McLarens Martin Whitmarsh on the MP4-19 27 Nov 2003
McLaren's 2004 car, the MP4-19, made its track debut at Valencia in Spain on Tuesday, just seven weeks after the final round of the 2003 world championship. A few days prior to its first track test, McLaren Racing's Managing Director, Martin Whitmarsh spoke about the philosophy behind the new machine.
Q: How much of MP4-19 is based on the MP4-18?
Martin Whitmarsh: It is an evolution from MP4-18, but in fact the part count has a much higher proportion of completely new parts than we had supposed at the outset of the project. Certainly the front portion is very reminiscent of the MP4-18 in terms of its geometry. However, the suspension treatment and areas around the back are different and have evolved in line with our thinking and development work since we finalised the 18.
Q: So is the MP4-19 really a new car?
MW: Inevitably, people focus on the mark number we give to it and assume we develop a car and launch it. That is not how Formula One now works. There are very few teams that take an identical car from one race to the next. Every fortnight the car has changed as a consequence of this development to find performance and also in terms of optimising the car for the next circuit. In Formula One, we have a very short development programme and performance is being pushed all the time. In essence we are trying to design an extreme car. During testing and racing we learn where we are vulnerable and where we have to change the car. The car is continually evolving. In reality, the MP4-17D which started the 2003 season embodied a variety of development ideas and concepts which were the product of the MP4-18 development. During the year, MP4-17D underwent further developments. Now the new MP4-19 car benefits from that work.
Q: Getting the new car out so early must put you in a strong position for next season?
MW: We would expect that to be the case. It should be one of the benefits of this programme in that we are doing three full tests before the Christmas break. Another benefit is that we have already passed all our crash test requirements. Having passed these tests already means that running the car as from Tuesday 25th November in Valencia gives us the ability to put a lot of miles on it, get a lot of confidence in it and, yes, I do believe we can go to Melbourne in reasonably good shape.
Q: Power is always important. Do you have a brand new engine from Mercedes-Benz for 2004?
MW: Yes, we do. It's a brand new engine, the Mercedes-Benz F0 110Q, the product of the engineering teams at Stuttgart and Brixworth. This is the first time we have put those teams together and concentrated on the one programme. With the full resources of both centres concentrating on the one programme, we can do an even better job.
Q: Are there any other particularly noteworthy features about the new car that you are prepared to reveal?
MW: The front people will recognise as an MP4-18, but the back end of the new MP4-19 follows a different philosophy based on lessons we learnt from the development programmes in 2003.
Q: The MP4-19 is the 1st car designed since the new rules of one lap qualifying and in 2004, you also have to deal with running just one engine per car per race weekend. Does the design philosophy of the new car incorporate ideas to cope with these challenges?
MW: One might assume the business of changing an engine becomes less of an issue as you now cannot change an engine without significant penalty. Interestingly, however, there has been a big effort on the speed of changing an engine on the MP4-19. You might question why would you put effort into enhancing engine change time, when any engine change is penalised? Well, the only thing that, prior to qualifying on Saturday, has to be consistent is the engine. Therefore if you have a problem with another part of the car and the driver jumps into the spare car, that constitutes an engine change, unless he jumps into a spare car which didn't have an engine. In other words take the engine out of the race car and place it in the spare car prior to parc ferme on Saturday and, if you can do that quickly, you avoid the penalty.
Q: The rules introduced this year mean you start final qualifying with enough fuel on board to start the race. Has that impacted on the design of MP4-19?
MW: We have looked at the size of the fuel cell. An analysis of 2003 races shows there were no one stops and more two and three stops than in 2002. In the past, the fuel tank had to have the capacity to let you run non-stop to at least half a race distance. This is no longer the case. I'm sure everyone has done their homework for the 2004 season, building fuel tanks just big enough to run to wherever you think you need to. As soon as you decide to remove 20 litres of tank capacity, you then look at building a car with a shorter, wheelbase, optimising cooling by making the tank area narrower, or making the car lower to reduce the height of its centre of gravity. In short, it presents a performance opportunity.
Q: One final question: with the top teams so closely matched this year, tyres emerged more than ever as one of the key elements of success. What role has Michelin played in the development of MP4-19?
MW: We have a technical team working with Michelin and it is a two way development process in that the chassis places certain demands on the tyre and vice versa. In simple terms, we want more grip and they want more downforce to achieve that grip. Within our development of suspension systems, we will be asking for certain characteristics from the tyre, in terms of its spring and damping. On the other hand, Michelin will be requesting our suspension engineers to use the tyre tread in a particular way, minimising camber change for instance. That process is a continuous one, so the tyres and chassis evolve together.
See also: McLaren MP4-19 completes first shakedown