McLarens Paddy Lowe on adjustable wings, late launches & KERS 14 Jan 2011
Formula One racing is a nerve-racking sport at the best of times, but at this stage of the year - when pre-season work is reaching its climax, nobodys sure about what their rivals have come up with over the winter break and theres a question mark hovering over where new cars will sit in the pecking order - its particularly anxious. And so, despite enjoying the challenge of 2011's wide-ranging regulation changes, and feeling confident in the new MP4-26, even the nerves of McLarens engineering director Paddy Lowe are jangling. In a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes 'Phone-In' session, Lowe discusses the British teams decision to launch later than their key rivals, adjustable rear wings and his hopes for the 2011 car
Q: Which regulation change for this year has proved the most demanding to get to grips with and why?
Paddy Lowe: I think the most interesting and challenging - and they really go together in the technical domain for me - change is the adjustable rear wing, which is intended to add overtaking interest to the races. We can use it whenever we like in qualifying, much like we used the F-flap last year. That as a new package has presented interesting opportunities to optimise and has set some technical challenges, which has been good fun.
Q: Last years moveable front wing has been dropped in favour of an adjustable rear wing. Do you think it will prove more successful than its predecessor in boosting overtaking?
PL: I certainly do. It has a lot more leverage. The adjustable front wing was introduced along with the OWG (Overtaking Work Group) regulations in 2009 and it was really only intended as a mild adjustment for a driver to trim the balance of the car when in the wake and while attempting to overtake another car. I was a member of the OWG and we actually put it in there as an insurance policy as we were all a bit worried that if we had got it wrong the car would be very unbalanced in the wake and possibly have oversteer. As it turned out nobody used the front wing for that purpose at all, we only really used it to make mild adjustments during the race for balance. So we all agreed last year that we would get rid of it in the interests of simplicity and cost saving because it would be the same for everybody. It will add a bit more of a challenge in the race, in terms of balance, because now we will have to make any front-wing adjustments in the pit stop.
Q: Why will the new car be launched the day after the first pre-season test ends?
PL: Its always been our plan to launch it after the first test. One of the reasons was that we wanted to make use of the first test to work with the old car - a stable and known platform - whilst we worked on understanding the new tyres. It also gave us a bit more time in the programme to work for the new car. It has always been planned that way. We consider it optimal for our preparation. It is always a bit of a balancing act deciding what your programme should be.
Is it possible to do anything clever with F-ducts? Are the rules absolutely clear or will anyone find a way around them and replicate some of what you did last year with the F-duct?
PL: You can never say never so I wont rule it out, but I think the substantial effect has been deleted with belt and braces. It will be, in my view, impossible to reproduce the effect we had last year. The principal blockages are that those complex wing sections, which were necessary to create a slotted rear wing and therefore stall a rear wing, are states that are now prevented. So the aero-force sections through a rear wing, whether its the main plane or the flap, have to be much more conventional. You cant have very sharp radii in that section and you cant create a slot. The slot was the essential element of the stalling effect. On the other end of things, its very clearly stated now that the driver cant control an aerodynamic effect, which was the aspect of the regulations which we had exploited. Article 3.15 was about moving bodywork not about moving drivers and that was the opportunity we found. That has now been explicitly closed down.
Q: There has been a bit of talk about drivers defending their places whilst others use their rear wings. Is it clear to you what happens if there are three driver together racing in a line? Are the two following cars able to use it? Do you have any specific concerns about any grey areas?
PL: I think there arent really grey areas to clarify because the rule, in the circumstance you are talking about, is clearly stated. If the two following cars are both within a second of the car ahead, then they can both use their rear wing for the following deployment point which will be on the following straight. Thats clear. Whats less clear is how that will actually pan out - what will the effect of that be in a race? I think thats something we are going to have to see and explore throughout the season. I think it will be quite exciting. The one control that the FIA have is for each circuit they can set the points in the deployment straights at which you are allowed to press the button. So, for instance, you might be allowed to press it for the last 300m of the main straight until the braking point. I think the FIA have it within their power to manage the situation so that the authority of the system makes sense and that may take one or two races to settle down. But they can lengthen or shorten that amount of straight on a race-by-race basis so that will give some ability to make it work in the way we intended it to.
Q: What specification will you be running at the first test? Will it have elements of the 2011 car or will you test elements of the 2010 chassis?
PL: It's a relatively standard 2010 chassis. Well have a number of development items on it, but nothing substantial in terms of the elements of the 2011 package.
Q: So no moveable rear wing?
Q: What were your feelings about the new Pirelli tyres at the test last year?
PL: It was an encouraging start. Pirelli have a challenge. We found the tyres very good in a number of points and weak in just one area, which was the traction in exit. I think that was the same for all the teams. The tyre was very good at high speeds, very stable and very good at the entry phase of a corner. In terms of degradation of the tyre, one of the compounds they hadnt really got right and theyve corrected that now for the next test in Valencia. The other one was reasonably severe in terms of degradation but still a raceable tyre. It was a good start. We learnt a few things. The weakness in the exit phase will not be solved easily so we recognised that thats the most important area which we have to focus on and make some effort to try to mitigate that before the new car.
Q: Why is the team launching in Berlin?
PL: Its at the request of Vodafone. They want to launch in Berlin as part of Vodafone Germany operations.
Q: Are you worried your late launch could cause reliability issues during the season? You are missing 25 percent of your allotted test time
PL: It's always a bit of a balancing act between how much mileage you're going to cover from a reliability point of view and from a set-up point of view working with the new car. And then you're trading against development time in the lab, in the wind tunnel and in the office. We have taken that position. In terms of reliability impact, more and more work is now done in the lab, typically on the dynamometer, to prove out the major mechanical systems on the car. So we're more confident these days that we can hit the ground running with a reliable package without needing to do thousands and thousands of kilometres on the track. You always do learn something from the mileage, but it's a trade. I hope Im not proven wrong in that respect, but we're reasonably confident that we can get the reliability that we need from those three tests.
Q: How confident are you this seasons car will be competitive?
PL: Thats always the big question. Its a very stressful time of year for all the engineers I would say, between this point and the qualifying of the first race, when you really understand where you are. Everybody, no matter whether they think theyre doing well or badly, has no reference to what level of absolute performance is needed. So we are confident in what weve done. Were happy with it and have worked very well over the winter. We think weve got a good car. But that will be true amongst all of our competitors. They are all working just as hard as we are. So we dont know really, but that's the excitement and why were in this sport.
Q: In terms of your development are you where you want to be then?
PL: Yes I think we are, as much as we can tell thats where we think we could be. It sounds like Im taking in code! When you have a winter like last winter, with very few regulation changes, then you can try and extrapolate where you think you need to be relative to your competitors from the last race of the previous season. Just like in the winter 2008/9 theres been a reasonable reset of the regulations this winter, so those reference points are not as good as youd like them to be. We have taken some estimates as to what level of performance we think we need and we are on track for those. But time will tell whether that is sufficient.
Q: Do you think it was mistake to introduce KERS back in 2009 in tandem with a big aerodynamic regulation change?
PL: I think it was regrettable that it came in and then went out again. I think its a good thing to have in the sport so you had to start somehow and it was a tough start in 2009. But KERS is a good technology and good for the sport, so we should adopt it. 2010 was a good consolidation break, so the suppliers have been able to regroup and determine ways to produce more effective systems. So we should have a field this year where the majority - if not all - of the cars have KERS and where KERS is worthwhile to run. It has been a painful way to arrive at it but I think weve got a good outcome.
Q: Do you think it would have been better to introduce KERS before or after the aero changes in 2009?
PL: I dont think theyre entirely coupled in that way. KERS was developed by the engine suppliers and therefore wasnt much in conflict with the aerodynamic operations. So whilst the aero change package in 2009 was large, and the packaging implications of KERS are large, they are still somehow mostly independent in my view. So I dont think it would have made much difference.