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More from behind the scenes at McLaren

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More from behind the scenes at McLaren
Jan 17, 2009, 6:01 PM

The Ron Dennis story has dominated coverage of the McLaren launch, which is probably just as well because Lewis Hamilton wasn't on great form, suff...

The Ron Dennis story has dominated coverage of the McLaren launch, which is probably just as well because Lewis Hamilton wasn't on great form, suffering with a heavy cold. He looked pretty proud to see the number one on the car, however, the first time for McLaren in a decade.

Nevertheless, we had a good chance over the course of a long day in Woking, to go behind the scenes and find out more about this new car and about how it will be raced this year.

The first thing that struck me was how much more there is for a driver to do this season and for that reason, it is clear that the driver will play a more important role than for ages. I think that this season, intelligent, mechanically savvy drivers will have a huge benefit from making best use of the controls, levers and switches on the steering wheel. The drivers have had control of the clutch, gears, brake balance, differential setting, engine maps, pit lane speed limiter and so on for a while, but two new controls he will have are the adjustable front wing, which can move up or down by 6 degrees, and of course from the KERS boost button. That's a lot of different things to deal with in addition to steering, braking and accelerating. The test drivers who've had a run on the new slick tyres are reporting that they have a very narrow operating window for racing, so keeping them in good shape and getting performance out of them isn't going to be easy, another area where having spare mental capacity above what's needed simply to drive the car, will be important.

I asked Tim Goss, one of the two McLaren designers, how he envisaged the KERS button being used on a qualifying lap and he confirmed that it can be used for bursts of a second or less, it doesn't have to be used for maximum seven seconds all at once. I can imagine Ayrton Senna would have made amazing use of this, finding exactly the right places to give his car a little surge of power and it's there for this generation of drivers to develop that art.

Without doubt one of the key areas will be getting the timing right when hitting the boost button exiting a corner onto a long straight, for example out of the final corner in Malaysia. But with no traction control it will be quite easy to spin the car if you hit the button too soon; think of all the drivers who spin coming out of the first chicane at Monza...

And there is not much time for the drivers to get used to these new cars and controls; Hamilton revealed that he will have just seven days in the car before Melbourne and no testing days after that until the season's finished. So the simulators at the factory will take on even more importance and that is what makes McLaren feel extra confident as they are well ahead of the rest of the field when it comes to the sophistication of the simulator.

Hamilton and Kovalainen can sit in the simulator at McLaren and fine tune their KERS button responses, their use of the front wing control and so on, which is some way ahead, as far as I'm aware, of what the others can do. Ron Dennis suggested that Hamilton is already onto this and is very much focussed on the areas, 'where he can make the difference.'

Kovalainen revealed that he will not allow himself to get so stressed out this season. He let the pressure get to him sometimes last year and worried too much, which hurt his performances. This year he feels he knows the team better and has more of a handle on where he fits in. The key thing for him is that Martin Whitmarsh the new team principal is a big Heikki fan and that will keep him in place unless he woefully underperforms. I think he'll be much stronger this year.

McLaren was finishing its fifth and final 2009 chassis when we were there, which is pretty impressive. Interestingly the one they put in for the crash test, is going to be used for testing and racing. It will be in Portugal next week, despite having been smashed into from all angles by the FIA's crash test devices! I always thought you just chucked the crash test tub in the bin, but apparently not.

Another little nugget which came out was that McLaren has no contractual right to propose drivers to Force India. They can give some thoughts but there's not even an obligation for Force India to test any McLaren drivers.
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