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Q&A with McLaren’s chief aerodynamicist 11 Jan 2006

Gary Paffett (GBR) McLaren Mercedes MP4/20 which has new livery for this test. Formula One Testing, Jerez, Spain, 11 January 2006. World ©  Patching/Sutton

As McLaren return to the test track in Jerez on Wednesday with Pedro de la Rosa and Gary Paffett at the wheel of the interim MP4-20s, Peter Prodromou, the team’s chief aerodynamicist, discusses his department's ongoing development schedule of the new MP4-21, due to make its track debut later this month.

Q: What is your technical background and how would you describe your role and responsibilities as chief aerodynamicist?
Peter Prodromou:
“I studied Aeronautical Engineering at Imperial College in London for three years, before spending an additional 12 months on a Masters. I then joined McLaren to introduce and begin to develop Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) within the company. My role progressed to looking after wind tunnel testing and in 2000 I became Head of Aerodynamics.

“As Chief Aerodynamicist at McLaren Racing, I lead a team of aerodynamicists and CFD engineers, whose responsibility and goal is to effectively advance the aerodynamic design of the car to improve aerodynamic performance, using the various tools available to us, which are CAD, CFD, and the wind tunnel. It's also vital to continue developing the tools that are available to help us do that job.”

Q: What is your specific role within the MP4-21 project?
PP:
“The chief aerodynamicist role, which means that I am responsible for the shape of the car.”

Q: When did work begin with MP4-21 and what did the initial stage comprise?
PP:
“From the aerodynamic side, work began on MP4-21 around the beginning of April 2005. Of course other work on the car started well before that, such as engines and gearbox.

“The start of the process focused on defining areas of MP4-21 that we wanted to research, which were potentially going to affect the fundamentals of the car. Areas such as a new front suspension layout, front and rear axle positions and different chassis designs were explored and then specified at around this time. Then there was a period when the research list was worked on, in terms of actually designing the various components that would be required for the wind tunnel or for CFD, and then making those components.”

Q: When did wind tunnel work begin with MP4-21?
PP:
“We hit the tunnel with MP4-21 at the beginning of July 2005, and since then we have completed thousands of hours of wind tunnel testing. At this time of year, the operational hours for the wind tunnel at the McLaren Technology Centre are extensive, running seven days a week.”

Q: How is the design process going?
PP:
“It is going reasonably well, we are at the stage where we have defined the initial package and now we are working on finding performance steps to continue to improve it through the winter and into this coming season.”

Q: How have the regulation changes for 2006 affected the aerodynamic design of MP4-21?
PP:
“For 2006 the regulation changes are not as significant as for 2005. There are some, but not at the level of last year. For the aerodynamics team there were two implications of the regulation changes for 2006.

“The first is how we could exploit the change to the new Mercedes-Benz V8 engine, which opened up opportunities for the repackaging of the rear of the car. A lot of effort has been put into this area, and it was an early focus to establish what has become available to us at the back end.

“The second major regulation change was to the forward deflector area, which has been raised by regulation 50mm. Even though technically you can devise a solution relatively easily, for example take what we had last year and raise it, the consequences of doing that were significant and they were complex enough that we had to address that whole area of the car quite comprehensively.”

Q: Is MP4-21 an evolution or a new car?
PP:
“It is a new car, but in terms of its basic concept it is evolved (with less than 10 percent carry-over parts) from the MP4-20 fundamentals.”

Q: What is the current focus of the design programme?
PP:
“I’m afraid I cannot be specific for competitive reasons, but the basic car is now defined and fully spec'ed and the focus has now turned to what we can do between now and the first race, whilst also looking at what we can do for the various upgrade packages during the season. McLaren has always pushed hard to bring continual lap time improvements right up to the last race. The research and development pressure is relentless, because that’s what it takes to win in a modern Formula One team.”