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Q&A: McLaren's Paddy Lowe on front wings, wheel tethers & more 28 Jul 2010

Paddy Lowe (GBR) McLaren Engineering Director.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, British Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Silverstone, England, Saturday, 10 July 2010 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren MP4/25 leads team mate Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren MP4/25.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 11, German Grand Prix, Race, Hockenheim, Germany, Sunday, 25 July 2010 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren MP4/25. 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 11, German Grand Prix, Race, Hockenheim, Germany, Sunday, 25 July 2010 (L to R): Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren, Paddy Lowe (GBR) McLaren Engineering Director and Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren celebrate on the podium.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, Turkish Grand Prix, Race, Istanbul Park, Turkey, Sunday, 30 May 2010 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren MP4/25.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 11, German Grand Prix, Race, Hockenheim, Germany, Sunday, 25 July 2010

Formula One developments wait for no man - not even McLaren’s 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 Bull’s RB6 and Ferrari’s 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 team’s 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:
We’re 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 there’s more to come relative to those competitors. We’ll find more performance all the time so we’re going to keep pushing on. It’s a new platform on which to find performance.

Q: It’s 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. You’ve also got the vehicle dynamics aspects like how it affects the balance of the car through corners. We’re 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: What’s your reaction to the new flexible front wing on the Red Bull?
PL:
I have seen a lot of pictures. We believe, and we’re not alone, that there are two cars - Ferrari and Red Bull - that have wings existing in a lower position than certainly we’re 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 we’ve seen in the pictures. So there is a phenomenon that we’re seeing. It may be entirely legitimate. It may not be. We just don’t understand it. So at the moment we’re 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 it’s 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, you’re only ever seeing the differences between cars and not the absolute level of development. Therefore it’s difficult to see the sheer pace of development, certainly of the leading teams through a season. Typically over the last four seasons, I’d say, we have been putting two or more seconds a lap on to the car within a season. That’s not seen in a timesheet, you’re only seeing the differences. These only come down to the work they’re doing. We see that Ferrari and Red Bull were stronger in Germany and we shouldn’t forget that they’ve adopted the F-duct system, which was an advantage to us. We’re a little bit behind the curve on the exhaust blown aspect so maybe that’s an explanation as to why we’ve had a bit of a setback in Germany. If you’re working with a fuel, with our partner Exxon Mobil for example, you are always asking for the new fuel a race earlier because it’s 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 year’s car is really tough. We go through it every year. You can’t 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. There’s 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 year’s car. The tyres are nominally the same as this year’s tyres with all the rules and characteristics that we’ve 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 can’t 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 we’re working hard on those.

Q: You seem confident about this weekend’s race at a high-downforce track, but looking back you seem to have done better on low-downforce tracks. What’s improved?
PL:
I don’t feel particularly confident we’ll be especially good in Hungary than anywhere or anyone else. You’re right there are characteristics that don’t 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 don’t entirely understand it. Every circuit is different and all bring out features that either work or don’t 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 we’ll 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 you’re 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 that’s 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 we’ve not managed to exploit. That’s the competition that we work within and I don’t think there’s anything particularly bad about our car. It’s 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 they’re not reliable enough. One came off Alonso in Monaco, and at the weekend just gone one came off Liuzzi’s 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, we’ve found when they don’t work they’ve 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 we’re going to drastically improve the probability that one or both tethers will survive.

Q: It can’t be introduced before next season?
PL:
No it’s a big thing to put on to the car. It’s not just about running the tether; you’ve got to create an attachment at both ends. So it’s not really realistic for this year.

Q: Would a minimum fuel weight stop fuel saving in the race?
PL:
No I don’t 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 you’re lighter and turn you engine down thereafter.

Q: The bigger difference between the compounds didn’t 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 don’t think we’d want that at every race. It is nice to have that variety but planning that sort of thing in Germany didn’t really work out, as even the option tyre was a good race tyre. So it’s difficult to know how to do it. We’ll 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 we’ve agreed that would be much too hasty. What we have at the moment has delivered a very interesting season. I don’t think there’s a desperate need to completely turn things upside down. We should see how the Pirelli tyres perform.