During a strangely orchestrated launch at the spectacular Sony center in Berlin, the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team introduced their new title contender, the McLaren MP4-26A. During the 30 minutes long show, which was presented under the open dome...
Vodafone McLaren launches new MP4/26A in Berlin, Germany
During a strangely orchestrated launch at the spectacular Sony center in Berlin, the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team introduced their new title contender, the McLaren MP4-26A. During the 30 minutes long show, which was presented under the open dome of the Sony center, hundreds of journalist and fans watched in freezing temperatures how McLaren mechanics brought parts of the new car into the center, and ultimately built together the MP4-26.
Drivers Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton were next to enter the central stage and answered questions about the new car with which they hope to grab this year's Constructors' and Drivers' title. Hamilton commented on the crowd that gathered to see the new car: "It's great to see how many fans braved the Berlin weather to come to today's event. I hope it's been an exciting day for everyone: I think people saw a unique way of revealing our 2010 car, something that's never been done before. I hope the car proves just as innovative once we take to the track next week."
The McLaren presentation then continued in the fancy Kaisersaal - it was filled to the brim - as McLaren had even taken the trouble to airlift around 200 journalists from London to Berlin. Button was happy McLaren had waited so long to present the MP4-26, and called the car the 'new baby'. It was also apparent both Button and Hamilton had not seen the new car before today, and were seen circling around the car to look at the details.
The new car is not the only weapon McLaren will have at their disposal, in an effort to raise their game, last week McLaren announced a reshuffle of their technical staff, former Director of Engineering Paddy Lowe has been promoted to Technical Director, and former Chief Engineer Tim Goss is now Director of Engineering. Neil Oatley will continue his role as Director of Design and Development, and Jonathan Neal is still McLaren's Team Managing Director.
McLaren has an impressive sponsors portfolio, and their two most important sponsors have recently renewed their involvement in the team. Banco Santander announced last Wednesday they have extended their partnership with the McLaren team. Ana Botin, Santander UK CEO stated, "The relationship we have built with the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team and its drivers has been integral to creating and building the Santander brand in the UK. Without it, we would have not been able to rebrand to Santander last year." In October last year, Vodafone expanded its involvement in the team, signing on as title partner and total communications partner of McLaren until the end of 2013.
A closer look at the MP4-26
It will be no surprise that many of the new regulations and the re-introduction of KERS (Kinetic Recovery System) have had an impact on the design of the MP4-26. During previous launches this week, the same pattern emerged: a very high pitched, long and flat nose, a slender and clean rear section with the adjustable rear wing, a complete new front wing design, and a new airbox. The new McLaren design is no exception and has the same features.
However, the side pods have a revolutionary design, and look completely different from the side pods we have seen during earlier launches this week and during testing at Valencia. The McLaren front wing has several flaps on either side of the wing. The center of the wing guides the airflow to the front of the floor of the car, while the flaps and wing endplates are aerodynamically sculpted to optimize the air flow around the front wheels.
McLaren also seems to use a construction which generates downforce from the floor under the car, but the exhaust pipes are located in the rear of the car, so it is certainly not an exhaust gas driven 'blown floor'. The McLaren MP4-26 is as usual propelled by the Mercedes-Benz client engine, and they use a hybrid KERS system, which was developed together with Mercedes. It is a single integrated unit, and it is mounted under the fuel tank, in 2009 it was housed in the side pods.
Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh was, as usual, very enthusiastic about the new MP4-26. During the press conference he said, "The MP4-26 is the result of an incredible amount of hard work, innovative thinking and dynamic teamwork. Under the leadership of Paddy Lowe, Tim Goss and Neil Oatley, our design department is more integrated than ever: in fact, I'm particularly proud of the contributions made by our project engineers, many of whom have taken on leadership roles for the very first time and who have worked so well together to create this very striking and individual-looking car."
Whitmarsh also hinted the new MP4-26 has some hidden innovations, but of course did not reveal what those innovations exactly were.
Asked about the changes compared to last year's car, Lowe answered: "I think there are some novel features on the car -- the long wheelbase and U-shaped side pods are probably the most obvious examples. The thinking behind that is to feed as much good-quality air as possible to the rear- lower main plane and the floor of the car. We want to get the rear-end working as well as possible following the loss of performance caused by the banning of the double-diffuser."
The biggest challenge for all teams is to replace the downforce that was lost after the FIA banned the double diffuser - the gadget with which Brawn GP took both titles in 2009. The 'blown floor', is actually a variant on the double diffuser, in this case air or exhaust gases are led (blown) under the floor, which results in an increase of downforce.
Asked about were the main challenges to design the 2011 car, Goss replied: "there have been two: recovering the rear downforce we lost following the banning of the double-diffuser, and fully exploiting the Pirelli tyres. The tyres only last for around 10 laps, and making them last longer is quite a challenge. So we need to look closely at how we configure the set-up and suspension to make the tyres last."
Drivers Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button
McLaren has retained the services of two talented ex-World Champions, Lewis Hamilton won the title in 2008, and Jenson Button in 2009. Both drivers are very much looking forward to the new season, which officially kicks off on March 13 at the Bahrain International Circuit.
Button, who is in his second season with the team said, "It's strange to think that this is only the start of my second season at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, because I've felt so comfortable since joining the team last January. The Briton felt that 2010 was "something of a building year, albeit, with two victories, a pretty solid one!"
For Hamilton, this will be his fifth season with the team, having made his Formula One debut with McLaren. "I head into 2011 in a relaxed but determined frame of mind. I've spared nothing during my winter fitness preparations and, in many ways, I feel as fit, focused and refreshed as I did ahead of my first season in Formula 1 in 2007," he said.
Like his fellow countryman from the UK, Hamilton was also pleased the new car: "Having spent the past few weeks talking with our designers and engineers, I feel extremely happy that we've created a car that will once again allow us to fight at the front."
Button was ecstatic that McLaren used his input also: "I've also been able to offer input into the design and development of the new car -- something that I was naturally unable to do last year. Now I really feel I know how Vodafone McLaren Mercedes goes racing, and I'll be driving a car that's been fully developed around Lewis and myself -- that's a very empowering feeling."
Both drivers were at the recent first pre-season test days at Valencia, Spain using the 2010-spec car that had modifications. On Wednesday, Hamilton has a best time of 1:14.353, placing him fouth fastest with the interim car and on Thursday, Button recorded the third fastest time of 1:13.553.
They will shakedown the MP4-26 at Circuito de Jerez in Spain on February 10-13 which will be the second pre-season test for the Formula 1 teams. "I'm really looking forward to getting to drive the new car for the first time. Our pre-season simulations suggests that the new Pirelli tyres should be well-suited to my particular driving style, so I'm hopeful of being able to derive a good advantage from the tyres during the races," said Button.