McLaren MP4-26 launch, Berlin, 2011

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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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).

    1. 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.

        1. 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)

  6. 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

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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 ?

  10. I look less at the time sheets and read more the comments the drivers make. McLaren sound very apprehensive and the results will show in Melbourne.

    1. Looks more like a “2 articles on one team each day ahead of the season start” series to me. No sensationalism here, Red Bull yesterday, McLaren today, Ferrari tomorrow, I guess.

  11. Talking about Pirelli’s degradation, I wonder how dangerous it could be if in quali or race these ones blow. I remember the accident of Ralf Schum at Indy and then the circus of Michelin teams withdrawing… that was terrible but it could be worse now that there’s just one supplier.
    About McLaren, they normally these strange designs and sometimes they prove good, as it was the F-duct last year, or the “horns” time ago. But there’s not only the external design what rules in F1, it’s reliability. Last year the car was reliable and they fought till the end. I don’t think they lost the championship for lack of reliability but for plain unluck or mistakes (unluck as Button pushed away by Vettel, or mistakes like a courageous Hamilton feiling at Singapur and Monza.) But in general all teams made mistakes last year and that was part of the thrill. I woudn’t put McL down yet.

    1. Talking about Pirelli’s degradation, I wonder how dangerous it could be if in quali or race these ones blow.

      The tyres performance will be shot to pieces long before the it becomes too dangerous to drive on. Although, if your car is handling badly, it could be a problem.

    2. Tyre wear is different from tyre fatigue.
      The problem Michelin faced was not wear but rather the construction of the tyre couldn’t take the load of the banked section hence the carcass broke even though the tyre had not even fuffered any wear.
      It turned into a big mess because they were supposed to use two different tyre construct.. But they used only one for their entire range of tyres. They further lied that they could fly insuitable tyres when there was no such available.

  12. mclaren drivers are talking about lack of downforce and its a not a simple problem for a new car. that not only makes a F1 car slow on a single lap but also has a very bad effect on tyres wear on long runs.

    the real bad news is, if there is a considerable lack of down force in a new car’s concept, it means that it will be hard to reach other teams level during the season by development.

    remember 2009 and 2010 seasons, mclaren made huge gains especially during 2009 season but lack of down force was always with them even at the end of season, same thing happened during the 2010 season they were never come close to rival teams level.
    they may shine on some special tracks but overall if their drivers are talking the truth, than they are really in deep trouble once again for the 2011 season.

  13. i,m no expert on body language ,but jenson struggles to put the wool over anyones eyes ,and lewis is useless at lying .so i think the cars a dud !

  14. Sometimes it’s very difficult to hide the fact that you’ve completely destroyed a set of tyres in only six laps worth of running. Even if they topped the tank up fully every time the car pitted, it wouldn’t explain why the tyres were wearing that much!

    Lewis is a fairly honest chap, and if he says that the car lacks downforce, then the car lacks downforce.

    1. A quote from Autosport on the last day of the Barcelona test:

      “McLaren only did one run of more than 10 quick laps, and it was this 16-lap effort. The times are scattered all over the place and the only explanation Hamilton would give afterwards was that he was getting overtaken a lot… So we’re still waiting for a positive sign on the MP4-26.”

    2. you have made up to five comments on this thread and every single time you have had something negative to say about mclaren .

      Who destroys a NEW set of tyres in SIX LAPS! , just like that ?,why not include track temperature at the time , tyre type, track condition e.t.c , don’t just take issues out of context . can you provide a source to this piece of assumption?

      If you are going after lewis , i can tell you that Button the easiest guy out there with his driving style, destroyed his tyres in 10 laps while lewis did 28 laps! on the same kind of tyres at the malaysian grand prix

      at the 2010 Canadian grand prix , drivers experienced graining but as the cars got lighter towards the end and more rubber was laid down ,the situation stabilized.

        1. Here are some non-facts taken from the non-factual publication, Autosport. And regarding the last day of testing at the Barcelona track.

          “Webber did 59 quick laps during his three-stop race simulation. We think tyre use went soft-soft-hard-soft. Red Bull has been the best at holding onto the tyres, but the times drop away pretty quickly when he is on a full tank throughout both the first two stints.

          The hard tyre hangs on a lot better and for a lot longer, but the pace is not as impressive as we’ve seen it. Webber explained after the session that the steep drop-off at the beginning of the final stint was due to traffic and not the tyres. The feeling is that this was quite a conservative run, and Webber admitted that they would do things differently in later race sims…

          29.7, 29.8, 30.1, 31.4, 32.0, 32.0, 32.4, 33.2, P
          27.4, 27.9, 28.9, 29.8, 30.2, 30.8, 31.1, 31.3, 31.9, 32.4, 32.6, 33.2, 33.6, P
          29.9, 29.6, 29.8, 30.3, 30.8, 30.2, 30.8, 30.4, 30.6, 30.7, 30.6, 32.6, 31.8, 31.3, 31.1, 32.3, 32.5, 32.3, 33.6, 33.2, P
          24.9, 28.3, 29.1, 28.4, 28.3, 28.3, 29.0, 28.5, 29.0, 29.4, 28.6, 29.1, 32.0, 29.2, 30.1, 29.8, 30.3, 30.7

          McLaren only did one run of more than 10 quick laps, and it was this 16-lap effort. The times are scattered all over the place and the only explanation Hamilton would give afterwards was that he was getting overtaken a lot… So we’re still waiting for a positive sign on the MP4-26.

          29.5, 29.1, 29.4, 29.7, 32.1, 30.8, 34.8, 30.8, 37.0, 31.1, 31.4, 32.3, 44.5, 51.9, 49.2, 34.3

          Ferrari did a lot of laps again. There was no race simulation, but there were a couple of runs of around 30 laps. This one was 27 with one stop in the middle, and the F150 Italia held onto the tyres impressively – less than two seconds slower after 14 laps. The pace was a lot more varied after the pitstop, but the genuine pace seems to drop by around two seconds again.

          28.2, 36.5, 27.8, 28.1, 28.3, 28.7, 29.0, 28.9, 28.9, 29.3, 29.2, 29.4, 29.9, 30.1, P
          31.5, 26.5, 26.9, 31.4, 27.3, 27.4, 27.6, 28.3, 28.4, 28.9, 32.1, 28.0, 28.1″

          Still not convinced McLaren have any problems? The runs he made under 10 laps all destroyed his tyres completely. Whereas the Ferrari and Red Bull look far better on their runs.

      1. If you follow testing daily (hourly for many of us Fanatics) you would have read the hundred of tweets and stories from journalist, ex-drivers, and team personell at the test all stating that the MP-26 was destroying it’s tires. Many reports even suggested that the car didn’t look anywhere near as sure footed as the main opposition. It isn’t Mclaren-bashing time, it’s time to get your facts straight. Just as no one can say that the car is 100% a dud, you cannot say that it isn’t. From all the reports
        I’ve read, it sounds like they’re going to have a difficult first pat of the season (maybe longer if their rivals development pace is equal)

        1. Yes but it does seem as if VXR is going out of his way to install even more doubt into mclaren fans than we already have. However that might be the right thing to do, just so we don’t get our hopes up.

        2. The facts are out there if you are willing to look for them and are willing to take on board what they say, rather than simply dismissing them out of hand.

          1. @Patrickl

            The ‘fact’ seems to be that whatever the track temperature (same for everyone), fuel load (Webber did a race simulation, look at his times during his first and second stints on the soft tyre) or test goal (Hamilton set out to do one long run at much reduced pace, but still couldn’t make the tyre last more than 16 laps). The general consensus in the paddock is that the McLaren is currently well off the pace.

            I would like to say that they are sandbagging or have a magic solution to all of their problems (reliability will be more of a concern to them at the moment) that will find them another second of pace, but I cannot.

          2. Webber was on the hard tyres and Hamilton talks about the softs lasting 15 laps.

            Obviously the hard tyres will last longer than that.

            You really are comparing apples and oranges. Or perhaps even apples and coconuts.

      2. If you are going after lewis , i can tell you that Button the easiest guy out there with his driving style, destroyed his tyres in 10 laps while lewis did 28 laps! on the same kind of tyres at the malaysian grand prix

        Not going after Lewis or McLaren. They are having problems. Simples!

        With regard to Button using his tyres in 10 laps: This happened for the opposite reason that the Pirelli tyres are wearing out. The Bridgestones were tyres that were difficult to heat up for some drivers (Button, Massa, Schumacher), consequently the tyres didn’t grip and you invariably slid around on them until they rapidly wore out. Nothing to do with poor tyre management at all, and more to do with tyres that were just too hard and too good. No one really had to manage their tyres in 2010.

        On the other hand the Pirelli’s are heating up far more quickly, too quickly for some, and so the tyres wear out for a different reason. A reason that actually makes more sense.

        1. Would you then agree that hamilton displayed excellent tyre managements skills at Canada ? that was one race where he should have struggled or pitted more than the others because of his legend as “aggressive”?That race had nothing to do with heating your tyres but managing them .

          It is agreed that Mclaren have issues and thats why they have got testing to sort things out .

  15. By this stage of testing those working in the pit lane and around F1 regularly know whos got what right and wrong and the general consensus seems to be that Mclaren are not in great shape.

    Its all well and good those of us who follow the sport sitting here and saying its too early and that you cant tell from testing, however in recent years with the banning of in season testing the pre season work has given a very good indication as to where the teams are at.

  16. and turned up at Valencia this year with last year’s car.

    This gives them a know factor regarding the Pirellis. They knew how the 2010 rode with the Bridgestones and they can compare this to the data they get from running the Pirellis. That would be interesting data to read.

  17. No no, I don’t want to see a new year with McLaren constantly strugling again like in 2004, 2006 and 2009, but the indications seem like that. I don’t think they have any excuses for this since they had the third fastest car on the grid last year. I am a passionate McLaren fan for almost 10 years, but I can not suffer anymore from McLaren’s lack of competiveness.

    I can’t just understand why such a well organised and finalcially strong team has this troubles…

  18. I have said before on f1fanatic that Alonso could have been champion had he not made mistakes in the first half of the season. Vettel could have won by a colossal margin had he not retired from many races. The same is surely true of Hamilton. Driver errors in 5 races in the crucial part of the championship cost him the title for me. The year before the McLaren was a front runner by the end of the season. I would not write off a poor start to the season but, as 2010 proved all the best can and will make mistakes and the points gained from poor positions could pay dividends when the car works to their standard. Hamilton is still a threat to Alonso and Vettel for me this season.

    1. Hamilton only made 1 real mistake and that was in Monza.

      Of the 3 drivers you mention Hamilton lost by far the least points due to his own mistakes.

      1. I disagree, for a world champion neither driver should make as many mistakes as Alonso and Hamilton did last year. That said I think Alonso’s were recovered better, ie. great races in Monaco and Shanghai for example. I think that in the heat of a championship battle Hamilton cracked and lost stupid needless points to MAIN championship rivals. Otherwise, he should have been champion. Hamilton is a great driver but he still cracks under pressure too often for me. His best season for me remains 2009 because of his mature drives, in 08 he made too many silly mistakes for me.

        Interesting to hear your thoughts mate!

      2. Button didn’t make any mistakes, despite obviously being a really bad driver. But I guess if you drive that slowly you’re less likely to make mistakes. I wonder how slowly he will drive this season? ;)

        Anyway, I’ll look forward to the inevitable Alonso, Vettel, Hamilton battle as always (car and tyres permitting).

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