Tag Archives: Mclaren

Testing times for McLaren as F1 teams pack their cars for season opener

Only two men in history have ever clinched a third successive Formula One World Championship before attempting to defend it. The last time Michael Schumacher went about the feat with Ferrari, it didn’t go much better than his disastrous three-year comeback with Mercedes. One win – against only his team-mate and the back-of-the-grid Jordans and Minardis, in the bizarre 2005 United States Grand Prix – was all he managed. It was a year in which the prancing horse failed to grapple with a rule demanding drivers make a set of tyres last the entire race distance.

For his fellow countryman Sebastian Vettel – now a triple World Champion at just 25 – managing the latest spec Pirelli tyres will once again provide the biggest challenge of the season ahead. And after it was deemed last year’s rubber was ‘too good’, the drivers can expect more rapidly degrading tyres in 2013 – the kind of which Pirelli promised and delivered when they became the sole tyre supplier two years ago.

Good news, then, for McLaren, who arguably possess the driver line-up best able at preserving tyres, which others might rip to shreds within a matter of laps. Joining the silky-smooth 2009 World Champion Jenson Button at the team’s Woking HQ is Sergio Perez. The 23 year-old Mexican impressed in his two-year stint at Sauber – particularly at Monza last year, when he made his first set of tyres last until lap 30, thus enabling him to climb from 13th on the grid to second on the podium.

Unfortunately for the team in search of its first Constructors’ Championship in 15 years, the general consensus is that the Woking-based team will not be the pace setters at the opening race in Melbourne. Beginning the season off the pace has not been an uncommon theme for McLaren in recent years, but their ability to develop a sluggish car is well documented. With the most experienced driver on the grid in Button, it would take a brave man to bet against McLaren turning their seemingly poor testing form around.

One man who won’t be hoping for an upturn in McLaren’s pace is Lewis Hamilton. After six seasons and 21 wins, the Stevenage-born 2008 World Champion has moved onto pastures new with Mercedes. On the final weekend of the testing in Barcelona, Hamilton and team-mate Nico Rosberg lit up the time sheets with blistering pace. Hamilton, though, has been keen to play down expectations all winter, saying: “we will definitely be able to win a race at some point.” You’d hope so. With only one win since the championship-winning Brawn team was bought out by the German manufacturer three years ago, anything less than two wins in 2013 will be a massive disappointment for the Silver Arrows.

Joining Hamilton, Button and Force India’s Paul di Resta in Formula One this year is Marussia’s Max Chilton, making it four British drivers on the grid for the first time since the 2008 Spanish Grand Prix. The 21 year-old from Reigate won races in GP2 last year and had a successful outing during practice for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. But with four other rookies out to impress – in what is a relatively inexperienced field, with no drivers who competed in the 20th century remaining – Chilton will have to work hard to keep his seat into a second season.

In the midfield, preseason testing form suggests it will be as tight as ever. Like Mercedes, Lotus and Williams will be hoping to build on their solitary wins of 2012. But reliability issues and a general lack of mileage, respectively, make it hard to gauge how regularly they will be challenging the front runners.

As far as the championship is concerned, a repeat battle between Vettel and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso is looking likely.

The Spaniard drove magnificently last season, dragging a car into championship contention that frankly had no place to be fighting the might of Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull. There is no doubt that start-line accidents in Belgium and Japan – for which he shared no blame – denied him the World Championship.

But rather than hope for better luck, a vastly improved car from the one designed at Maranello this time last year will be a more reliable way of ensuring the 2005/06 World Champion secures a third world title. Alonso sounds happy so far, declaring the F138 “200 times better” than the F2012 chassis. Let’s hope he’s right. For without a giant leap forward in car design, the prancing horse will remain inferior to the charging Red Bull. Even in Alonso’s hands.

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F1 INSIGHT: A day in the life of an F1 Design Engineer

We are more than a month into the Formula One close season and the team’s designers and aerodynamicists are busy working on next year’s car.

But the design process is not something F1 teams only begin in earnest once the season is over.

Even with the ban on in-season testing – brought in prior to the 2009 season to curb escalating costs – a dedicated team of designers and engineers remain at the factory all year round, trying to find that extra tenth of a second in performance.

So how exactly does an idea for a new front wing go from a designers head to being bolted onto an F1 car at the track? And how long does it take?

In the first of my F1 insight series, McLaren’s Alistair Niven tells all.

He reveals what his role involves on a day-to-day basis; how he got to where he is now; his advice to anyone wanting to become an F1 designer and what he feels is the best car he’s had a role in designing.

How long have you worked for McLaren?

“I have worked for the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes F1 Team for approximately eight years.”

What is your current job title at McLaren Mercedes?

“Aerodynamic Design Engineer.”

What exactly does your role involve doing?

“As Aerodynamic Design Engineers we take the untamed concepts from our Aerodynamicists and convert them into credible engineered components that are ‘fit for purpose’ for either the Race Car or the Wind tunnel Model.

“In more detail, we take rendered aerodynamic surfaces and produce detailed engineering designs for our manufacturing departments or external suppliers; needless to say the whole process up to the material cutting stage is done electronically using CAD/CAM.

“We currently use ‘CATIA V5’ as our preferred CAD option. We tend to work in small teams concentrating on specific areas of the car.

“I spent my first few years at McLaren developing the geometry and aerodynamic concepts of the front suspension and braking system before moving onto the aerodynamic benefits of exhaust systems and rearward surfaces.”

How do these duties fit into the overall development of the McLaren car and the way the team operates as a whole?

“Although many of the mechanical and electrical concepts on the race car change throughout the season the largest amount of change takes place on the aerodynamic surfaces.

“An aerodynamicist can visualize an idea which we, as Aerodynamic Designers, convert into ‘realistic’ designs.

“These creations are transferred electronically to our manufacturers (either in-house or external) for the production process which can take the form of; machining, fabrication, moulding, rapid prototyping etc.

“The completed parts are often shipped straight to the track and assembled to the race car.

“This whole process regularly takes place within one working day. One working day in motorsport means 24 hours! So to summarize: Concept – Design – Manufacture – Transport – Assemble – Race.”

How did you get to where you are now? What qualifications and experience did you obtain prior to arriving in your current position with McLaren?

“I took a bit of an unusual route into Formula 1.

“I served a mechanical engineering apprenticeship after leaving school and then went to Glasgow University and studied for a combined degree in Aeronautical & Mechanical engineering.

“I was then offered a Lecturing post at a college in Barrow-in Furness teaching mechanical engineering to students working on the Trident submarine programme.

“Five years later I moved to Surrey, to take up a Lecturing appointment at Brooklands College, next to the famous Brooklands race track, teaching mechanical and aeronautical engineering.

“We designed and taught the first suite of National and Higher National Diploma’s in Motorsport engineering which is still running to this day.

“After twelve years at Brooklands I moved to Oxford to lecture on the automotive engineering degree course at Oxford Brookes University.

“Several years later I was asked to run a GT team back in Surrey and a year later joined McLaren as an Aerodynamic Design Engineer.”

How much of a F1 fan were you growing up? Did you always want to do what you do now or did you drift into it, almost by accident?

“I have been a motorsport fan for as long as I can remember, but my early passion was football and was lucky enough to play semi-professionally for over twenty years.

“I started racing motorcycles when I was eighteen on a Yamaha TZ350E before moving onto a Suzuki RG500.

“I blamed my lack of money for not winning, but looking back it was probably my lack of ability that was the primary reason!

“The main reason for choosing an Aero/Mechanical degree was that I really wanted to be an astronaut, but with the opportunities in that direction being few and far between I subsequently fell into lecturing.

“Looking back I have no regrets.”

Do you travel to races? How much involvement with the drivers, mechanics and team bosses seen at a Grand Prix do you have?

“As Design Engineers we are not required at race events.

“Originally, when ‘in-season’ testing was allowed, Design Engineers would attend two tests per year.

“The drivers on average come into the McLaren Technology Centre about once a week to either use the simulator or attend marketing events. They will have meetings with their Race Engineers to discuss car developments and up and coming race strategy.

“The Race Engineers will have been briefed by the Lead Aero Designers on aerodynamic improvements.

“Martin Whitmarsh or Jonathan Neale give a detailed debrief to the factory based staff on the Monday after every race.”

In your time at McLaren, what have been the biggest changes you have seen? How have these changes affected the way you and the team operate on a day-to-day basis?

“Without doubt the biggest change has been the speed of production, as mentioned earlier.

“An idea can be in the head of an aerodynamicist at the beginning of the day and less than 24 hours later it’s racing around a track on the other side of the world.

“This puts an enormous amount of pressure onto engineers, machinists, logistics departments and mechanics.

“The extra tension and excitement during this process tends to be the biggest surprise to most new employees from other industries.”

What is the best car you have had a role in designing?

“The obvious one is the 2008 Championship-winning McLaren MP4-23, but the previous years’ car, the MP4-22, was also great.

“This was the car in which Lewis Hamilton started his F1 career and started winning races almost from the outset, before narrowly missing out on the championship in his rookie year.

“But, as many Design Engineers will tell you, the best one will be next years’ car!”

What effect do you think the 2014 engine regulations will have on the racing?

“As the current regulations have been around for some time now, the gap between the front and rear of the grid has narrowed.

“I would imagine these differences will initially increase again with the advent of the new engines and all the complex chassis changes that will have to be incorporated.

“The existing engines are all producing a similar output, but that will change with the new V6 unit and will take some time for the engine suppliers to reach an equilibrium.

“From a spectators point of view I would imagine the noise may be a disappointment compared to V8’s, V10’s & V12’s of the past.”

What advice would you give to young people looking to get into what you do?

“Be very hard working, methodical, punctual and polite.

“Try and get as much hands-on experience as you can, working for nothing at weekends within other race formulae always looks good on a CV.

“Physics, Maths, Technology and English are the preferred A-level options at most good engineering universities.

“Grand Prix teams employ graduates from most forms of engineering including mechanical, aeronautical, electrical, software, product design etc.

“The National Diploma/HND in Motorsport Engineering is another route into F1 – it just depends on how long you wish to study for before you start your career in racing.”

In the next F1 INSIGHT, we’ll be hearing about life on the road as an F1 mechanic.