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F1: How McLaren is tackling the 2009 rule changes

Holding onto a world title is no mean feat at the best of times – but what is McLaren planning to do in the face of what it describes as the most comprehensive shake-up of regulations in the history of the sport?

The team has published an extensive set of interviews on its website with key personnel including test driver Pedro de la Rosa and MP4-24 chief engineer Pat Fry, explaining exactly how it intends to tackle the challenge with its new car, due to be unveiled on January 16.


You can read the whole thing here – or, for a slightly lighter lunch, digest our edited highlights, below:

  • Regulations – The team reckons that a properly set up KERS system could be worth four tenths of a second in qualifying, which works out at 20 metres or three grid slots – what it describes as “reasonable benefits” for getting it right. Director of Engineering Paddy Lowe says: “It’s probably the biggest set of aerodynamic regulation changes in Formula 1’s history. Almost everything — the front and rear wings, the diffuser, floor and bodywork — is affected. I don’t think there’s ever been that level of change.”
  • Aerodynamics – Shake-ups are predicted across the whole field in this department during 2009 with upgrades set to be more integral to the car than the ‘carbon-fibre warts’ we all enjoyed looking at so much in 2008. Principal aerodynamicist Doug McKiernan says: “When we first went into the windtunnel with our ’09 model, we’d lost well over 50 per cent downforce — and clawing some of that back is an exciting huge challenge when you don’t have the bodywork rules to allow you to do that.”
  • KERS and engines – The team plans to ensure its device can ride kerbs and withstand the kind of rough treatment it hasn’t yet seen in aero tests, with a slow build-up to full power. Test driver Pedro de la Rosa says: “It requires a lot of fine-tuning to the car — especially in the braking. KERS has to recharge itself — so when you press the brakes, it generates an extra resistance that you have to somehow compensate for to balance it out. That means interacting with the engine braking and the brake balance. You just have to find the best compromise; it’s not just fitting KERS and going quicker, you have to balance it into the whole system.”
  • Testing – There’s a lot to tackle in the team’s winter testing programme, with new tyres and KERS to come to terms with as well as the changes to the aero regs. Test team manager Indy Lall says: “All the deflectors, hydrofoils and flick-ups that are not allowed for next year have been taken off. There’s a suggestion that we ought to start as we finished off, as our datum, and then gradually wean the bits off — so that may change. We’ll also run wings to simulate 2009 downforce levels.”
  • Racing – Grip lost to reduced downforce in the name of better overtaking will be compensated for by slick tyres. MP4-24 chief engineer Pat Fry says: “We’ve achieved a very large reduction in downforce — although not what the Overtaking Working Group had targeted — so that will make the car a couple of seconds slower. But we’ll likely have less drag so that will to some extent compensate. Going to a slick tyre allows for a softer compound. When we’ve tested slicks, we’ve previously been up to three seconds a lap faster — just because of the tyre!”


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