McLaren explain problems with 2018 Formula 1 car
In the most detailed account yet of their problems during 2018, McLaren opened up on why they are currently playing catch-up this season...
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 10/12/18 12:08pm
Speaking at the recent French GP, two weeks before Eric Boullier left the team, McLaren chief Zak Brown explained what had gone wrong with their MCL33 car - and how they would set about turning their disappointing form around
What is wrong with McLaren's car?
"We have identified the areas in which we have a problem or problems," Zak explained. "It's in aerodynamics. It's something that doesn't show up in the wind tunnel, therefore we can't try and solve it in the wind tunnel because we can't replicate the issue or issues in the tunnel."
"So we have to try and fix the issues at the race track."
That is making for very busy practice sessions as the team play around with new parts and different set-ups to simply gain an understanding of their car, whereas other teams are piling on aero performance. The use of luminous flow-vis paint to monitor air flow was again in evidence at the front of the MCL33 during opening practice in Austria.
"With no testing, or very limited testing, you will see we were running different configuration wings and different floors [on Friday]," added Brown. "Unfortunately we are having to test and experiment at the race track. So while most other teams are on their development path and base programme is working for them, we are having to identify and work to solve these issues. We had some different aerodynamic devices we had last year we don't have this year and we're having to sort these out at the race track."
Put succinctly by Sky F1's Ted Kravitz: "The problem is that whatever they add to the car, they are not being able to replicate that in the wind tunnel. Their rate of aero development is being slowed down because they are having to check it on track because they can't check it in the wind tunnel."
Where exactly is their car struggling?
Qualifying has been the team's undoing all season and, in a sobering assessment of where the MCL33 had experienced problems at Paul Ricard, Alonso said the car had been "missing performance, missing grid, speed and the pace".
While Brown did not elaborate on where the specific aero problems McLaren's engineers are currently attempting to cure, the problem is believed to particularly manifest itself in slow and short-radius corners. This was a problem that particularly showed up in Montreal when the team only just survived the Q1 cut.
"We are very specific with the engineers," said Alonso. "Every debrief is more than one hour and a half."
But aren't McLaren doing better this season?
It's all a matter of expectation, both internal and external, when it comes to McLaren, the eight-time constructors' champions.
On one hand, the first eight races of 2018 have been immeasurably better than the first eight of 2017. Twelve months ago when powered by Honda, McLaren had scored only two points and sat bottom of the Constructors' Championship. That run included a 63 per cent race retirement rate.
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This time round it's 40 points and fifth place, although the team themselves admit even that return falls below pre-season targets of closing the gap to the top three teams. The recent trend is not a good one either, with three consecutive point-less races ahead of Austria.
"We are having a difficult time racing this year and I think we all had higher expectations for how we would be performing," conceded Brown. "That being said we are fifth in the championship, last year we were ninth in the championship. So we are having a better season, but probably not matching the expectations we all have when you have two world-class drivers and a racing team like McLaren."
How soon will their fortunes improve?
What became clear at Paul Ricard was that solving McLaren's car problems is not the work of a moment and the team require more time to put themselves on a more prosperous development path.
"The car that we have put in the hands of Stoffel and Fernando is frustrating," said Brown. "I have seen many teams go through tough times and I can assure you McLaren will rise above it all. We will get this right. Probably not by next race, so everyone will have to bear with us,
Vandoorne added: "It's not something that will change from one race to another, it will require a bit of time and hopefully we can see some positive improvements soon."
The current exhaustive run of five races in six weeks up to the summer break certainly is not helpful in that regard, while Alonso pointed to the growing competitiveness of the field and the disappearance of the stereotypical 'backmarkers'.
"I know that everything seems pessimistic now but the reality is not that pessimistic," he argued. "It's difficult now to say something different, I understand, but the reasons are we are in an extremely competitive environment. Every team is pushing the limits every race.
"The small teams aren't small anymore. Even Williams, one of the biggest teams in history, now it seems they are the slowest car. There is not anymore a private team. Sauber is Ferrari C, Haas has a lot of performance. Everyone is putting the level very, very high so it's understandable.
"It's not easy to catch up or to close those gaps from one week to another."
McLaren will hope that Austria and Silverstone, the second two legs of F1's unprecedented triple header, will start to put the MCL33 back on the right path.