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McLaren: Diffuser change won’t affect our pace 25 Mar 2010

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren walks the circuit with Phil Prew (GBR) McLaren Race Engineer.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 16, Brazilian Grand Prix, Preparations, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Thursday, 15 October 2009 McLaren MP4/25 body work.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Australian Grand Prix, Preparations, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, 25 March 2010 Phil Prew (GBR) McLaren Race Engineer.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 16, Brazilian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Friday, 16 October 2009 Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren tyre blanket.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Australian Grand Prix, Preparations, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, 25 March 2010 McLaren MP4/25 front wing.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Australian Grand Prix, Preparations, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, 25 March 2010

McLaren have been in the headlines recently thanks to their innovative diffuser design. Although a clarification of the rules by the FIA has forced the British team to make slight modifications to the MP4-25 ahead of this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix, principal race engineer Phil Prew isn’t concerned about the effect the changes will have on the pace of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. In a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes 'Phone-In' session, Prew also discussed the performance of the new teams, the speed of the Red Bull in Bahrain, and the chance of rain this weekend…

Q: Now that McLaren have been forced to close off the diffuser, how much will it have an effect on the drivers’ one-lap performance?
Phil Prew:
The modifications to the diffuser were, for us, quite small and we don’t expect it to have any real effect on performance. It certainly won’t be better, but we’re not concerned about any loss of performance with that. We’re hoping in terms of first lap performance and in qualifying that we will be able to find a slightly better balance than we had in Bahrain. We’re hopeful that we can have a better showing in qualifying which was one of our weaknesses the other week.

Q: In terms of percentage what kind of difference will it make over a lap?
PP:
The changes that we have had to make to the diffuser are very minor. There’s literally no difference at all in terms of the downforce it produces. It was a clarification of the regulations that hasn’t affected us at all to be honest.

Q: There was a lot of fuss after Bahrain about the impact the refuelling ban had on strategy. Do you think people were naive to expect anything else?
PP:
The first race was very different as the teams and drivers got used to the different format. I think here was some trepidation from everybody about the tyres with the heavy fuel load. I think as the drivers and teams get more experienced working with these conditions, it will become more exciting to be honest. Albert Park has always had lots of twists and turns in terms of safety cars etc. It’s still early days to make massive sweeping statements about the new regulations. I’m optimistic the races will get more exciting.

Q: What was your take on the performances of the new teams?
PP:
Whilst it’s good to see them finish, it clearly shows the difficulty in making competitive Formula One cars. They are a long way off. The five to ten seconds they were off in qualifying is a massive amount of lap time to find. Equally when they are that far back there are a lot of quick gains that they can make. I’m sure they’ll make very quick progress. It’s always a big incentive when you see where you are in respect to the competition and I’m sure they’ll make very rapid improvements from this point, providing they have the resource and budget to back it up.

Q: There is a chance of rain for Sunday’s race. Is this a worry or do you think you could benefit from it?
PP:
We have two drivers who have excelled in the wet in the past and it will be an opportunity for everybody to make the most of it. It will be a challenge but it’s quite exciting to be honest. Speaking to the guys about the prospect of rain, they are both relishing the prospect so we are up for it.

Q: It seems that BMW Sauber, Force India and apparently Red Bull have developed something similar to the ‘F-duct system’ that you guys developed. How does McLaren feel about these other teams copying something that you have spent a lot of time innovating?
PP:
I think that now we've led the way with the innovation, I think it is a system that is possible to copy and is reasonably straightforward. The press have covered it very thoroughly and it is a system that they can well adopt. I hope that they don't see quite as much lap-time performance as we believe we get from it. But it was inevitable. Hopefully we will be able to continue developing it and further exploit it one step ahead of the rest.

Q: When did you first come up with the concept? Have you been developing it for a while?
PP:
We're constantly looking at new ideas, and this is one that was developed for the MP4-25 through the winter test programme, which was four weeks.

Q: Regarding Lewis's comments about the Red Bull being ‘ridiculously fast’. Do you agree with what he said?
PP:
They had a strong performance in Bahrain, for sure. But I wouldn't call it ridiculous. Lewis himself has had some ‘ridiculous’ qualifying performances at certain circuits. I remember in 2008 in Canada he was seven-tenths of a second quicker than everyone else in qualifying. Certainly Sebastian Vettel hooked it up in qualifying and did a great job, but do remember that Lewis did out-qualify Mark Webber. So it's too early to say just yet about our relative performance. I think that by the time we all come back to Europe, we'll have a better idea.