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McLaren on 2009: Part One - the aerodynamic rule changes 01 Dec 2008

Gary Paffett (GBR) McLaren Mercedes. Formula One Testing, Day Three, Barcelona, Spain, 19 November 2008. Paddy Lowe (GBR) McLaren Designer.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 3, Bahrain Grand Prix, Practice Day, Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain, Friday, 4 April 2008 Pedro De La Rosa (ESP) McLaren Mercedes
Formula One World Championship, Rd 15, Singapore Grand Prix, Qualifying, Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore, Saturday, 27 September 2008 Pedro De La Rosa (ESP) McLaren Mercedes. Formula One Testing, Day One, Barcelona, Spain, 17 November 2008. Pat Fry (GBR) McLaren Chief Engineer. Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Chinese Grand Prix, Practice Day, Shanghai International Circuit, Shanghai, China, Friday 5 October 2007.

With one winter test session already under their belts, McLaren are fully focused on preparations for the 2009 season and the introduction of some of the biggest and most comprehensive rule changes in Formula One history.

The team’s top engineers, aerodynamicists, engine expert, test team manager and test driver spoke to the McLaren press office to bring you an exhaustive analysis of the changes and the impact they’re likely to have…

The Panel
Pedro de la Rosa, Test Driver
Pat Fry, Chief Engineer MP4-24
Ola Kallenius, Managing Director Mercedes-Benz HighPerformanceEngines
Indy Lall, Test Team Manager
Paddy Lowe, Director of Engineering
Doug McKiernan, Principal Aerodynamicist

Q: In terms of scale, just how different is the package of technical changes for next year?
Paddy Lowe:
It’s probably the biggest set of aerodynamic regulation changes in Formula One’s history. Almost everything - the front and rear wings, the diffuser, floor and bodywork - is affected. I don’t think there’s ever been that level of change.

Pat Fry: It’s just a matter of keeping the team focused on its priorities - it’s a lot to juggle. KERS, for instance, if you get it right, will be worth four tenths in qualifying. And on circuits with a long drag down to the first corner, such as Barcelona, it will be worth 20 metres - or three grid slots. So there are reasonable benefits for getting it right. But we’re just applying the same racing philosophy and fundamentals to the task. We’re not changing the way we use Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) or the windtunnel to test things, we’re just working on a new product and we need time to get used to what works and what doesn’t.

Q: Can you outline the regulatory changes that have been made to aerodynamics for 2009?
Doug McKiernan:
All the top-body furniture has basically been removed. The rear wing is a lot higher, the diffuser moves rearwards, the front wing has been moved forwards and is lower and wider. The bodywork no longer features deflectors or hydrofoils. When we first went into the windtunnel with our ’09 model, we’d lost well over 50 per cent downforce - and clawing some of that back is an exciting huge challenge when you don’t have the bodywork rules to allow you to do that.

Q: Is it harder to make aerodynamic changes now that the rules no longer permit appendages to the bodywork?
Pat Fry:
Yes, but once everything settles down, I think you’ll see teams doing bigger upgrades. For example, you won’t have three little deflector tweaks, some teams will bring an entire new floor or a whole new bib. For 2009, I think we will see performance spread across the field will be bigger. And there’s also the potential for upset and the normal pecking order to be different.

Doug McKiernan: At the moment, our biggest challenge is understanding the flow structures around the car. When you go and change the front wing it’s a huge challenge to recalibrate the understanding of how that wing’s going to perform through a corner. And that device then dictates the flow structures down the car and how they all interact as they go around the car. The flow is now much less constrained - there used to be very obvious devices for controlling flow structures around the car. Now we’re doing it with other parts - so it’s more difficult. So your objectives are similar but the challenge is harder.

Q: Will there still be the normal upgrade from the launch-spec to the first race?
Paddy Lowe:
Absolutely. The launch car package was finished in the windtunnel several weeks ago. The pattern has become that you significantly re-clothe the car between launch and first race in any case - that’s without such drastic changes to regulations. And the launch cars will bear little resemblance to how they appear in Melbourne.

Doug McKiernan: In these early days, the rate of development is high and each team will be finding a lot more performance because the optimisation is still very embryonic. So every time you spend another two or three weeks in the tunnel, you can probably justify a complete new floor. Another few weeks and you’ll definitely have a new front wing. The regulations have basically put a reset button on aerodynamics - and there’s still lots we can play with. That’s what we enjoy!

Q: Do you miss all the aero ‘toys’?
Doug McKiernan:
Personally, no; I think this is great. Aerodynamically it’s a great challenge - it’s a big motivator for the team to get stuck into something different.