McLaren Tries to Stay Ahead of Competition With New Car

McLAREN REFUSES TO STAND STILL WITH DESIGN OF NEW CAR By Dan Knutson Special Correspondent INDIANAPOLIS, Feb. 15, 1999 -- If you stand still in Formula One, you are moving backward. That's the dictum of Ron Dennis, director of ...


By Dan Knutson Special Correspondent

INDIANAPOLIS, Feb. 15, 1999 -- If you stand still in Formula One, you are moving backward. That's the dictum of Ron Dennis, director of Team McLaren, and that's why even though West McLaren-Mercedes won both the Driver's and Constructor's World Championships last year the team is not standing on its laurels.

The new McLaren-Mercedes, unveiled recently in front of 500 media and corporate guests at the Barcelona F1 track, is just that--new.

"This is NOT an evolutionary car," Dennis said of the MP4/14 chassis that replaces the MP4/13 that Mika Hakkinen used to win eight Grand Prix races and the title last year. "It presents the biggest single step from last year's MP4/13 that we felt we could take. It also has the smallest number of carryover components from last year's car that we have ever had in the history of McLaren. Normally the carryover is about 15 percent: this year the carry-over parts can be counted in single figures."

The team was not about to reveal any of its technical speed secrets. "What has been changed has been changed for the better, and we do not intend to lay it out for the world," Dennis said.

This year's car features a longitudinal seven-speed gearbox instead of the six-speed gearbox run in 1998, uses inboard torsion bar front and rear suspension, and the packaging of oil system and the hydraulic system has been completely revamped.

One of the biggest challenges for the design team led by Adrian Newey and Neil Oatley was the change from three grooves in the front tire to four. With Goodyear pulling out of F1, all cars will run on Bridgestone tires this year.

Bridgestone is the parent company of Firestone, which races in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League.

In order to reduce speeds, F1's sanctioning body, the FIA, required the cars to use grooved slicks in 1998. This year, the front tires must have four grooves compared to three grooves in 1998. The rear tires still have four grooves, and the overall result is that the tire compounds this year are harder and traction--or grip as the F1 engineers call it--has been reduced.

"The four-groove tire has changed the suspension quite a lot, mainly the settings," Newey said. "So we have had to re-balance the car. The four-groove tire regulation is the biggest single effect on performance. Not only is there the extra groove, the compound is much harder, and the construction has changed. It is a completely new tire front and rear." All new, too, is the Mercedes V10.

"Apart from a few nuts and bolts, it's all new," said engine designer Mario Illien. "It is a bit smaller, it's a bit lighter, and we had the aim to reduce the center of gravity. We were also looking at fuel consumption and drivability, which will be a big issue this year on the new tires." One of the greatest assets of the new McLaren is that the reigning World Champion drives it.

"There isn't a driver that walked this planet that has not gained from winning a World Championship," Dennis said. "It instills confidence. It gives him the ability to lean back on past success. That doesn't mean to say rest on his laurels, but it means 'I've achieved,' and that gives you a completely different feeling.

"You only have to be human to understand that if you've won a world championship it's actually easier to win the next one, not more difficult. It's like climbing Mount Everest. If you've climbed Mount Everest then clearly you can comfortably say 'I can climb it again.'"

Still, Hakkinen has taken a conservative outlook on the season and the new car.

"We'll see what happens," said Hakkinen, from Finland. "Let's see how the new car runs. That's the only way to know how competitive we're going to be. We can't say now whether we will be able to defend the title."

Hakkinen's teammate, David Coulthard, was upbeat: "It is going to take a lot to beat us. If this car is as good as we think it is, then we have something here that the other teams can only dream of."

McLaren is one of the most successful F1 teams in history. It has won the Driver's Championship a record 10 times and the Constructors Championship eight times. McLaren is second on the all-time Grand Prix win list with 116 victories to Ferrari's 119, has started from the pole 92 times and holds the record for the most victories (15) in a season.

Source: IRL/IMS

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers David Coulthard , Mika Hakkinen , Adrian Newey
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , McLaren