McLaren struggling or sandbagging?

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)

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157 comments on McLaren struggling or sandbagging?

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  1. Bert said on 12th March 2009, 0:00

    Slightly off-topic, with the abolition of flip-ups and the likes, what is with the uber hub-cab, spinner-wannabe on the Mc?

  2. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 12th March 2009, 0:13

    Interesting angle on the discussion from James Allen:

    There are many who think it’s a new approach to testing in a season when testing will be banned from two weeks from now onwards. McLaren have even run Monaco parts along with the rest of the job sheet.

  3. Now THAT’s a brilliant bit of insight that I dare say no one else has thought of yet! New hope springs in the hearts of all McLaren fans. Their car is SO good they are testing components for different tracks to insure their dominance for the entire year.

    I take it all back, they’re not in trouble they’re brilliant!!!

  4. Lynn said on 12th March 2009, 1:37

    “Wow” could it be so, if this the case what a genius idea, still holding my breath until the first race.

  5. buloy said on 12th March 2009, 7:45

    That’s because they don’t have F Alonso to make their car perform better.

    • Couldn’t have put it better myself…I don’t think it’s any surprise that McLaren have been hugely competitive since their more circumspect 2006 season. Alonso’s testing nous shaped the 2007 car and will have influenced a lot of decisions in 2008 as well. Hamilton can’t bring that experience to the table yet – I certainly don’t get the feeling from him that he is in possession of the same level of ferocious intelligence that his ex-team mate has.

    • Reading this, I came to a conclusion that he should be doing a good job at his own team…

      The time sheets doesn´t show anything special in the R29 so far…

  6. Dragos said on 12th March 2009, 11:36

    Every time McLaren has a problem … it’s because Alonso is not there. For sure I can understand Alonso’s fan but … it is a bit exaggerated.
    Ok … maybe a bit more to me honest.

  7. Well here we go – McLaren sandbagging or do they have a finely developed donkey? – do no teams hold back just a bit during testing sessions? – which thankfully do not earn points – or do they thrash them to the point where they are only fit for scrap?
    Roll on the real race in Australia and then we can see who and what works right – looking forward to then.

  8. Here is the full-stop to the discussion:

    “We are not competitive” -Mclaren.

  9. Dragos said on 13th March 2009, 11:24

    So it seems they are struggling after all. If you think about it, if last year the best quali time was 1.20.7 or so… well McLaren have already achieved this (bearing in mind that it is said that the car should have less downforce than in 2008 and the slicks will not fully recover the loss of downforce) plus the drop of rpm from 19.000 to 18.000.
    The problem is that some teams (and I’m really surprised by BrawnGP) have done extremely well, even going under 1.19 …. it seems staggering to me that the car of 2009 is about 1 second faster than the one from 2008.

  10. Lynn said on 13th March 2009, 11:50

    I guess we know now, struggling, time is running out, lets hope it can be fixed. But to be honest the bullish talk from Martin and Haug is unconvincing. Lewis must be beside himself with worry.

  11. Kester said on 13th March 2009, 13:38

    I agree, the way they spoke about it doesn’t make it sound like it’s a quick fix. Designing, manufacturing and testing of new parts is a lengthy process, especially with a lack of in season testing. Being behind at Melbourne could mean struggling all season.

  12. Pete_F said on 13th March 2009, 17:07

    So it is official now as this links suggests:

    So the main topic in the early part of the season (or the rest of the season if Brawn gests some big money sponsors)will be – Is JB faster than Rubens Barrichello? This is worth starting a new thread…

    Cannot wait.

    As for all of us McLaren supporters, mid season maybe, otherwise its all gone.

  13. theRoswellite said on 13th March 2009, 22:29

    WOW…….what a post response!

    Numerous comments seem to assume that it should be almost impossible to “get it wrong” when the teams have top computer simulation programs, wind tunnel and past data histories to feed into future design parameters. The problem is still complexity, and more to the point, that the system under question is dynamical or nonlinear in nature.

    If you look at certain key ideas reflected in Chaos Theory, you find that extremely small changes can result in unpredictable results, and, in fact, it can be impossible to predict with absolute certainty the results if…. the elements are complex or variable enough. Remember, often the performance variation between success and failure falls well within one percent.

    When you consider ALL the factors that come into play regarding the performance of a GP car….on track…it is easy to see why only actual testing can provide for an “ultimate reality check”.

  14. McLaren have a major problem, which will see them running down in 10th most of the time and have them struggling to get into the points. This season they will have a mare just like they did in 2004. Hamilton will struggle. They should correct it again for 2010 im sure. Ferrari will be fighting it out with Renault, Red Bull, and more than likley the new BrawnGP team. Which im happy about as I am not a fan of Hamilton, Mclaren, and Dennis. Anyone Remember they stole Ferrari information? This is why with the new rule changes they have to think for themselves, and they just arnt that good at it.


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