McLaren: Grid still has plenty to learn about 09 regs 09 Sep 2009
McLaren believe it will be well into 2010 before they and their rivals come close to extracting the maximum potential from their cars under the current technical regulations, which were given a major overhaul ahead of the start of the 2009 season.
Major rule changes almost always shake things up and this year's been no exception, with the likes of Brawn and Red Bull moving to the fore, as traditional frontrunners McLaren and Ferrari initially struggled to get to grips with the revised regulations.
Although McLaren are now pretty much back on terms with the leaders, Pat Fry, chief engineer on the teams current MP4-24 machine, believes there is still much to learn before a new Formula One pecking order truly emerges.
Historically, a couple of years into a set of rule changes things tend to level out, Fry told a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Phone-in. I think we are still at a very early stage in terms of understanding what you can do with the current aero package. I think there will be a reasonably steep learning curve at least through into the middle of next year.
The 2009 rule changes contributed to an air of uncertainty at the start of this season, with three teams running the now ubiquitous double diffusers, as their rivals contested their legality. Next year everyone is likely to incorporate the diffusers into their cars from the outset - something Fry believes could again have a serious effect on teams relative performance.
Obviously, with the double diffusers a lot of people were adapting those onto their cars rather than having designed the car for them, he said. Im sure there will be some variations on that and it might take a year or two to settle out.
Since the introduction of the new rules, tyres have also played a seemingly even more important role, with the reduced downforce levels meaning many have found it hard to extract optimum performance from their rubber across different types of tracks. Fry believes this is another factor that could still give a team a decisive advantage.
A car can be good at one track and then the order can swap at the next, he continued. Its down to the tyres and how a car uses the tyres. If you get a bad day at Silverstone in the cold with a hard tyre, no one would be able to get the tyres up to temperature, so that would swing in favour of the cars that are harsher on their tyres.
As well as just aero development through the season, I think tyre choice is also to some degree swinging the order around from track to track."
One area where a level playing field should return next year is KERS, which the teams have agreed to drop for 2010. McLaren recently scored the first win for a KERS-equipped car, so in theory losing the technology - worth up to 0.35s per lap - could put them on the back foot as they adapt to life without it.
Fry, however, is convinced that McLarens aero development should more than compensate for the lost pace: We just need to work harder and find it elsewhere!