McLaren start 2011 with doubts over radical car

2011 F1 season preview

McLaren

McLaren MP4-26 launch, Berlin, 2011
Car: MP4-26
#3 Lewis Hamilton
#4 Jenson Button
Form 2006-2010: 3rd, DQ, 2nd, 3rd, 2nd
2010 points: 454

Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button have dropped hints in recent days that all is not well with the new McLaren.

The team have blown hot and cold in recent years. Concern over the new car will inevitably raise fears they are heading into another of their ‘cold’ seasons.

Just two years ago they started the season with a car that wasn’t able to reach Q2 on some occasions. In 2006 they failed to win a single race and their 2004 season was only saved by a substantial redesign of the car.

The MP4-26 is radical in design both outwardly – with its unconventional U-shaped sidepods – and underneath, where the team have tested an unusual exhaust solution. But the team have had a slow start to testing and have struggled to get the mileage they need.

Next week’s final test session in Barcelona should give further clues into how serious the problem is. The worst-case scenario is their championship chances may be over before the first race has even started.

Jenson Button, McLaren, Jerez, 2011

Jenson Button, McLaren, Jerez, 2011

What makes it particularly difficult to tell is that McLaren have taken a different approach to the off-season than their rivals have.

Most teams had their regular drivers on hand for the first run on the new Pirelli tyres in Abu Dhabi at the end of last year. Similarly, most had their new cars ready for the first test at Barcelona.

McLaren, however, ran Gary Paffett and Oliver Turvey at Abu Dhabi, and turned up at Valencia this year with last year’s car.

In theory, the advantage of that approach is that it gave their drivers a chance to experience the new tyres in a chassis they were familiar with.

The disadvantage is they’ve put less mileage on their new car than their rivals. At the time of writing Ferrari have covered twice as much distance with their new car as McLaren have with theirs.

McLaren have repeatedly demonstrated that their excellent resources allow them to bounce back after starting the season with a car that’s off the pace.

Other aspects of the rules changes should play into their hands. The Mercedes Kinetic Energy Recovery System was the best in 2009 and McLaren won two races with it.

And after several years of chopping and changing drivers they appear to have settled on a pairing that are both fast and get on well. The strength of their driver line-up was the difference between them finishing second instead of third last year.

Whether Hamilton and Button will be fighting for wins, podiums or just points this year remains to be seen.

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120 comments on McLaren start 2011 with doubts over radical car

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  1. Himmat S. said on 5th March 2011, 10:24

    McLaren are sand-begging. It’s pretty much as simple as that!

    • ferraricod123 (@ferraricod123) said on 5th March 2011, 10:31

      I don’t think they are. I think they are struggling a bit.

      • wasiF1 (@wasif1) said on 5th March 2011, 10:53

        I too think they are struggling. At the moment it seems like Ferrari & Red Bull have it in there bag.

        • The Last Pope said on 5th March 2011, 11:33

          Isn’t it too early to say that? The new HRT might be incredible :P

          • BasCB (@bascb) said on 5th March 2011, 12:45

            Fast as lightning (only available electronically rendered)!

          • snowman said on 5th March 2011, 12:49

            yep, we don’t know what HRT is going to reveal but we can be pretty sure it’s going to be up there with the flying bulls and prancing horses. If it is close though at least HRT much superior drivers will make the difference.

          • US_Peter (@us_peter) said on 5th March 2011, 18:54

            If it is close though at least HRT much superior drivers will make the difference.

            You mean driver, not drivers…

        • Sukoco said on 6th March 2011, 4:06

          i think that U-Pod is excellent from aero design view, cause can makes dirty air from front tire becomes streamline flow.

          but have side effect:another team have clean air supply to inlet sipepod

          1. Turbulence flow from front tire make less cooling capacity from inlet air, but i guess their already count this with big vert inlet or miss calcutate :)

          2.softer Pirelli hurt their engine cooler (all dirt and compound) looks all dirt on another team front sidepod bodywork. U-pod shape that have lower inlet n face-to-face with front tire cross section contribute on this reasons.

          3. U-pod that have wider coss-section, get more difficult to make it tight on the end bodywork (make it like bottle neck) so air flow on back end more dirty (mean more turbulence). that makes air speed lower than team that have bottle neck configuration,

          why thats important?air flow on back end supply diffuser system. easily HIGHER AIR SPEED can grab more under-body air flow. likes VACUUM that suck car to the ground, thats why old school ENGINEERING BANN have fan on the back car to suck under-body flow (air on underbody travel more speed)

          on science: air plane wing cross section have higher speed on the top (cause curve makes air travel longer distance with lower one)and lower speed on the bottom. create less pressure on top and make lift-force that makes airplane fly, in F1 flip it over.. You need more higher speed on bottom than upper section

          THATS why Mr.Newey RB7 have tiny little sipepod clean back, williams lost gearbox (hope mechical issue sort out) and tororosso double floor to supply clean more speed airflow to Non-double Decker diffuser. Sorry thats a loooong comment :)

          • Mike said on 6th March 2011, 6:15

            dirty air from front tire becomes streamline flow.

            I don’t think that’s true at all, As I understand it, behind the tyre their there is a pocket of low pressure, which results in air moving into that space, hence creating an area of “dirty air”, much like the situation created behind the entire car itself. I think the sidepod is just to far back to really solve this problem.

            But, I really have no idea! And I really liked reading your comment!

          • Sukoco said on 6th March 2011, 7:02

            thanks, thats another true from u Mike :)

            thats why we need wind tunnel to sort these.. or CFD with veryx1000 good calculation (with fluid dynamic are damn complicated, i think we need 5-10 years more time for CFD).. i imagine more speed you travel, u get more long back area of dirty air..(specially on corner or straight >150kph)..

            also

            i reconds mclaren want to keep clean air from front end travel far to rear wing smoothly (with lower cross sec valley thats shape U-pod) to cut dirty air from rear body, specially air box.. but i thinks air travel on higher position n give less suction press drama to diffuser.. n thinks mclaren eager to cosed these handiap n make exhaust combustion gas exit on lower-front placed to help this wider U-pod speeding their lower flow..(they try more configuration exh on test)

            and longer wheel base just more hurt them, cause MORE underbody-air you must suck..(mechanical grip advantage but aero handicap)see Lemans vid merc car fly? more flat cross section get more unstable create lift-force u get.

            But once again that just my point of view seeing that U-pod. to proof it we need mclaren scale on windtunnel :)

            For Merc:
            I hope they can install their 2010 FDUCT activated pressurized by thats DRS.. or there’s specific Reg to bann Fduct..? sorry another loooong comment in bad English :)

          • Sukoco said on 6th March 2011, 7:13

            but again.. i think Mclaren boys have plenty of best engineers in market with best tools available.. they will sort these things so fast if they have faith never stop to try… im Merc fan but eager more close competition ever.. just not agree with overtaking spot box..what?600m straight ..sick

    • coxy said on 5th March 2011, 12:57

      I really really hope they are!!!! The problem is it is so hard to tell anything from pre-season tests, as you all know with fuel loads what test they are running, engine settings ect. I just hope they pull it out of the bag soon.

    • John H said on 5th March 2011, 12:57

      There is no reason for McLaren not to push their car to the limits whilst testing, so they are not sand-bagging. This has 2009 written all over it for me.

      ….or if you are implying they are ‘begging for sand’ for some reason than that’s another thing altogether.

      • snowman said on 5th March 2011, 13:45

        Find it hard to believe they are sandbagging when they can’t even get enough mileage in it. Get the feeling though that Red Bull are sandbagging and will have clear edge over Ferrari when hit Melbourne.

    • UKfanatic (@) said on 5th March 2011, 14:16

      The press is talking too much about it last years car want good and they finished 2nd anyway so I dont know but my guess is that they are the 3rd fastest car in the grid again

      • wasiF1 said on 5th March 2011, 15:05

        Talking of HRT,they still need to name their third driver,last year they started the season with a car with no testing this year they will start with a driver with no testing.

    • mfDB said on 5th March 2011, 21:36

      I don’t know, usually when a team sand-bags, they are just a bit off pace and they say things like ‘we still have some testing to do’…these guys seem genuinely concerned, a little more so than if they were sand-baggin’

    • Salty said on 5th March 2011, 22:36

      There is absolutely no point in sandbagging any more. Gone are the days when Michael would spend weeks whipping round the Ferrari test track while the team nailed down the shiney new red car. Testing is limited to try and balance that luxury that few teams could afford. Is testing too limited? Maybe, but it does mean we see evolution over the season and a tighter field – which is nice.

      So McLaren sandbagging? Nah. No team has that luxury. Well, they might if they have rocket scientist Adrian Newey designing their car, but generally no.

      Lewis and Jenson would both make lousy poker players. They arn’t entirely happy so McLaren goofed by coming to the party late.

      Will Macca catch up? Mostly. RB will be faster. But Ferrari with Alonso is in the box seat for me. Fast and CAN overtake without wearing someone elses carbon fibre.

  2. Eggry (@eggry) said on 5th March 2011, 10:30

    I don’t think they will do well immediately. They didn’t have real long run, so they don’t understand car well. even if everything goes fine next week, it won’t be enough to challenge against Redbull and Ferrari. Maybe they could bounce back from middle of the season, but we knows it might be too late. weak early, strong late, another 2009 possible.

  3. Andy c said on 5th March 2011, 10:32

    I get frustrated if I’m honest the mclaren always seem to be playing catchup at tge start of the season since newey left.

    I have to say I’m yet to be convinced that their faith in developing things and testing on the sim is accurate. The blown diffuser was great on the sim and took ages to get it dialled in on the track.

    Just imagine, if they made a car that actually worked straight out of the factory, and were able to refine. Seems like a pipedream for mclaren fans at present.

  4. judo chop said on 5th March 2011, 10:42

    It’s only the radical design and lack of testing that’s raised questions from naysayers. It’s been designed to leap-frog the competition and because it hasn’t already blown them away in it’s limited testing runs it’s seen as a failure (despite already posting times comparable to it’s rivals). It’s simply too early to tell.

    • coxy said on 5th March 2011, 13:00

      i hope you are right dude

      • judo chop said on 5th March 2011, 20:45

        Right now no one knows the real pace of any of the cars let alone their race pace with the Pirelli’s performance factored in. When McLaren take a different tack in design and testing doom mongers suggest test times matter but when Toro Rosso, Williams, Renault and Sauber post fast times it’s implied that their test times don’t (glory runs etc). Hamilton nearly always says his car is great or disastrous or both at the same time and still people don’t take what he says with a pinch of salt.

        • Mike said on 6th March 2011, 6:23

          But generally, Mclaren have looked generally slower than Ferrari or Red Bull. This will generally have the general effect of causing the general audience to think they are generally slower.

          But I agree, testing is testing.

  5. wasiF1 (@wasif1) said on 5th March 2011, 10:57

    They have a strong combination but as Keith pointed out testing the tyres with test drivers & bringing their car late wasn’t the best of the decision made by the team.But as we all know they have the resource & the power to fight back.But it’s better to be strong from the beginning rather then from the middle.

  6. electrolite (@electrolite) said on 5th March 2011, 11:01

    Compared to the guys that designed this, I’m no expert, but I know that surely if you’re going to come out with a radical car you need to hit the ground running as soon as possible.

  7. howick20 said on 5th March 2011, 11:04

    The truth is that we don’t know. If Keith has access to Mclaren’s data, i would believe every word of this -but he doesn’t. Their times are not at the sharp end but neither were Red Bull this time last year and look what happenend come Bahrain quali. F1 is a cruel sport and i think it takes a brave man to make assumptions like this…

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 5th March 2011, 11:05

      I’m not making any assumptions – Hamilton said the other day they’ve got catching up to do.

      • wasiF1 (@wasif1) said on 5th March 2011, 11:11

        It’s true both Hamilton & Button separately said that they think they are struggling now if they lie that’s a different story.

        • BasCB (@bascb) said on 5th March 2011, 12:48

          And why would they do that. I think they are worried, surely just the limited milage gives reason for concert. And it also means they had less time to work on setup solutions to get the most out of it.

          Sure, they might bring another second to the car in Barcelona or Melbourne, but I would not bet on it.

          We might be seeing McLaren again playing cach up this year to be strong for wins in the second half only.

          • Bigbadderboom said on 5th March 2011, 13:53

            Jenson and Lewis are in personal damage limitation mode. Their quotes are worded to ensure minimum blame for the cars lack of pace, it has become common for teams to underplay their hand but not so so common for drivers to do so. The poor start to the season that is looking innevitable is difficult to attribute to them, but the development of it’s potential will be. Hopefully they get to grips with tyres, aero, KERS and DRS in Barcelona, otherwise this will be another difficult season for McLaren

      • SparkyJ23 (@sparkyj23) said on 5th March 2011, 21:38

        But if they’d tested the car every day since the end of last season both drivers would want more wouldn’t they?

    • BBT said on 7th March 2011, 8:56

      @howick20
      Actually RBR times were at the top of the time sheets this time last year….

  8. BROOKSY007 (@brooksy007) said on 5th March 2011, 11:25

    As much as I’m a mark webber fan, that lewis has serious skills! Even if it is a dog of a car for even the first couple of races he will still score valuable points until the car is improved. And button is Mr smooth so he will make the pirelles work as good as any other, which might enable him to have one less pit stop! The car is not looking that great on the performance front now, but with their drivers and mid season development it is far from over.

  9. GEZ (@gez) said on 5th March 2011, 11:27

    I think McLaren are behind the Red Bull and Ferrari, maybe about half a second, but I think they’ll have an upgrade at the Barcelona Test or during the Australian Grand Prix. McLaren really need to get some milage in the next test, to understand their car more better than they do.

    • Lemon (@lemon) said on 5th March 2011, 20:21

      I think half a second is a bit generous,i’m thinking more like one and a half seconds as I am massively pessimistic. This car will probably struggle to make Q3 for first half of the season….what makes me annoyed is how much money all these people at mclaren make for being useless, I mean if i was useless I wouldnt make money and i’d be living on the streets.

  10. DavidS (@davids) said on 5th March 2011, 11:30

    We’ve seen in recent years that McLaren have started the season with a substandard car, and got it to the point where it isn’t off the pace in the second half of the season. Remember 2009 where Hamilton was very dejected with the performance of the car at the start of the year, but had a reasonably good second half to the season.

    McLaren’s substantial resources allows them to build a strong car over the season, even if they start out with a car that isn’t particularly good.

  11. Fixy (@fixy) said on 5th March 2011, 11:42

    Although it’s nice to see many cars fighting for wins, I think the emotions offered by duels are almost same if the drivers are battling for a lower position. If last year we had 3 teams battling for wins and 2 battling for 4th places, and this year we had 2 teams battling for wins and 3 battling for 4th places, the Championship would be closer but the racing would be just as entertaining.

  12. hazza (@hazza) said on 5th March 2011, 11:58

    Hmmm,Of course if McLaren ARE in trouble they’d be wise to bring back someone like Pedro De La Rosa to sort out the MP4-26 as he has great technical feedback and much experience. Liked by the team too. ; )

  13. Calum said on 5th March 2011, 12:21

    Hopefully they can luck into good solid early points with good tyre management – then get good pace for the latter half of the season? He says clutching at straws…. :’(

  14. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 5th March 2011, 12:24

    I guess the only advantage if this lack of performance continues to be the case is that it makes an opening for Mercedes and LRGP.

    Considering the bounce back in 2009, they shouldn’t have many problems. I can’t see this year being as bad as that!

  15. Mef said on 5th March 2011, 12:27

    No surprise. Two drivers who can’t develop a car. A constantly changing design team. The last vestiges of a potentially greet team have now all gone. Starting with the exit of Alonso in 07.

    • Mattfd said on 5th March 2011, 12:36

      Mef…I totally disagree…look at 2009 toward the back and the team developed th car to the front. Hamilton was involved in that process.

      • Mike said on 5th March 2011, 15:36

        team developed th car to the front.

        I agree, I think Mclaren is the team most likely to make good on a bad start. And that I can respect.

        Of course, I hope Williams beat them! :D

    • Bernard said on 5th March 2011, 12:46

      That’s complete unfounded nonsense Mef.

    • matt90 (@matt90) said on 5th March 2011, 20:21

      Thats why Hamilton won the following year, they bounced back to actually win races in 09 after a shocking start, and came 2nd last year…

      • david said on 5th March 2011, 23:00

        yes,he won it because it happenned a year or two after they stole the ferrari’s design. now that much of the rules from that time are gone, they had to start from scratch and since they don’t have an opportunity to get the ferrari’s papers any more ,they are lost and will be lost for seasons to come.

        Just take a look at how the car was (unreliable and slow) when montoya and raikonnen drove it and how fast and relialbe it was a year after they stole ferrari’s papers.

        Also I remember reading how dennis claimed ” that only two people knew” about the existence of those papers, when in reality even the drivers knew about that. How could someone trust that team? and how they represented a entire country?

    • NJB said on 7th March 2011, 0:39

      Entirely agree with Mef. Mclaren should worry more about producing a competetive car and less about PR moves like hiring Button and their ill-fated late launch. For a team of such vast resources failing to win a WCC since 1998 is simply embarrassing and I can’t see things improving without a radical overhaul of personnel and philosophy. A meaningful livery wouldn’t go amiss either.

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