McLaren on 2009: Part Two - KERS, engines & racing 04 Dec 2008
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 teams 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 theyre likely to have
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
KERS & Engines
Q: Whats the plan for running a KERS car over the winter?
Paddy Lowe: Before Christmas, well be running one chassis as a KERS car - MP4-23K. We will develop the interim technology on the 23K mule car before the race system is introduced onto next years 24A. Well also have an additional 23A for running our chassis and tyre programme.
Indy Lall: For our first proper circuit test we want to make sure the device can ride kerbs and withstand a lot of the bumping that we necessarily havent seen in any of our previous aero tests. Equally, up to now weve extracted a smaller output of power from the KERS device and our step up to maximum power wont happen instantly. Well build up to it.
Q: How will you develop the KERS programme during the season?
Ola Kallenius: Unlike the engine, there is full development freedom on KERS. And like any new technology its only natural to expect the system to develop as you learn more about it. Every team will be updating their systems during the season.
Paddy Lowe: There will definitely be constant development of the KERS device through the year. One thing to bear in mind is that the ultimate idealised performance benefit of KERS is capped - because its limited in power and energy. So assuming youve delivered to that cap, youre looking more into the domains of doing it for less weight or doing it more efficiently or more reliably.
Q: Is there a firm plan about how best to exploit the system during races?
Paddy Lowe: Certainly, the variation from circuit to circuit will be different. Also KERS will have more authority at some tracks than at others - so the pecking order from circuit to circuit may change a little bit.
Ola Kallenius: There will certainly be different optimal strategies for different tracks.
Q: How easy is it to use KERS in the cockpit?
Pedro de la Rosa: We are still learning about it. It requires a lot of fine-tuning to the car - especially in the braking. KERS has to recharge itself - so when you press the brakes, it generates an extra resistance that you have to somehow compensate for to balance it out. That means interacting with the engine braking and the brake balance. You just have to find the best compromise; its not just fitting KERS and going quicker, you have to balance it into the whole system. If you dont have it properly tuned, it will be very sudden. The difficulty will be to smoothen all the transitions.
Q: What additional steps need to be done to an engine to extend it from two to three races?
Ola Kallenius: Its certainly not an inconsiderable task. We are currently analysing the engines areas of reliability as we plan what measures we need to take to extend its duty cycle. As you can imagine, there is a reliability buffer built into every engine but its not sufficient to easily extend its life from two to three races.
Q: How is Mercedes-Benz approaching the winters engine equalisation process?
Ola Kallenius: Like all engine manufacturers, we have until December 15 to submit our proposals to the FIA. After that date, the governing body will decide how best to approach the situation to equalise power between every team.
Q: What does a 2009-spec car feel like to drive?
Pedro de la Rosa: Its very different. Obviously, the slick tyres give you a lot more grip - so although we will be running with reduced downforce, the overall grip of the car wont be that different to what we had. But its the balance front to rear that will change - the slick tyres have a very strong front-end going into the corners and they have very good traction coming out. Overall, to simplify things, I think the slick tyres will give us laptime in the low-speed corners and because of the reduced downforce well be slower at high speeds.
Q: Do you think it will make overtaking easier?
Pedro de la Rosa: Yes, definitely. Considering this is Formula One - if people think the introduction of KERS and the reduction in downforce and slicks is going to transform Formula One, then forget it. It will still be a wide car, there will still be aerodynamic effect and offline will stay dirty. It will be easier, but it wont be MotoGP. And people need to understand that.
The changes are headed in the right direction. The difficulty comes from having so many changes and a massive reduction in testing for next year. It will make fine-tuning your car between the races very difficult. Its going to be very interesting - and there wont be enough time to test everything.
Q: What sort of impact will the regulations have on downforce levels, car balance and laptime?
Paddy Lowe: When the Overtaking Working Group (OWG) package was put together at the end of 2007, its intention was that the cars would be slower than they were in 2008. Of course, that was difficult to predict because a) we didnt know what that performance would be and, b) there was some uncertainty over the final performance of the slick tyres.
While Bridgestone made some predictions, theres some thought that they may have been under-estimated - so therefore the offset of the tyres may have been bigger than predicted.
On the aero side, the OWG put some downforce targets into its research programme for half the downforce for the same amount of drag. Even at a research level, that could not be achieved - so the drag was slightly reduced for the halving of downforce. Thats a bit of performance already.
Of course, that target naturally anticipated that the teams would be able deliver well beyond that figure - we factored that into our calculations.
Nevertheless, there was still some uncertainty over what that figure would be. And even today I dont know that the answer - we have our own internal targets tracking progress through to next year. But who knows what the other teams have as targets or achievable levels?
Q: Has the Overtaking Work Group succeeded in creating a formula that will produce better racing?
Pat Fry: Weve achieved a very large reduction in downforce - although not what the OWG had targeted - so that will make the car a couple of seconds slower. But well likely have less drag so that will to some extent compensate. Going to a slick tyre allows for a softer compound. When weve tested slicks, weve previously been up to three seconds a lap faster - just because of the tyre!
So there is a swing from taking away aero and giving you back mechanical grip with the tyres. And anything that gives your tyres more grip and reduces aero sort of makes the car a little less aero-dependent. But in terms of how it affects the car that follows, its still too early to know whether well be better or worse off.
Paddy Lowe: As part of the OWG team, I really hope it does make a big difference. I am reasonably confident that the learning we gained through the OWG programme will produce a good step. To say its the ultimate solution for overtaking in Formula One would be incorrect but I expect it to make a significant difference. I expect cars to be able to follow and dice with each other more closely. Perhaps drivers will now be able to take greater advantage when the car in front makes a mistake. The rules should allow for more of that - and hopefully to a balanced level.
In the OWG, we discussed how we didnt want a basketball situation [note: where play is rendered less meaningful due to the high incidence of scoring] where as soon as a quicker car catches a slower one, its a dead cert that it will get past within one corner - that would make the sport incredibly boring. We hope the regulations will make the sport more entertaining - most particularly at those circuits where its notoriously difficult to overtake, because circuit layout still makes a massive difference.