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McLaren: Korea win there for the taking 20 Oct 2010

Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren MP4/25 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, Canadian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Montreal, Canada, Saturday, 12 June 2010 McLaren mechanic measures the circuit.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 17, Korean Grand Prix, Preparations, Korea International Circuit, Yeongam, South Korea, Wednesday, 20 October 2010 McLaren MP4/25 detail.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 17, Korean Grand Prix, Preparations, Korea International Circuit, Yeongam, South Korea, Wednesday, 20 October 2010 Start / finish straight grandstand.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 17, Korean Grand Prix, Preparations, Korea International Circuit, Yeongam, South Korea, Wednesday, 20 October 2010 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren MP4/25 makes a pit stop.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, Canadian Grand Prix, Race, Montreal, Canada, Sunday, 13 June 2010

The layout of the Korea International Circuit will expose strengths and weaknesses in all three of the leading teams’ cars this weekend. That is the view of McLaren’s principal race engineer Philip Prew, suggesting a tough contest in prospect with Red Bull and Ferrari.

The Hermann Tilke-designed track contains a real mix of high- and medium-speed corners, plus three long straights, which could be particularly valuable to McLaren and their F-duct optimised MP4-25.

“If I had to say which car it favoured, I would say it’s actually quite a neutral circuit and there’s aspects of it which will favour every one of the top teams,” said Prew. “It just depends whether we can gain enough on the long straights and in the high-speed sectors to compensate for the strengths perhaps of the Red Bull in some of the flowing and long corners towards the end of the circuit.

“There are certainly areas where we will excel and some areas where I think the Red Bull will be very strong. I don’t think any of the top three cars will have it all their own way.”

Having walked the circuit on Wednesday morning with his fellow engineers, Prew said he was impressed with what he had seen and predicted several elements of its layout could play into McLaren’s hands.

“To be honest it’s a very good combination of quite a few different sorts of circuits,” he continued. “Obviously it has some long straights with big stops, which is not dissimilar to Canada, which I think will favour our car. Sector two is a bit more like Turkey, where we performed quite well. And then you come to the last sector, typically a high-downforce sector, a bit more like Hungary perhaps.”

The biggest unknown in Korea, according to Prew, is how the recently-laid track surface will evolve over the course of the weekend. Grip is expected to be pretty low initially, but then rise rapidly as the cars lay down rubber.

“In terms of how it develops and how the tyres interact with it, it is going to be guesswork,” admitted Prew. “It’s going to evolve very quickly through the first session and then I think we can expect it to improve all the way through qualifying and then the race. For ourselves that means we have to be careful about what set-up work we do and when we do the set-up work because a result could be influenced more by track evolution than necessarily the changes we make to the car.”

That means qualifying could well be even busier than usual, with the tops teams unlikely to be able to rely on an early banker lap in Q1 and Q2 to get them through to the next phase of the session.

“You need to be prepared that the track could be improving quickly and therefore a lap time set at the beginning of Q1 may not necessarily be sufficient by the time you get to the end of Q1,” said Prew. “And even in Q3 I think the desire to do your laps right at the end will be there.

“So I think track evolution will be the big player and we just have to do what we always do which is adapt the car to the conditions that we find. The fact is the conditions might change more quickly than normal here, but it’s what the guys do and what the drivers are used to doing.”

The good news for those whose qualifying session doesn’t go exactly to plan is that the Yeongam layout should lend itself to overtaking. It means Prew is confident a strong race result is possible, even if Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button don’t quite make it onto the front row of the grid.

“There’s three good straights, which actually give you an opportunity to catch up and then another opportunity to overtake, so in that aspect I think there’s some very good overtaking opportunities here, not just because of the braking points to make the overtaking, but the opportunity to gain on the first two straights and perhaps make the overtaking manoeuvre into Turn Four for example. I think we have strengths in that area on our car and I think the opening laps could be very interesting, even if we’re behind.”

McLaren have taken several mechanical and aero updates to Korea, including those they were unable to test properly at the last round in Japan. With a better understanding of the changes, Prew is confident they will yield results in Korea.

“We ran out of time in Suzuka to gain the confidence that it was a robust enough solution to take racing,” Prew said of the team’s latest rear wing and aero package. “A good clear session on Friday here will give us a lot more track time and we are optimistic that we can work through a programme to give us that confidence. Obviously our desire and hope is that we can race that with confidence and gain the performance out of it that we think there is available.”

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