Given current technologies and their understanding by the teams, I would be surprised if any team is 2 seconds off the top pace. So, my guess is that McLaren is definitely sandbagging here. I am sure we will see a lot of new things during Friday testing at Melbourne.

  8. Eduardo Colombi
    10th March 2009, 3:07

    I did not see Hamilton’s crash, but don’t you think that it could be a sign of McLaren’s problems? was he using 08′ wing? Houston, i think we have a problem…

  9. The tragedy here is that either way it is bad news for F1 fans in general: if McLaren is hiding their game (which I find extremely unlikely considering the drastic reduction in testing time) then they must be exceptionally confident in their car, which means 2009 will be a one horse season (well, we’d get to see Lewis x Heikki, but something tells me it wouldn’t be very exciting).

    On the other hand, if they truly have a problem of this magnitude then McLaren fans might have to live with a season of playing catch-up. If that’s the case, let’s hope that another team (maybe more!) take the challenge to Ferrari.

    1. McLaren being slow wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing for the racing…some of the best racing has been when incredibly gifted drivers haul a dog of a car to finishing positions they, in all honestly, had no right being in!

      Senna was famous for this.

    2. Of course, that goes without saying (don’t worry, being brazilian I remember Senna very well indeed).

      My point is that I hope to see a season with a few top teams (hopefully 2 or 3) challenging each other, rather than a season with an absolute stand out team and others fighting for the scraps. Even the great Senna couldn’t take the challenge to the Williams’ in 1992-93 simply because their car was significantly superior.

    3. Well If not Mclaren then I hope BMW or Williams take it to Ferrari

  10. Hard to believe that McLaren would be truly struggling with all the resources the team has. While they may not be in a true “struggle” , I think the 2008 rear wing useage indicates they have some problems that aren’t sorted out yet. Obviously, if that’s the case, they need to get their act in order ASAP.

  11. If Mclaren are sandbagging,why are they always faster with the 08 spec rear wing?I don’t think there is any reason for them to be super-confident at this time as all teams will be keeping their cards closely(especially BMW,Williams & renault).The same was said about renault in 2007,when they struggled in testing.And they did struggle to the end.I think sandbagging at a time like this will not give any results.
    They are really having a problem.

  12. Terry Fabulous
    10th March 2009, 4:26


    As many have pointed out, last year was the first time in ages that they managed to put together two strong years consecutively.

    Don’t forget also that at the end of 08, they and Ferrari were throwing time and money at the current cars while the rest of the grid quietly prepared for 09.

    And also, all the talk about McLaren’s amazing resources conveniently forgets that Toyota, BMW and Ferrari are spending the same amount.

  13. At some point in testing, you need to prove on track just how fast your car is, in race trim. Look at BrawnGP (Lord, that reads great, doesn’t it?!?!?!) first time out of the box, light fuel and all, they had to find out the limit of the cars performance.

    If Mac can’t generate a top 3 lap time then I don’t think it’s sanbagging. Then again, I can’t believe that knucklehead RD would allow Lewis to race for 5th place at Interlagos with the title on the line either.

    The point is that McLaren tend to do strange things strategically, but I’ll vote the “In trouble” ticket on this issue.

  14. certainly struggling, i don’t think its clever compromising ‘real testing of the car’ for the sake of putting sand in others eyes. I mean seeing a slow McLaren will put skeptical Ferrari nd friends at ease?

    1. especially after 2007 Spygate….

  15. Of all the teams on the grid, I just can’t see McLaren being the only one to fall totally on their ****. In Melbourne I expect unique parts on the car they don’t want the other teams to see yet and suspect that is the reason they are not showing their pace in testing at the moment.
    That’s just my hunch though.

    I can’t wait for Melbourne to see the true pecking order. The teams can’t all be at the top so seeing who is going to be giving Ferrari and McLaren a run for their money is really interesting. I’d like to see Williams and Toyota up there and Williams’ flywheel KERS to run well.

  16. I’d vote for sandbagging. There’s simply no way they can be this far off the pace, seeing how other teams have actually caught up with Ferrari.

  17. I would love them to actually be struggling just to see if Hamilton is really as good as he thinks he is.

    But unfortunately, they are probably just sandbagging and will back up the top with Ferrari come Melbourne

    1. Er, he’s the world champion and his teammate came 7th. Unbelievable!

    2. If you don’t think Hamilton has already proved this you obviously haven’t seen his amazing comeback in that infamous Turkish GP2 race.

  18. In my opinion, they are not sandbagging, but at the end they will be one of the top contenders as every year.

    If they are using 2008 rear wing because this set up simulates the downforce they will have with their final 2009 aeropackage, one must say their times have not been quite a lot extarordinary to see McLaren blowing up the rest of the teams.

    So, they will be one of the title contenders, but not the superfast car some McLaren fans are imaging.

    1. S Hughes – that was in a GP2 car and cannot be compared to F1.

    1. Its a very pretty car even if its screwed up, well done Mclaren!

  19. i am a fan of Hamilton and Mclaren. Aperantly some people ( read many )think that Hamilton was faster of Alonso in 2007 because of the team etc..
    Some of those people should do a little research because he was quick in everything he drove up to f1.
    As for Mclaren this year i am on the thinking that they have problems with the car.

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