2012 Japanese Grand Prix
McLaren believe they have got to the bottom of the problems which affected their cars during the Japanese Grand Prix.
Managing director Jonathan Neale said in a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Phone-in that reliability problems are “always a concern for a Formula One team because when you’re pushing, we have to take a managed risk”.
Jenson Button’s gearbox problem was traced back to an overheating brake duct which caused a fire during his first pit stop, Neale explained:
“When Jenson came in for his first pit stop the rear-right brake duct was very hot and was smoking. Although the stop went OK the mechanics reported there was a small fire on the rear brake duct, which is not altogether uncommon.
“But on this particular occasion that melted one of the harnesses that travel down the rear suspension, through into the brake duct. And it was that melting the harness that caused an electrical short from time to time and that upset Jenson’s gearbox.
“We could see that on the data back in the garage. We had a range of options open to us but the software in the gearbox contained it pretty well for us. There was a few anxious moments when he came in for his second stop, we could have exposed ourselves to the same problem. But as it was it continued. So nothing fundamentally wrong with the system there, or the system’s design, just a result of overheating the rear-right brake duct.
“The brake ducts were certainly picking up a lot of rubber during the race and we’ve seen rubber debris from the tyre affecting the car throughout the weekend.”
Hamilton “wrestling with the car”
Tyre debris was also a factor in Lewis Hamilton’s problems during the race, said Neale:
“At or around about lap 21 Lewis felt what he thought was a mechanical balance change in the car. That was probably an aerodynamic balance change as a result of debris somewhere, probably pick-up on the front wing or around the front floor somewhere.
“He ran four laps with a car that was at a very forward balance which made it very difficult to control. And then whatever was on the car let go and Lewis said the car felt like it had just come to life and he could drive it properly again.
“But there certainly was a four-to-five lap window in which he was wrestling with a car that wasn’t handling properly and we think that was tyre debris somewhere in the system.”
Neale said Hamilton began the race having gone the wrong way on set-up following a technical problem on his car during practice:
“We had set-up issues in Japan. Lewis took the responsibility on Saturday for the set-up direction, I think with the benefit of hindsight and the analysis after the event, there were some technical issues with the car on Friday that contributed to he and his engineer taking a particular set-up decision that, with the benefit of hindsight, was wrong.
“So that’s not entirely a judgement call – there were some technical issues that we probably should have found. But we can rectify that for this race.”
Hamilton’s original problem was believed to have been related to the suspension.
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Image © McLaren/Hoch Zwei