McLaren start 2011 with doubts over radical car

2011 F1 season preview


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

  1. nemo said on 5th March 2011, 12:33

    ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ ;)

    Theres still one more test to go and McLaren have had alot of time since the last test to try and put things straight at the factory..

    here’s hoping :)

  2. V8mate said on 5th March 2011, 12:34

    Can’t wait for Melbourne, only time will tell how it all pans out but I would think that pre season testing is generally a fair indicator regardless of fuel loads, testing format etc of which teams are looking good. It would be strange for mclaren to sandbag it ‘s hard to gather valuable data in testing as it is without spending valuable time going slow on purpose, history says mclaren are in for a “cold” year this year. I agree and so does Lewis it seems…..

  3. Daffid said on 5th March 2011, 12:37

    The real question is, how important will track position be this year, and how will the KERS play out. If the new wings and aerochanges make overtaking easier, perhaps not looking so good for McLaren, but if it’s just as tough as ever, having the best KERS will make them just as impossible to pass as before. I’ll be amazed if they’re not still in the top 3 across the season, but I doubt they’ll be up there with Red Bull and Ferrari, just hanging around spoiling the odd race between the top 2 as they did last time KERS was in play.

  4. Mattfd said on 5th March 2011, 12:38

    I remember same stories of Red Bull this time last year. Missed the first test and reliability was hitting them hard with an innovative design car.

    Barcelona on Tuesday will give us the indication of whether McLaren are going to challenge or not. Could be interesting to see if someone has something up their sleeves with an “F duct” type idea.

    • VXR said on 5th March 2011, 12:47

      I remember same stories of Red Bull this time last year. Missed the first test and reliability was hitting them hard with an innovative design car.

      It’s much easier to deal with a fast but unreliable car than it is to deal with a car that is reliable but slow. Unfortunately for McLaren they are both unreliable and slow.

  5. Faraz (@faraz) said on 5th March 2011, 12:38

    I think that missing the first test sessions has really hurt mclaren.

    But I think Lewis will probably scoring most of the points if they are struggling with the car.

    Because Jenson is just fades away if the car does not suit him.

    • VXR said on 5th March 2011, 12:56

      Currently the car suits Buttons style better than it does Hamiltons, if the few long runs in testing they did were anything to go by.

      Button, unlike Hamilton, said he was happy with the tyres.

      In fact the whole Pirelli tyre thing as probably played right into Buttons hands. It’s just a shame that the McLaren will be more than likely a mid field car at best.

  6. VXR said on 5th March 2011, 12:40

    Ferrari, Red Bull, Renault, Sauber, Williams and STR are currently the best cars at hanging on to their tyres. They have more downforce than McLaren. It’s as simple as that.

    Regardless of what the fastest lap time is in the next Barcelona test, if McLaren can’t get their car to use its tyres in a better way, then they will struggle in the races.

    And don’t be surprised to see some of the new teams making some of the more established teams look silly.

  7. Oliver said on 5th March 2011, 13:24

    What I find amazing is that, the drivers still complain about downforce, when the odd shaped sidepods were to allow for better airflow and improved downforce from the lower wing structure.
    Obviously, I don’t have the talent of the Mclaren engineers and aerodynamicists, but its looking like, either bureaucracy is stiffling talent, or better talent is available elsewhere.

  8. I wouldn’t be that surprised if Mclaren had a slowish car to start with as it seems to be their pattern of one year having a good car the next a bad which is strange because with the way they rotate their design team it should cut this problem out.

    Unfortunately, even if they are well off the pace I can’t scream with glee that Ferrari (if they’re any good) will have one less competitor to worry about as Mclaren’s in season development is usually so good they should be at the front in no time. Although last year they did seem to struggle to get all of their updates working well and maybe that was because of the car or the lack of testing giving teams a bit more of a headache.

  9. A Singh said on 5th March 2011, 13:31

    The Mercedes and McLaren both look off the pace. It’s just a question whether Red Bull or Ferrari have turned up with the fastest car at Melbourne.

  10. Patrickl said on 5th March 2011, 13:45

    Have McLaren used their 2010 aero package already? I think I’ve only seen them with the 2010 front wing on it still.

    Just like Mercedes, they have been working on reliability and simulator data first. That gives the designers and the people in the factory more time to finalise the aero.

    This new aero will then be used in the last test so the drivers can work on setup for the car before it actually races.

    At best they can guess how much faster the new aero parts will be. They can also only guess how much slower they might be compared to the competition. So it’s a whole lot of guesswork to determine if and how ar behind they might be.

    Either way, Hamilton was driving for the WDC just about the whole season in the third fastest car. If it wasn’t for the mechanical failures and Webber, he would have been far ahead (although obviously the same could be said for Vettel).

    • VXR said on 5th March 2011, 14:18

      Unfortunately for McLaren they can’t assume that Ferrari and Red Bull will be standing still while they attempt to catch up. Both Ferrari and Red Bull will also be bringing new aero packages to the final Barcelona test. If both McLaren and Mercedes are a second off the pace now, then the best that they can both hope for is to be half a second off the pace by Melbourne.

      It must also be remembered that Hamilton was driving a “third fastest car” that was only a couple of tenths off the Red Bull at the most, throughout the season.

      • Solo (@solo) said on 6th March 2011, 1:59

        Not really, it was about a second slower in qualifying in half the races.

        • BBT said on 7th March 2011, 9:07

          yes but they had good race pace last year. In testing in the mid to long runs you could see that… not so this year (so far at least)
          In qualifying the were almost always over 0.5 off the RBR and sometimes much more, except on the F-duct tracks (Canada etc)

  11. HxCas (@hxcas) said on 5th March 2011, 13:48

    I’m new to F1 (only really followed the 2010 season but have been watching on and off for quite a few years) but I find it interesting that there don’t seem to be any worries so far from other teams who are claiming to have ‘radical’ or ‘aggressive’ designs such as Renault and Williams. Does this mean there is a fundamental issue with the McLaren design or maybe a bungled addition or two to the car? As a Renault supporter I sure hope so!
    On a side note just signed up here, hello everyone

  12. Snow Donkey said on 5th March 2011, 14:08

    With such a radical car and such little mileage, I think it’s far too early to judge the package. I mean this car bears so little resemblance to anything fielded by the team in the past that it stands to reason it will take time to extract what potential is there. RBR has been refining the present package for 3 years. Give them time to sort it out.

    I’m no huge Mclaren fan, but I do love brave designs, and brave designs sometimes need time to optimise, especially in this low testing era of ours… short lasting pirellis and limited sets for race weekends will penalise this approach though.

  13. Rob Wilson said on 5th March 2011, 16:49

    Odds on Narain becoming 2011 world champion? Put a tenna on it and become a millionnaire! Nah you lose a tenna.

  14. Mr. Wrong said on 5th March 2011, 16:49

    Even if McLaren turned up in Melbourne with a three legged donkey they could not be written off just like that.
    They are not the second most successful team in F1 for nothing. They are, perhaps, the best team out there to turn a lemon into a race winning car.
    And no, I am not a McLaren fanboi. Quite the opposite. However, not stupid enough to underestimate their abilities.
    We shall all see how things pan out when the racing gets going.
    Forza Ferrari 150º Italia dot co dot uk or whatever name they turn up with for the start of the championship.

  15. curedcat (@curedcat) said on 5th March 2011, 17:28

    and how exactly do you know this ?. hamilton set a best time that was reasonable compared to others . The drivers said the same about the MP4 25 and did that car not match Red bull on the downforce tracks ?

    I remember clearly Button begging for more downforce during 2010 pre season ,come the first race they blitzed the time sheets .

    I get the feeling there will be surprises come the first race . This test is even trickier to analyse than ever . The ARW will probably be worth 0.5 sec , add that to KERS thats another 0.5 sec. which means a car will be at least 0.5 sec a lap slower if either of this devices are not deployed at once! . Throw in variables like fuel load , tyres , rev levels e.t.c this makes anyone making assumptions look foolish.

    I would imagine that Mclaren have a different front wing for this radical car . The one they have been using is the same as last year ,with those side-pods you’d think they have a different front wing to direct airflow to the rear-wing like they stated during the launch .

    A new car will definitely have some issues , the RB5 had issues and they hardly showed pace during the tests . Can anyone say they had any idea that the RB5 was a race winner with the slow times they posted during the 2009 pre season?

    Only 6% of the MP4 25 was carried over to the MP4 26 , which means 94% of this car is brand new !. The RB7 is an evolution of the RB6 which also evolved from the RB5 , which means much of the Red bull car has remained same for three years . F150 evolved from the F60 .

    Even if Mclaren are not the fastest come Melbourne the potential in this car will see them on top within 4 races .

    The folks at Mclaren have great ideas lets give them a chance here . If Mclaren had done anything other than radical and were still slow would folks still not rant ?

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