The Woking-based team hope that the striking car, which they describe as ‘a sensible and calculated response to the new regulations’, will return them to winning ways after a disappointing 2013 season in which they failed to score a podium for the first time since 1980.
“We’ve never had such significant new regulations before; reacting to them, and managing those changes, while still pushing the performance limits, has been an extremely tough job,” said McLaren’s managing director Jonathan Neale of the new machine’s development.
“We’ve been relatively pragmatic about it. We know that the need for consistency initially outweighs the need for performance - the winter tests won’t be about chasing set-up or refining the car; the envelope of performance is likely to be so wide, and so relatively unknown, that the winter - and to some extent the opening races - will be about understanding the operational boundaries of the car as best we can. To achieve this, we need a consistent platform - one that responds positively to changes.”
Neale believes that success in 2014 will be dependent on the ability of McLaren’s technical team to react throughout the season.
“The work of the engineers and designers to understand and interpret trackside data will be more important than before,” he explained. “That’s because this year, more than ever, will come down to a development race: I don’t necessarily think you can expect the car that wins the opening race to be the car that leads the championship charge, something we’ve often seen in the past.
“No, it will be all about a team’s ability to react and respond. We already have an update package that we’re readying for race one, and we’re discovering new things in the ’tunnel, or in CFD, all the time. Once we start track testing, I think you’ll see an intense throughput of ideas and concepts -that’s the nitty-gritty that will win or lose the world championship.”
The 2014 season will see McLaren pair a world champion with a rookie for the first time since they teamed Lewis Hamilton with Fernando Alonso in 2007. However, Neale believes that the team will thrive on the mix of experience and youth that Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen will provide.
“I really think the beauty of our driver line-up comes from its strength and structure through sheer contrast. In Jenson, we have Formula One's unofficial ambassador, somebody who provides us with an unprecedented databank of experience; we can really work with him as we learn together how to develop and refine this year’s car.
“In Kevin, I see a raw, unfettered enthusiasm and a fearsome work ethic. His arrival has been a terrific motivator for the entire team, and I’ve been really pleased and impressed by the way he’s thrown himself into the process. While he’ll naturally need time to acclimatise, we’re undoubtedly of the opinion that he’s ready for F1.”
Button and Magnussen will have their first chance to get behind the wheel of the MP4-29 at next week’s opening pre-season test in Jerez. Sporting director Sam Michael says it’s crucial that the new car shows good reliability in the Spanish session.
“It’ll be critical in the pre-season tests - firstly, to enable the drivers and engineers to learn about and understand the behavior of the new car; but, secondly, to provide us with the mileage and data our designers at the MTC need to further refine and develop the car for the year ahead.
“It’ll be a season of complexity and subtlety; we won’t find ourselves in a situation where the guy who wins the first race goes on to win the championship, I think it’ll be unpredictable and exciting - and that’s fantastic news for Formula One's fans.
“One thing is for certain, though, there’ll be a lot of cross-pollination of ideas during the season as the best concepts and solutions proliferate. We’re proud of some of the concepts we’ll be introducing with this car but, likewise, there’ll be areas where we can learn and improve. In fact, I think constant learning and improvement will be the key motifs of 2014.”