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Is the new McLaren a wind-up?

The unveiling of the McLaren-Mercedes MP4/10 at London's Science Museum last Friday set F1 tongues wagging with its ungainly "mid-ship" wing.

This aerodynamic device is mounted on the engine cover of the car and is intended to produce extra downforce to replace that taken away by the rule changes last year.

A couple of aerodynamicists we have spoken to say that they have tried a similar idea - because the regulations gave them little in the way of other choices - and that it does not seem to produce any big advantage and complicates the aerodynamics as it may disrupt the airflow to the rear wing. It also adds another variable in the already complicated process of balancing the aerodynamic downforce of a F1 car.

What the new device will achieve is panic among the opposition which will now be sending its aerodynamicists into action to decide why McLaren has taken such a radical step. This will mean that they will have to mock up similar devices and test them in the wind tunnels. This will tie up aerodynamicists and model-makers and will cost rival teams a lot of time and money. This will play into the hands of McLaren because it already knows if the wing works or not ;and if other team divert their efforts they will not be concentrating on other developments. This plays into McLaren's hands because the team is starting behind the opposition this year, as a result of the late decision to ally with Mercedes-Benz, and needs to close the gap. By diverting the opposition and pushing ahead with other development work, the gap will close ...

When Ferrari recently launched its new car, designer John Barnard said he did not expect to see all the secret aerodynamic devices on the cars until the first race. Perhaps he did not envisage seeing wings which may not ever be raced.

McLaren will begin testing the MP4/10 - designed by the usual committee headed by Neil Oatley and including Henri Durand, Patrick Lowe, Dieter Gundel, Matthew Jeffreys, David North, David Neilson and Tim Goss - at Silverstone this week, although the first serious testing will not take place until the big Estoril test in the first week of March.

In addition to the mid-ship wing, the car features a Benetton-style nose; and while the team and drivers are enthusiastic about the new car, Mercedes Motorsport chief Norbert Haug was much more cautious about the brand new V10 engine.

"In the second part of the championship, our drivers will have a combination of engine and chassis which should permit them to be extremely competitive," he said.

The new engine - codenamed FO 110 - is the only purpose-built three-liter engine in F1 so far. It has no common parts with the Mercedes V10 of last season and has a 75-degree V-angle rather than the 72 used last year.

McLaren's engineering teams this year will see Nigel Mansell working with Steve Hallam, one of the most experienced race engineers in F1 at the moment, while Mika Hakkinen will work with rising young star Pat Fry.

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