Q&A: McLarens Paddy Lowe on front wings, wheel tethers & more 28 Jul 2010
Formula One developments wait for no man - not even McLarens engineering director Paddy Lowe. So after the MP4-25 was caught on the back foot at the recent German race by the ever-advancing pace of Red Bulls RB6 and Ferraris F10, Lowe has been busy putting all his energy into boosting performance as the team's title challenge plunges into the second half of the season. In a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes 'Phone-In' session, the British engineer discusses exhaust-blown diffusers, flexible front wings, his hopes for Hungary and the teams 2011 car
Q: After the problems you had on Friday in Germany, are you happy you got enough running out of the blown diffuser? Did you exploit it fully?
Paddy Lowe: Were a couple of races behind Ferrari in its introduction and obviously a half season behind the Red Bull. But we did reach the point in Hockenheim of being able to race with a working system, which gave us performance and was reliable. We have been behind the curve and theres more to come relative to those competitors. Well find more performance all the time so were going to keep pushing on. Its a new platform on which to find performance.
Q: Its obviously a significant and quite complex upgrade
PL: It is complex and there are all sorts of different aspects to it, whether aerodynamics, exploiting the engine, details around the exhaust, and thermal management. Youve also got the vehicle dynamics aspects like how it affects the balance of the car through corners. Were working with all of those areas and there are a lot of fronts on which to work. We expect to be getting more from it in due course. We had a step in Germany and we hope to take a better step in Hungary. Clearly the Red Bull and Ferrari were quicker in Hockenheim and we hope to close a bit of that gap, if not all of it.
Q: Whats your reaction to the new flexible front wing on the Red Bull?
PL: I have seen a lot of pictures. We believe, and were not alone, that there are two cars - Ferrari and Red Bull - that have wings existing in a lower position than certainly were able to deliver. There is a difference that is difficult to explain with relatively subtle effects like fuel weight, tyre pressure, high-speed set ups etc. These things affect the car to a small degree. Much smaller than the differences weve seen in the pictures. So there is a phenomenon that were seeing. It may be entirely legitimate. It may not be. We just dont understand it. So at the moment were working really hard to try and understand it and see if it is worth performance to us and if we can deliver that performance.
Q: Is it the case that all the leading teams are so close that its more about the timing of these new additions which actually differentiate you all as time goes on? The core cars are pretty comparable
PL: In terms of timesheets, youre only ever seeing the differences between cars and not the absolute level of development. Therefore its difficult to see the sheer pace of development, certainly of the leading teams through a season. Typically over the last four seasons, Id say, we have been putting two or more seconds a lap on to the car within a season. Thats not seen in a timesheet, youre only seeing the differences. These only come down to the work theyre doing. We see that Ferrari and Red Bull were stronger in Germany and we shouldnt forget that theyve adopted the F-duct system, which was an advantage to us. Were a little bit behind the curve on the exhaust blown aspect so maybe thats an explanation as to why weve had a bit of a setback in Germany. If youre working with a fuel, with our partner Exxon Mobil for example, you are always asking for the new fuel a race earlier because its the phasing that matters. Every time you can get something to an earlier race than seems feasible, that gives an advantage in terms of your performance.
Q: With Red Bull and Ferrari having the advantage as the moment, will you have to sacrifice development on the 2011 car to hold on to the championship? How is the 2011 car progressing? Did the late decision on tyres hold up progress?
PL: Working out that straight between your current car and next years car is really tough. We go through it every year. You cant completely abandon the new car but when you are fighting tooth and nail for a championship, which has been the case for three out of the four last seasons. If you take 2008, we were still running our car in the wind tunnel in late October. You have to make a balance and you see that through the year according to how the championship is going. Theres no easy answer. You have a group of people and one wind tunnel and you have to gauge the demands. We are doing well with next years car. The tyres are nominally the same as this years tyres with all the rules and characteristics that weve asked for. But of course they are going to be made by a completely different company with different philosophies, and a different culture and approach to making tyres. So the tyres will be different but at this stage we cant anticipate. The test after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will be very interesting and crucial. In general the car design is going well - there are quite a few interesting rule changes - and were working hard on those.
Q: You seem confident about this weekends race at a high-downforce track, but looking back you seem to have done better on low-downforce tracks. Whats improved?
PL: I dont feel particularly confident well be especially good in Hungary than anywhere or anyone else. Youre right there are characteristics that dont correlate to our strengths this year. Equally there are characteristics that go the other way. The thing I find fascinating, and keeps us all on the hop, is trying to understand why particular cars are stronger than others on different circuits. We dont entirely understand it. Every circuit is different and all bring out features that either work or dont work. You have that going on in combination with the phasing of the upgrades. You have to be optimistic going into every race. We have some good work going on and well do the best we can to enjoy a strong performance.
Q: How frustrating is it to not have in-season testing? Would you rather the regulations were relaxed?
PL: It can be frustrating if you have something particularly difficult that youre trying to do, as we had at Silverstone on Friday. We tried to make the exhaust system work but you get such limited running. That is frustrating. But I think in general, I see it as more of a challenge than a frustration. We come to these race events knowing that the Friday and Practice Three on a Saturday is what we have in order to make progress with a car. They are the constraints and thats the challenge, and we enjoy working within them.
Q: Lewis Hamilton said after the German race you might have to go back to the drawing board. What specific work have you been able to do after Hockenheim to reduce the gap?
PL: I think going back to the drawing board sounds a little extreme. We have our work cut out to find the six-tenths we are adrift in qualifying and the race in Hockenheim. We have to keep pushing the system and find out what it is that will deliver us performance aerodynamically and what it is that other teams maybe doing that weve not managed to exploit. Thats the competition that we work within and I dont think theres anything particularly bad about our car. Its more about not being quick enough at that event and pushing the car we have in order to close the gap.
Q: Is there anything teams can do to increase the strength of wheel tethers?
PL: Tethers are of great concern to us. We had of course the very tragic death last year of Henry Surtees. We also see wheels coming off Formula One cars more rather more often than we would like or than was intended when they were introduced. The wheel tethers we have are working but theyre not reliable enough. One came off Alonso in Monaco, and at the weekend just gone one came off Liuzzis car. We discussed the issue at the Technical Working Group and we have agreed for next year to introduce a second tether on every corner. Rather than make each tether 100 percent reliable, weve found when they dont work theyve been cut for some reason due to the nature of the accident. Our thinking is if you put two tethers on each corner, which are rung independently - one say on the top wishbone, the other on the bottom wishbone - then were going to drastically improve the probability that one or both tethers will survive.
Q: It cant be introduced before next season?
PL: No its a big thing to put on to the car. Its not just about running the tether; youve got to create an attachment at both ends. So its not really realistic for this year.
Q: Would a minimum fuel weight stop fuel saving in the race?
PL: No I dont think so. Personally I think it is adding race interest. We can all choose not to put enough in, so you can run a little bit quicker at the start as youre lighter and turn you engine down thereafter.
Q: The bigger difference between the compounds didnt seem to make a big difference in Germany. Do you think there is the potential to improve racing with the help of tyre compound choices?
PL: It would be good if there was a magic answer with tyres like we had in Canada. But I dont think wed want that at every race. It is nice to have that variety but planning that sort of thing in Germany didnt really work out, as even the option tyre was a good race tyre. So its difficult to know how to do it. Well have to wait and see what Pirelli think. There has been plenty of discussion in the various working groups to see what we can do to make people stop more often -compulsory two stops or whatever - but weve agreed that would be much too hasty. What we have at the moment has delivered a very interesting season. I dont think theres a desperate need to completely turn things upside down. We should see how the Pirelli tyres perform.