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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33 comments on “McLaren: tyres and exhaust key to catching Red Bull”

  1. Well a lot of reports are coming in that it might be a wet weekend, so this might be all academic, however: could we see here of all places a greater likelihood of people starting on the hard tyre? It translates into greater time on the faster soft tyre and if there’s an early Safety Car it brings you right into contention.

      1. I think they’re usually talking in terms of ultimate pace over a single lap.

        If they were only 3-5 tenths behind RBR over a full race distance then I think they’d be looking to the drivers and pit crews to make it up..!!

    1. Yep I’ve read that too, it would be interesting to see how the wet Pirelli’s hold up, particularly around turn 8. But I’d still prefer a flat out dry race though to be honest.

    2. Yes, the weather forecast report seems to be very variable, this is the type of weather that we currently have in Europe, Bulgaria, and Turkey is just a 200 km away from my home. Actually, recently it’s becoming like a Sepang – it always rains in the afternoon, for some reason, then there’s a strong bright sun.
      I wish to see competitive race once again, and even more interesting Europe part of the season, with Ferrari potentially having sorted their wind tunnel issues out, and Mclaren pushing hard for reaching Red Bull.

      1. Actually here in the Czech Republic we had -12°C (a record for start of May) temperature at night, with up to 30 cm of snow falling in the west yesterday. Even in Prague it was -3°C at night. Now the sun is out but its still only up to 7°C at mid day!

  2. McLaren, as with last year, seem some pace off Red Bull in qualifying. In the race though, they’re quite evenly matched actually.

  3. Interesting he says the development tyres could be introduced in Spain when Pirelli have already announced the tyre allocation (hard and soft).

    Pirelli can only supply four different tyres under the rules so one of the other compounds would have to be dropped.

    That would suggest they are going to replace the hard tyres with these new tyres.

    But presumably they could use the current hard as the new medium, and so on down the range of compounds as far as they like, and therefore drop any of their current tyres to make way for the new compounds.

    1. Yeah, really intriguing. It might still happen, as they try to make the harder tyres last some laps longer than the sofst.

      The gap in laps before they drop off is only 2-4 laps now, that would be something they are working on to make the harder tyre more of an interesting tyre to run instead of just coping with having to use both compounds in the race.

  4. I’m just hoping that Red Bull hasn’t arrived with significant updates for this race. Would love to see the Mclarens in front of Seb again at turn 1, and hoping Fernando and Felipe can mix it up in the top 5 as well.

      1. It does look like a Redbull track. It’s a shame Ferrari isn’t really in the running yet. Massa mastered this track from 06 to 08, it’s a shame a guy who clearly drives well her probably won’t have a machine capable of winning it.

  5. It is interesting what Prew had to say about qualifying. He forgets that with these tyres that don’t leave much rubber on the track, except in the way of marbles, one shot at qualifying is probably the right way to go if you can set a very decent time.
    Rosberg and Massa showed us that a driver has the potential to win a race starting from 4th or 6th place by using an aggressive pit strategy. This won’t be possible on all tracks.
    A fresh set of tyres can keep you a second or two faster than the competition, which may just be adequate to gain you lost ground.

    My fear is Mclaren are becoming too conservative with their race strategy. And you can’t challenge a car much faster than you by being conservative. You have to surprise the opposition by taking calculated risks.

      1. But that is the very same risk they took.
        I even find it odd when the team and drivers contradict themselves. One says, I plannd to do 3 stops, the other say, we changed into a 3 stopper mid race.

        1. That’s all well and good, but testing it at factory is completely different to racing it.

          Well, McLaren got away with non-track tested parts at the beginning of the season, so maybe it’s Red Bull’s time to get lucky?

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