Jenson Button, McLaren, Shanghai, 2011

McLaren: tyres and exhaust key to catching Red Bull

2011 Turkish Grand PrixPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Jenson Button, McLaren, Shanghai, 2011
Jenson Button, McLaren, Shanghai, 2011

McLaren believe they’re between three and five tenths of a second per lap off Red Bull’s pace heading into the fourth round of the season.

Speaking in a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes phone-in the team’s principle race engineer Phil Prew said: “We’re between three-tenths and half a second off the pace of Red Bull. That’s the gap that we’re aiming to close.”

He added: “We’re aiming to improve the performance of our car through the range, both in qualifying and the race.

“Tyre exploitation may be one area, the use of elaborate engine modes with the generation of downforce [via the exhaust into the diffuser] may be another.”

“Never underestimate” Ferrari

However the team are also keeping an eye out for a resurgent Ferrari this weekend:

“We never underestimate their performance and are fully aware that they could take a big step improvement once they get a better understanding of their car and get it to work properly and get the full potential from it.

“I think we’ve seen at times, particularly in races, the Ferrari showing very strong pace. They don’t seem to have hooked it up in qualifying just yet but we’re fully aware that we both need to chase down the Red Bulls and also keep a wary eye on the cars behind like Ferrari, Mercedes and the Renaults who’ve shown good pace as well.”

Three-stop strategies in Istanbul

Prew said he expects three-stop strategies to be the norm at Istanbul: “The tyre degradation is certainly going to be a large factor in Turkey.

“I think that will be tending towards a three-stop race.”

In China Lewis Hamilton only did one run in the final part of qualifying to save a fresh set of soft tyres for the race. But Prew doesn’t expect that to be a common feature of strategies this year:

“There are some benefits of having new tyres available to you, however I think the competitiveness of field will force you to run multiple new tyres through qualifying. I think our position be to take qualifying position over [having] new tyres.

“I’m not discounting what we did with Lewis, for example, we were fortunate enough to get through both Q1 and Q2 with a single set of option tyres, which allowed us to save one set of options.

“But I don’t think you would be not competing in Q3 for the sake of tyre saving.”

More ‘super-hard’ tyre testing

Pirelli had tested a development tyre, intended to be more durable than the hardest tyre in their range at present for use at Istanbul. It is not being raced this weekend, but Prew said it will undergo further testing ahead of a possible introduction in Spain:

“The degradation and wear on both of the Pirelli tyres – the option [soft] and the prime [hard] tyre – is going to be a challenge at this race. It’s a very demanding circuit.

“But it’s down to the teams to try to get the best performance from the tyres. Having the development tyre available perhaps would have changed the look of the race a little bit. But providing it’s the same for everybody I don’t think it’s a big difference.

“I believe we will have the opportunity to test those new hard tyres again in practice with potential introduction in Spain. So we believe that we may well see them in the near future.”

“We try to cover all eventualities” on strategy

Prew added that the increased number of pit stops this year and the change of tyre supplier means race strategy in 2011 has become more reactive:

“I think we have to be perhaps a bit more dynamic on pit wall than we were in the past. That’s receiving information both from the drivers’ feedback and observation, lap time performance and measurements from the car to indicate specifically tyre performance and tyre degradation.

“Partly, in the past, with the Bridgestone tyres, we had a lot of experience with that tyre and therefore, going into the race, we had a far better idea of what the races would look like and how they would play out.

“This year we are still learning about the tyres. Every time we go to a new track we are seeing a slightly different performance profile. They don’t last as long, as we all know, and that means we have to be a lot more on our toes and prepared to be adaptive both to what other cars are doing but also to how our car is using the tyres and how the tyres are performing.

“With more stops there is obviously more decisions and it’s quite a challenge. We have a very strong team both at the track and also back here in Woking at MTC [McLaren Technology Centre] who are working specifically to optimise the strategy for both cars.

“We try to cover all eventualities. If I take China as an example we went in with a plan if we were able to adopt a two-stop if the tyres were performing better than expected, or if we needed to adopt a three-stop if we saw high degradation which, ultimately, we did.

“So we’re aware of the options going into the race and we also have some figures that will tell us which strategy we’re able or need to adopt so, at various stages through the race, you’ll assess where your position is, how the field’s opened up, how the tyres are performing, and that will help you make the decision of how you’re going to execute the race.”

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