McLaren gearing up for Red Bull fight in 2012

2012 F1 season preview

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, Jerez, 2012

McLaren's MP4-27 has bucked the trend for stepped noses

McLaren have not followed the 2012 trend for stepped noses – their MP4-27 is the only car revealed so far with a smooth nose.

It clearly looks better, but will it cost them in performance?

The team have been world championship runners-up for the last two seasons and are aiming to bring Red Bull’s domination to an end.

McLaren’s managing director Jonathan Neale told Sky today: “This year I think we start in better shape, certainly.

“It’s there for the taking; if we work hard enough and pull together as a team we should be aiming to win this championship.”

Car 3: Jenson Button

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ap6sn1JM4aA

It was clear throughout 2011 that Jenson Button has found a happy new home at McLaren.

He produced a consummate performance in his second season with the team, winning three times and scoring more points than his fellow world champion team mate.

Jenson Button, McLaren, Jerez, 2012

Jenson Button was runner-up in the championship last year

Button excelled in getting the best out of the fragile new tyres introduced last season. On the face of it, with Pirelli bringing softer rubber for their of their four compounds, he stands to benefit further this year.

Whether he can turn that into the basis of a championship campaign will, of course, depend on how competitive the MP4-27 is.

Button said that is likely to remain something of a mystery until qualifying in Australia: “You do all the work you can with your team and get the best out of the equipment that you have, and then you arrive at the first race and you see.

“I mean, even in practice on Friday before a race you don’t know where you stand. Qualifying is the place where you find out where you are compared to your competitors.”

The rivalry between him and his team mate adds a fascinating dimension to the contest. The pair are closely-matched but team harmony was put to the test when they clashed in Canada last year.

Car 4: Lewis Hamilton

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z76w-I95oss

Lewis Hamilton had a season of extreme highs and lows in 2011.

The highs included three wins – two of which were classic Hamilton victories in China and Germany where his prowess in wheel-to-wheel combat won him the day.

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, Jerez, 2012

Lewis Hamilton needs to bounce back from a difficult season

But the lows – and there were many of them – came on the too-frequent occasions when his racecraft was found wanting.

The result was a string of needless collisions, a record number of trips to see the stewards, and a public row with Felipe Massa.

Although Hamilton was not always at fault it raised questions about his state of mind. His deliberate non-celebration after taking pole position in Korea fuelled speculation that all was not well within the Hamilton camp.

This year Hamilton will benefit from the experience of Didier Coton, former advisor to Mika Hakkinen. His progress will be keenly observed for signs of whether he can cut out the unnecessary mistakes that spoiled his 2011 campaign.

But that wasn’t the only chink in his armour last year. While he usually got the better of Button in qualifying, the tables were often turned on race day as Hamilton couldn’t make his tyres last as well as Button. It’s an area where he needs to improve this year.

This is an important season for the 2008 world champion as he weighs up his options for the future. His McLaren contract is up for renewal and his public chat with Christian Horner in Canada last year provoked speculation he is considering a move to Red Bull.

McLaren MP4-27

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9g1NfoDOjJQ

The MP4-27’s smooth nose makes it stand out in a field of step-nosed rivals. But inevitably, it has led to speculation that they might be missing a trick.

In a clear step forward from last year, the new car has run reliably in pre-season testing. In 2011 McLaren struggled with a complicated exhaust system and eventually abandoned it on the eve of the new season, bringing in a new solution for the first race.

The MP4-27 is substantially changed from its predecessor. Aside from the nose, one of the most visible changes is to the sidepods, where the U-shaped vents of last year are gone.

Technical director Paddy Lowe said: “This car in many ways looks quite similar but… underneath [there's] a great deal of change.

“Every single part has been assessed, optimised for weight, stiffness, performance in any other respect. And when you add all of that up you get a car that’s net quicker, that’s the name of the game. So in every area the teams are tasked to find that one percent, two percent because we’re looking for that total.”

Jenson Button, McLaren, Jerez, 2012

Jenson Button puts the MP4-27 through its paces at Jerez

Engineering director Tim Goss added “there’s very little that we’ve carried over,” onto the new car.

“We’ve worked extremely hard at producing a very integrated, aerodynamic and design package.

“There are a few features that we were pushing very hard from early on in the project and we’ve just stuck to the things that we think really, really matter, where we’re going to extract most performance from the car, and I’m just really proud of the whole team and their efforts so far this year.”

Last year as McLaren strove to put Red Bull under pressure there were times when they failed to take advantage of the performance that was available to them. Notably in Monaco, where a failure to get Hamilton’s car on track early enough in qualifying turned a potential shot at victory into a weekend to forget.

The hiring of Sam Michael from Williams as sporting director is partly aimed at ironing out these operational flaws. He describes his role as “sorting out the race team – and when I say sorting out, it’s already a very defined machine.”

“But McLaren is all about making things better than what everyone else is, and not using existing standards as a benchmark but trying to create new ones.”

McLaren have made a bad habit of going into new seasons with cars that are well off the pace – such as in 2009 and, to a lesser extent, last year. The early signs are the team have avoided falling into that trap this year, though as ever we won’t know for sure until the first race weekend.

McLaren’s championship form

http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/charts/stats.csv

1966 1967 1968 1969 1970 1971 1972 1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
Championship position 9 10 2 4 5 6 3 3 1 3 2 3 8 7 9 6 2 5 1 1 2 2 1 1 1 1 2 2 4 4 4 4 1 2 2 2 3 3 5 2 3 11 2 3 2 2
Wins 0 0 3 1 0 0 1 3 4 3 6 3 0 0 0 1 4 1 12 6 4 3 15 10 6 8 5 5 0 0 0 3 9 7 7 4 1 2 1 10 0 8 6 2 5 6

McLaren in 2012: Your view

Which driver do you think will hold the upper hand at McLaren this year? Can they take the fight to Red Bull?

Have your say on McLaren’s prospects for the 2012 season in the comments.

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63 comments on McLaren gearing up for Red Bull fight in 2012

  1. raymondu999 (@raymondu999) said on 3rd March 2012, 5:54

    I wonder if in 2011 Button’s race/stint pace is actually generally above Lewis’s. Lewis seems to me quicker at the start of the stints; then there is a crossover and JB is quicker; with JB being a net result faster OVER THE STINT. But I think possibly sometimes Lewis comes into an accident in 2011 where the crossover point hasn’t happened; and so people only see the part where Lewis was quicker.

    • AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 3rd March 2012, 11:56

      @raymondu999 Button can look after his tyres more, so while Hamilton comes out of the box nice and fast, Button ultimately has the performance available from the tyres towards the end of a stint.

      • raymondu999 (@raymondu999) said on 3rd March 2012, 18:36

        What you say is a given – but there is a “break-even” point between the two – the pace vs longevity discussion – There will be times when Button will be just plain too slow that even if he could save a pitstop he still won’t beat Lewis; and there will be times that Lewis will eat his tyres so fast even stronger pace won’t save him.

        What I’m saying is that it seems that actually Button has been getting the better end of the stick in this regard in 2011 – by his own doing, that is – but people don’t realize that; because Lewis in 2011 seemed to run into trouble before Jenson’s end-of-stint pace advantage over Lewis could manifest.

  2. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 3rd March 2012, 11:53

    Last paragraph sums it up for me really. McLaren are a force to be reckoned with when it comes to development, 2009 was as sure a sign as any for that.

    I expect Hamilton will have sorted himself over the winter, clearly he had a lot of personal issues and he won’t be happy if Button manages to beat him for a second time.

    Wouldn’t it be great for Button if he was the only ever guy to beat him over the course of a season throughout Hamilton’s F1 career?

    • raymondu999 (@raymondu999) said on 3rd March 2012, 18:42

      @AndrewTanner

      Last paragraph sums it up for me really. McLaren are a force to be reckoned with when it comes to development, 2009 was as sure a sign as any for that.

      I wasn’t convinced then; and still am not now. If you actually took a look at the aerodynamics of the MP4-24; and the upgrades applied to the car – there were only 2 things wrong. The car itself was actually a sound design.

      They only realized that their endplate philosophy was wrong halfway through the season; and created outwash endplates (basically the endplates send the air out the sides). That fed a LOT more air to the rear of the car – feeding the already-decent design that was just air-starved at the back; and the weight distribution was off; which they rectified.

      They applied both upgrades at Nurburgring; and what happens? Lewis is a front-runner. The MP4-24 at Suzuka was a front runner. They weren’t a match for the RB5; but that’s a car whose “daughter” went to outqualify everyone by a second everytime they went to a fast high downforce circuit the next year.

      Compared to the rest of the field; they were still very very good. You don’t qualify 3rd in Suzuka if you don’t have very good downforce.

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