In a unique event attended by hundreds of fans, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes this morning brought together members of the public to construct and reveal its new MP4-26 chassis. Time to have a technical talk with Technical Director Paddy Lowe and Director of Engineering Tim Goss.
What are the significant visual changes to the MP4-26? Tim: “I think there are some novel features on the car – the long wheelbase and U-shaped sidepods are probably the most obvious examples. The thinking behind that is to feed as much good-quality air as possible to the rear-lower mainplane and the floor of the car. We want to get the rear-end working as well as possible following the loss of performance caused by the banning of the double-diffuser.
“For 2011, KERS [hybrid] is now a single integrated unit that sits within the survival cell, beneath the fuel-tank. In 2009, it was housed in the sidepods. The hybrid’s cooling intake sits directly below the main rollhoop intake.
“And, once again, we’ve really pushed the car’s cooling configuration: we’ve got a second air intake on the engine cover for gearbox and hydraulic cooling.”
What have been your biggest challenges ahead of the 2011 season? Tim: “For me, there have been two: recovering the rear downforce we lost following the banning of the double-diffuser, and fully exploiting the Pirelli tyres. The tyres only last for around 10 laps, and making them last longer is quite a challenge. So we need to look closely at how we configure the set-up and suspension to make the tyres last.”
Paddy: “Getting KERS [hybrid] back on the car was a big task. Collaborating with Mercedes GP to define the specification for Mercedes-Benz HighPerformanceEngines was very satisfying: there was great collaboration and co-operation between us. There can be lots of difficulties finding alignment between two teams, but I’m pleased with how we made it happen and very happy with the outcome.”
Tim: “The system was also more difficult to package because you’ve got to carry more fuel. That was the first challenge, but we got through that. There were a few difficult decisions concerning architecture around different aerodynamic concepts, but I think we ended up with a design layout we’re happy with.”
You’ve both stressed the team-effort that has characterised the development of this car – does the recent restructure of the technical management reflect that? Paddy: “The restructure reflects Tim’s increased role within the engineering department, but it’s also been good to delegate the work around the next generation of senior engineers coming through in the company.
“For MP4-26, we’ve distributed the workload around five or six senior engineers in different specialist areas – and that’s a structure that will continue under Tim’s watch. I’m really proud of the depth of talent that we can draw upon at McLaren Racing, and there have been some great opportunities for some new players to contribute directly to the car at a high level.
Tim: “And it’s not just good for them; it’s good for the company and good for the end-product. I think we’re going to make better cars because we have wider access to the horsepower available within the design system. They’re all good guys and all have good ideas – it’s a cliché, but car design really is a team effort these days.”
What are your immediate aspirations as you roll out MP4-26? Tim: We set ourselves a very ambitious aerodynamic target for 2011. We always want to do more and we’re always very critical about performance, but we feel we’ve done a good job. We’ve identified some areas where we can add performance to the car – over the next weeks, the task will be to get them on to the car and reliable by the first race. That’s the big challenge.”