McLaren's mid season development woes


Anti F1 fan
Valued Member
I can't help but think McLaren are failing to learn from previous mistakes and this may very well cost them the championship if they don't sort it out. They started this season with the fastest car and walked to a victory in Australia and had the rain not come down in Malaysia they could have won there as well. Their decision not to run a 'platypus' nose seemed to be paying off and after Bahrain, Hamilton would have been top had it not been for pit stop problems and Button was only a few points behind. Now, from Spain onwards, McLaren adopted a version of the 'platypus' nose although it was a lot smoother, and while this alone isn't the reason for the slump I don't think it's helped.

Look at 2010. McLaren started that with one of the fastest cars and after Valencia, Hamilton and Button were first and second in the Championship with McLaren having a healthy lead in the Constructors championship. But around this time the EBD was surfacing with Red Bull utilising it to significantly improve their speed, it was a hot topic and was as controversial as the platypus nose but for different reasons and after Valencia, McLaren tried to adopt an EBD system on their car and by becoming almost pre-occupied with it, the cars performance suffered as they fell behind Red Bull and Ferrari. McLaren would only win one more race in the season and they missed out on both world championships.

While McLaren haven't focused on the development of the nose at the detriment of anything else, (at least I think not) I still think there is a sense of deja vu here. In both cases McLaren started with a very good base car, but got lost in development which wasn't helped by a controversial piece, in 2010 it was the EBD and this year it's the platypus nose. In a sense 2009 is similar but from the start due to the Double Decker issue and their focus on that in the early months self admittedly cost them a fair haul of points.

Really, are McLaren ignoring the things that made their car fast in the first place and should they focus on improving those things instead of trying to adopt things that make the opposition cars fast? Would McLaren be at a better point now if they'd kept the original nose and developed from there? Obviously there are numerous variables to consider especially the Pirelli tyres but it is certainly an interesting point. Certainly for some reason they have fallen behind in the development race in a very similar manner to 2010 and it could be down to similar reasons and I wonder if it'll be a topic of discussion before the German Grand Prix. Either way, McLaren have to find a way to gain performance again, and fast, otherwise their hopes of a Championship will vanish. You could argue that Button's hopes of a Championship are already over
I don't think there is any indication that there is any performance loss with regards to the introduction of the high nose. I've only heard that on here as speculation. I also don't think McLaren walked Australia or even had the fastest racing car. They certainly had the fastest qualifying car but the Red Bull and Ferrari have been on the McLaren's pace since race 1.

I see these assumptions as popular misconception.
Qualifying performance:

I personally think there are various factors involved in McLaren's slump. Without doubt they had the fastest car in qualifying for most of the first few races, but their race pace was never that special apart from in Australia. In China, or after China I think to be exact, they had to change their splitter as it was declared illegal. I think they had a clever trick with flexing this and I think this hurt them quite a bit as come Bahrain they were well off the pace. Sure, the temperatures and degradation was part of this, but no doubt this hurt them and also this supposedly hurt Button as it meant he found it harder to heat the front tyres. Mark Hughes eluded to this theory in one of his articles.

The next step was Barcelona, where they brought a healthy upgrade package, which was necessary as they'd developed very little before this. Changing your nose design at the front of the car, effects everything behind it and therefore it is not surprising that they had to spend the first 4 races concentrating solely on this. I do believe this upgrade made them quicker, rather than slower, but it wasn't revolutionary and they had spent a lot of time developing something that 90% of the grid had from day 1. In qualifying at Barcelona, Hamilton was fastest and the car undoubtedly suited the high speed corners, but also seemed competitive in sector 3, which is fairly low speed. The thing is, although Hamilton was strong on his 1 stop strategy, we never got to see if their out and out race pace was any good, as he was driving slowly to do a 1 stop.

From Monaco onwards they've been struggling - Monaco didn't suit them and at Montreal, a track where Hamilton has an amazing record, I think he flattered them slightly. I also feel that Red Bull had a lot of tyre deg and this hid their true performance as Vettel was clearly fastest in qualifying. In the last 2 races though their pace has been very poor - I thought Valencia with low speed corners and hot temperatures was a 1 off but then Silverstone is the exact opposite and they were even worse.

The problem is for almost all other teams I see visible aerodynamic upgrades at nearly every race, yet at McLaren the only things I can think they've changed on the car all year externally is those vanes on top of the side pods and the nose, oh and a tiny front wing change. If you look at Red Bull or Ferrari, just over the past 2 or 3 races, they've had about 5 quite big visible upgrades at each race. Red Bull at this race, after many changes at Canada and even bigger ones at Valencia, had a significantly changed front wing and rear wing end plates for this race that were visibly very different. I really keep up on the upgrades with people like Scarbs and every weekend he cannot see anything new. Even smaller teams like Williams and even now Cateram are bringing a large raft of visible upgrades.

I've seen statements from McLaren over the season saying that there are no big gains to be found so they need to focus more on the small things like mechanical upgrades and pit stops. I would say on evidence, at least 50% if not more of McLaren's resources have gone into this. Sure they now have the fastest pit stop times, but that means nothing with a slow car. They also seem to be bringing new suspension to each race, but rarely will this improve the optimal lap time much, but more improve tyre degradation. On recent evidence, their tyre deg is still poor compared to most. I really think they've been a bit naive and over confident with their early season form and other teams have now all surpassed them with proper aerodynamic upgrades, which at the end of the day, is what counts in this style of F1, no matter what.

McLaren were meant to bring several upgrades here and yet I saw statements that they were not going to be using most of their planned upgrades as they did not get to test them on Friday. I hope for their sake that this was the case. I also hope that their planned "more visible" upgrades for Germany deliver a decent amount of performance, because if not, they are out of this years championship in my opinion. The question is, in past years McLaren have taken a poor car to the first race and been able to develop it, yet this year have they taken a fast car that has very little development potential. At their initial car launch and also in pre-season, they got plenty of criticism and maybe now it is starting to show why.
If you think about the 2009 season they started the season with a car that was such a handful it's a wonder both drivers didn't suffer permanent arthritis having to perform incessant corrections on the steering wheel.
Then they came good halfway through the season, to late for the title.

What's changed since is the arrival of Jenson Button in 2010. What I mean is, I always wondered whether having in their ranks two drivers of such diametrically-opposed driving styles has a detrimental effect on development. Do the drivers also give totally different technical feedback, since they experience different car handling due to set-up differences? Doesn't that dilute development and should they for the sake of the team put all their development eggs into just one driver's basket? Should they designate a de-facto number one driver, and develop the car around his driving style?
That's a really good point Incubus having such opposite drivers must be a big headache for the design teams & I wouldn't like to choose between Jenson & Lewis. If you get a Brawn-esque car Jenson is superb but if there's anything slightly off I'd rather have Lewis in the car. Tricky one.
McLaren do seem to have fallen off the pace somewhat & I hope they can pull something out of the bag soon.
I think Whitmarsh last year was asked about that very same thing by the press, to which he made the point of claiming the drivers have actually quite similar styles, which is an absurdity for anyone with the power of sight. That's when you knew he must be faced with a difficult situation because he's no fool and knows the situation. That's why he felt the need to say that to the press. How do you tell two world champions one has to take development priority over the other?
As the saying goes you can't please all people all of the time.
It is worrying that two races ago Lewis was leading the WDC & McLaren were only 31 points behind Red Bull, now both are 4th in the championships & they are 74 points behind in the constructors.
I can't imagine Ron Dennis being impressed with today's performance - maybe he needs to come back & kick butt.
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh says a major upgrade package scheduled for the German Grand Prix must deliver significant improvements after the team's struggles in the British Grand Prix.

"We had lots of stuff on the car, and we couldn't run it properly on Friday. We've got a decent, bigger, more visible upgrade package for Germany and we've got to deliver that and make that stick. It's the same old game, we have got to develop the car, and we have got to make sure we use the tyres better."

Autosport: The upgrades scheduled for Germany are understood to include a new bodywork concept at the rear of the car, as well as further refinement to the adjustable front brake ducts.

Hmm... So more time being spent on these adjustable brake ducts. They actually had some front-end adjustable brake ducts at Silverstone, that were hydraulically operated, but they didn't run them as they could not properly test them in the conditions. They seem to have been playing round with this now for the last 4 or 5 races and I haven't seen it give them any kind of advantage in tyre management. I think it's one of those fancy, clever ideas that they have come up with at Woking and even though it's not working they won't let it go.

The problem with these adjustable brake ducts is that it won't enhance optimal car performance at all, but just allows them to potentially change tyre temperature at pit stops. Baring in mind at pit stops you can also change tyre pressure, use blankets for less or more time and change front wing angle, then this just adds in another factor to the equation that I don't think they understand anyway. It is likely that they'll end up making the situation worse than better by "gambling" on changing these adjustable brake ducts. Look at Silverstone for example, Hamilton had poor pace on his final set of prime tyres compared to his first, whereas Schumacher was the opposite.

Even if McLaren improve their tyre deg and get the tyres into the window more consistently, I strongly believe they are just off the pace now, in race conditions especially, by a fair margin. The only way they'll get that back is through performance enhancements, not pit stop gizmos. Something very interesting I just thought of is that McLaren and Mercedes have been the 2 teams that have most openly said they are concentrating more on understanding the tyres than the usual aerodynamic upgrades. Look at the 2 teams that have fallen back the most over the past few races - Mercedes do not look anywhere near as competitive as they did prior to and including Monaco. I think Ferrari, Lotus and Red Bull have brought a lot of aero updates and we are now seeing the results. Lotus somehow management to bring at least 2 new front wings to every race!

All we can hope is that McLaren's new rear bodywork concept is something special like Red Bull's was at Valencia, because they really need something big right now.
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