FEBRUARY 7, 2001
Newey has high hopes for new McLaren-Mercedes
MCLAREN technical director Adrian Newey is today keeping his fingers crossed that the team's aerodynamic know-how will be about to pay off with a significant performance advantage as the latest McLaren-Mercedes MP4/16 is unveiled at Spain's tight little Valencia circuit.
Newey privately believes that McLaren's relentless focus on the best possible package will see the new 2001 aerodynamic regulations help swing the initiative back from Michael Schumacher and Ferrari - and into the hands of McLaren wheel-men Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard. Yet although the MP4/16 represents a completely new package, the evolutionary 72-degree Mercedes F0110K engine transmits its 820bhp through a revised, optimized version of last year's seven-speed longitudinal transmission. For the past two years McLaren and Mercedes have collaborated on the development of a sophisticated differential about which the FIA was briefed at every stage.
The governing body gave its approval all down the line until, the governing body - apparently prompted by Ferrari's late objections - decreed it illegal after all.
McLaren will therefore be pulling out all the stops to ensure that they make the most out of the new aerodynamic regulations which represent the biggest changes since the banning of venturi wings in 1983 and the introduction of narrow track cars for 1998. "The MP4/14 and 15 were both evolutions of the MP4/13," he said. "I would say that the two most critical areas of the car are the front wings and the rear diffuser, so these are the sensitive areas where we have concentrated a great deal of effort over the past months during the development process."
Raising the front wing by 50mm may not seem a great deal, but it has a considerable impact on the overall configuration of the car. In addition, the new rules require a smaller rear wing with the upper plane now limited in depth to a total of three elements and the lower plane to a single element.
As an indication as to just how much downforce has been slashed, McLaren ran seven or eight upper elements at places like Monaco or Hungary in the past. There have also been as many as three elements on the lower plane. Newey explains; "That translates into not a big change at circuits like Hockenheim and Monza, but at circuits like Hungary and Monaco there will be a pretty dramatic reduction in the level of downforce available."
The team has also had a long, self-critical look at the whole question of its race strategies. As a result, there will be subtle changes to the way in which the way in which Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard are assisted from the pit wall during the grands prix.
Ron Dennis acknowledges that there have been times that Michael Schumacher and the Ferrari team have outwitted McLaren's efforts, but he doesn't believe that there is anything magical about this.
"Occasionally an inspirational call from a driver (during a race) will outwit a scientific approach," he concedes. "But I believe in 2001 we will significantly raise the intellectual capability of our circuit performance.
"We are improving all the time and will have the strongest level of at-circuit brainpower working for us than we have had for years. This will manifest itself in better race strategy and the ability to establish the best race set-up for the cars more quickly at a grand prix."
He also believes that the price Ferrari has to pay for Michael Schumacher's services is, in the long-term, too high. "I would rather went spend ten million dollars on something which is going to add performance to the cars of tomorrow as much as for the cars of today," he said.
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