McLaren struggling or sandbagging?

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Is the MP4-24 a dog or are McLaren being sneaky?

Heikki Kovalainen’s McLaren was at the bottom of the testing times today, 2.6s slower than Nick Heidfeld’s BMW.

McLaren haven’t shown much pace in the pre-season build-up so far, and speculation abounds as to whether the MP4-24 is a dud, or whether they’re ‘sandbagging’ to fool the opposition. Let’s put the theories to the test.

The ‘they’re just slow’ theory

After the MP4-24 hit the track for the first time murmurs from Woking suggested the car producing more drag than computer simulations had suggested it would.

The sight of McLaren mechanics conducting flow-vis tests (applying liquid to the car to study how the air moves around it at speed) fuelled suggestions that what they expected from the new car and what they got were not in agreement with each other.

On top of that McLaren have spent most of the tests so far using a 2008-specification rear wing. Was this because of some defect in the 2009 design?

This could be a huge and fundamental setback for the team of the type that plagued Renault in 2007 – the team went from world champions one year to non-winners the next.

The ‘they’re sandbagging’ theory

The problem with testing is it’s hard to find out what each team is doing, and how much fuel they’re running with. At F1 Insight yesterday Steven Roy had heard a rumour that Kovalainen was persistently backing off to avoid setting quick times in Spain.

The theory that McLaren were hiding their pace is bolstered by a story on Autosport drawing attention to McLaren’s radical new floor arrangement (not shown in the picture above). Craig Scarborough explains:

A triangular section of floor is missing between the forward part of the floor, which follows the curve of the sidepods, and a squared off edge just ahead of the diffuser. […]

A diffuser creates its downforce at two points: firstly at the kick-line between the diffuser/floor, then secondly at its leading edge. By effectively moving this leading edge backwards, McLaren are also moving the downforce it creates towards the rear. This may be part of a McLaren strategy to focus downforce production on the front wing and diffuser, as both devices are efficient at creating downforce with little drag.

This in turn could explain why McLaren have been using their 2008 wing for so long. The team had said they were using it to ‘simulate 2009 downforce levels’: so perhaps they were expecting to get a lot more downforce from the final configuration including the shaped rear floor and final specification rear wing?

Lewis Hamilton will be hoping it’s the latter – or his world championship title defence might not last very long.

Are McLaren stealthily playing down the performance of their car? Or are they set for another uncompetitive season as they had in 2004 and 2006? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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157 comments on “McLaren struggling or sandbagging?”

  1. Robert McKay
    9th March 2009, 22:42

    I think they’re sandbagging. But Mclaren do have the ability to go all Jekyll and Hyde on us, so I’m not entirely confident that they’re not sandbagging.

    1. Robert McKay
      9th March 2009, 22:42

      Scratch that last “not”, oops.

  2. It’s very hard to tell!
    Or they know they are way ahead or they do have a problem.
    But I think it’s more a problem..

    Remember BMW having problems at the tests last year, that went right in the end :)

  3. I don’t think Scarborough was alluding to them sandbagging. Whether it was always part of the plan of not wouldn’t be classed as sandbagging, as all the teams have plans to bring new parts to the car between launch and first race.

    I think McLaren have a fundamental lack of rear end grip with their 09 package, and are having to work overtime to correct it, I can’t see any other reason for using an 08 wing for so long. Even if the plan was this new floor, and a revised rear wing, surely you’d want to make sure you had some kind of backup that works, and it legal, just in case your update isn’t all you expected it to be.

    /2 cents

  4. Well they have run the 09 wing haven’t they? Perhaps they did all the testing they could with it. If the floor is making that much difference they wouldn’t be able to test setups without it, but with the 09 wing.

    I would be surprised if they are really far off it, but…

  5. I want to see Hamilton struggling with the car for once. His F1 career has been to easy so far.

    1. I take it you didn’t think much of his first team mate then? Looked pretty handy to me…

    2. @Keith

      I think we are going to have to agree to disagree on this one Keith. The team was firmly backing up their man (not both men), yep read it as Hamilton. Even James Allen acknowledged this in one of his interviews to F1Racing who is a ginormous Hamilton fan. He went on to suggest that the other “handy” guy could have gone on to win if Macca got things right.

    3. I definitely don’t think ‘easy’ is the word… but I do agree that it would be interesting to see him with a midfield car.

    4. I couldn’t agree more – it would also have been good to see Hamilton start his career in a Spyker or Super Aguri, like most of his contemporaries.

      I still think it is too easy too label him as a super-star talent, when several of his less fortunate rivals have not been given the same opportunities.

      Retrospectively, one cannot say that Alonso was supported as vociferously as Hamilton in 2007, as I am sure he would have been a quadruple champion by now.

    5. “It would also have been good to see Hamilton start his career in a Spyker or Super Aguri, like most of his contemporaries.”

      I don’t understand this idea that new drivers have to start in low-end teams for some reason. Hamilton had, what, nine consecutive podiums in his first nine races? It’s not as if anyone else in the top teams did better over those races.

      Whatever gets said about how Alonso was treated at McLaren the fact remains he had the same car as Hamilton and they ended up with the same number of points. Hamilton more than adequately acquitted himself at McLaren in 2007, and suggesting he would have been better off at Super Aguri is just plain wrong.

    6. That is absolute rubish. You make a poor assumption here – that teams pick and sign drivers for reasons other than skill, hence why it is ‘unfair’ that Hamilton lands in a top car while other drivers such as Glock or whoever else never get the ‘opportunity’.

      This is complete nonsense. There is plenty of data outside of F1 race results to judge a driver on, not least testing and lower formula. It was based on these results that McLaren were confident enough to sign a rookie – they thought (and it turned out they were right) that he was that good. I have no doubt that if Glock et al had equal talents then their skills would be in demand from the top teams.

      These rubbish theories are just Hamilton bashing (and I am by no means a top fan – I am actually a Webber fan, so if anybody had a reason to bitch about not being given chances it would be me for Webber)

    7. @Keith
      “Whatever gets said about how Alonso was treated at McLaren the fact remains he had the same car as Hamilton and they ended up with the same number of points.”

      Mate, if you think about it, Barrichello or any other driver who was a team mate of Schumacher, should have won as much as Schumacher. The fact is, they didn’t. They had the same car but not that support. McLaren aren’t so fair afterall, just ask DC about how he feels when he was asked to give way to Mika Hakkinen.

  6. Wouldn’t be a suprise if they have a poor season… Look at the past few seasons…
    2000 – Good Season,
    2001- Average season,
    2002- Poor season,
    2003 – Good season,
    2004 – Horrible season,
    2005 – Quite good season,
    2006 – Poor season

    To be honest I was suprised they weren’t rubbish in 2008.

    1. to suggest that there are patterns in performance is rubbish. may as well ask the stars or a fortune teller who will win the championship.

    2. Keith – I should have added the caveat – ‘interesting’ to see him in a back of the grid car.

      It will certainly be interesting to see if he can win against the odds in a mid-field McLaren. I’m sure we’ll all be waiting with baited-breath to see ‘our man’ do it.

      Or maybe not.

  7. What’s the point of sandbagging this close to the first race? Somehow I would imagine that if they are sandbagging this would make their test data unreliable. It just doesn’t make sense.

    I’d say they messed up the 2009 car and are designing a new rear wing. Until that arrives they are using the time they have to test other things. Like 2010 tyres, KERS or whatever.

    Hopefully for McLaren, they will get it fixed this test or maybe (if they are even going) for the next test in Jerez.

    1. Whewbacca the Cookie
      10th March 2009, 8:43

      Agree. If today’s date was Jan 1st I’d have said they were sandbagging. When the season opener is less than three weeks away there is no point in not showing your true strength. Perhaps they are testing some secondary systems and collecting data that is purely function-oriented, not performance-based.

  8. Mouse_Nightshirt
    9th March 2009, 23:32

    Struggling – too much work is going on to fix a “healthy” wing.

  9. now that the sport has reached a level of parity exceeding the ford-cosworth era, i really doubt mclaren could produce a pig.

    as for the 2008 wing, i have no idea. they might keep their secret until melbourne. any advantage is an advantage. remember, mclaren committed $10M of aero refinement into the brazilian gp, the last race of the aero era.

    1. That $10M didn’t really do all that much for them, did it? It’s Interlagos – you’ve got two options, high downforce for the windy section, or low downforce to overtake at one of the only places you can – end of the pit straight.

    2. “It’s Interlagos – you’ve got two options, high downforce for the windy section, or low downforce to overtake at one of the only places you can – end of the pit straight.”

      and off course most aero investment is about finding the perfect compromise between the two. its not a binary option like you make out (otherwise it would be very boring and they wouldn’t have to spend tens of millions)

  10. What I love about computer simulations is that they’re so often proved wrong when the car hits the track. We see this again and again in F1 and we’ll see even more of it now that testing is so severely restricted. It’s what happened with the BMW F1.08 last year and it looks like a repeat with the McLaren MP4-24. No one sandbags to that extent.

    Anti-McLaren fans should not celebrate just yet, however. That team has the resources to identify the problem quicker than most and the car will be reasonably competitive at the least. Hamilton might have to try harder in the early races, that’s all.

  11. Keith, I think Damon meant that Lewis has had very good cars so far, so atop of fighting with a hard teammate (Alonso), it would be nice to see him fighting against his own car too.

  12. I’m a mclaren fan, so I hopefully think they are sandbagging, but, what I really think it’s that they are having some kind of trouble with the rear end of the car (rear wing) because I’ve never seen in 7+ years that a team uses that paint to evaluate air flow on track, it’s just rare.
    I hope they can fix all in time for melbourne

    1. The air flow paint tests can be read 2 ways: they have a problem that wasn’t flagged with their CFD or wind tunnel tests OR they want to make sure their CFD and wind tunnel are calibrated properly so they can introduce devastatingly effective parts during the season with little to no testing involved.

    2. Phil you were right on the second guess. With limited on-track testing, it comes down to making CFD and wind-tunnel (to less of an extent) as accurate as possible. What they do is they take photos of the cars and scan the paint lines and input them into their CFD models. The models don’t work unless you have real-world data. There are a lot of formulas and mathematic models in CFD, but there are many variables used as input that require as accurate figures as possible because the variance is huge. Hence the tests.

      That is why despite all the improvements in computer models you still need real-world data to not only complement the data, but as essential inputs in the computation process.

    3. In addition, some of the team can now test individual components using their computer models. This means that instead of testing every permutation of this and that wing or winglet, you test a single component with other known quantities, and take the data and import it into the system. This allows you to then find the most optimal setup and layout for each track.

      McLaren testing with a 2008 rear-wing has nothing to do with that component, it means they are testing another part of the car. They need to use the known quantities to get raw results for whichever part they are testing – so that they can use their data in simulations.

      I don’t know why people are surprised that the car is 3sec slower when they are basically running a butchered hybrid for the sake of collecting data. Once they have all they need, they will throw all the good stuff together and probably already know within 0.001 of a second what time they are going to run in Melbourne. Expect them to come out blistering.

      Just judging from what McLaren are doing in testing (component testing rather than full shake-downs) shows that they have more advanced systems and are a step ahead at the moment in terms of using technology. 2008 won’t be a repeat of 98 but it wont be too far off either.

  13. Mclaren have a history of On-Off years:
    2001 FASTISH
    2002 SLOW
    2003 FAST
    2004 SLOW
    2005 FAST
    2006 SLOW
    2007 FAST
    2008 FAST

    2008 should have been a “SLOW” year going by their recent history, but they won the WDC… Does this mean 2009 will be bad???

    1. Agreed. They are out of sequence for their ‘bad’ year.

      I sincerely hope that they are just sandbagging, as I’d love to see a few – maybe more – teams fighting it out this season.

      Imagine – a season with Macca, Ferrari, Renault & BMW-Sauber all capable of winning races. Bliss !

  14. This is all opinion. I think for sure that testing has not been close to straight forward as they would have liked, but McLaren are a team with enough depth to avoid that being a problem come, worst case scenario, race#3. They do seem fairly reliable, if they’ve been playing with kers as much as they say then their’s should be decent. The thing I’m looking out for are the times this week, McLaren haven’t had a “strong” performance in any test using any 09 config so far. I think that if they show a glimmer at any point this week then sandbagging or problem solved but if still no stand-out performance then they might be set for a poor start to the season/year. Like I say, all opinion but this week must yield some (possibly cryptic) answers?!

  15. I think that McLaren like other teams are working on a copy of the Williams/Toyota diffuser. This will give them a lot more downforce. Rather than test now with reduced rear downforce and collect a load of data that will be useless as soon as they get the diffuser ready they have chosen to simulate the new rear downforce by running a 2008 wing. Of course I could be wrong.

    I expect McLaren to have the fastest car in Melbourne.

  16. Somehow I doubt a new floor design can turn a team from zero to hero in modern F1. Thing is we don’t know what they are testing and a top team like McLaren will not go down that easy. I do believe the car is not as fast as they have hoped for and they might have some little problems(which team doesn’t). The new floor thing might be true, but I doubt other teams won’t notice something like that and even if it does boost performance it will not be enough, if the car is as slow as it has been during some of the tests.

  17. sandbagging no doubt.

  18. I think they’re struggling. If you look at their MP4-24, it’s a very beautiful car – they concentrate more on the aesthetics and have their aerodynamics secondary. Would they take the risk in sandbagging now that the season is only a few days away with a new wing & body set-up?

  19. Maybe they should call Alonso for some tips :)
    Mclaren will be a front runner this year, they’re too professional to fall behind

    1. They’ve done it before, look at the fiasco that was the MP4-18 – most expensive development of an F1 car up to that point and it never really raced!

  20. Regarding the Toyota and Williams’ diffuser replcation, I remember Sam Michael saying two days after Williams’ launch that he noticed three teams that have conservative diffuser designs that could ‘conveniently’ accomodate the structure that Toyota/Williams launched with, assuming McLaren was one of the three then they already had it designed to some extent

  21. And lol at “Sandbagging No Doubt”. Who are you, Renaults cfd computer?!

  22. I think McLaren are having trouble. Surely you don’t spend that much time testing with a wing that bears no relation to what you’re going to have to race with unless things have gone seriously amiss betwixt wind tunnel and track. McLaren have the resources and ability to turn things around quickly, but I don’t believe they’ll have it fully sorted in time for Melbourne.

    Hamilton has a reputation for being hard on his rear tyres, and if the reputed problems with a lack of grip and excessive rear tyre wear are to be believed, then it may be a frustrating start to the season for Messrs. Hamilton and Kovalainen…

  23. Obvious sandbagging, heh, 4 seconds slower almost all day today? then last few laps they gain 2 seconds, strange..

    Also Hamilton saying that Mclaren are far behind etc, why would he say this when he allways like’s to think he has a psycological edge over his advisories? Seems a bluff to me.

    I think there sandbagging no other team is that drastically far behind on the teamsheets.

    -on another note, BRAWNGP, looking amazing for there first test!

    1. I think you are wrong. Lewis doesn’t strike me as a dishonest person. They are in trouble, pure and simple. I wish it were not so.

  24. There is also a possibility that they are confident with their equipment and are now testing aspects of the car that are not so obvious.

    I would rather think that they are behind and struggling. BMW needs to shine in Melbourne. If they don’t, it will make them look pretty bad. They nearly abandoned Kubica’s F 1.08 when he had a great chance for success and turned their efforts to 09. Now its 2009 and they need to prove strong. Ferrari and McLaren were battling hard while others were thinking of 09

  25. Sandbagging at this moment so close to the first race. Why didn’t they sandbag during the 2007 and 2008 test season. This sandbagging thingy is just to save face or should I say a ‘cover-up’. In F1 when testing don’t work out well “sandbagging” is the key word, I guess, pretend to be confident. Anyway, this is a chance for Hamilton to proof his worthiness with a lesser car. In 16 days we will know the truth. BrawnGP did well in their first test.

    1. Bringing up Brawn GP is interesting – surely they’re not going to be quicker than (fellow Mercedes users) McLaren at Melbourne? That gives me cause to think McLaren must be a lot quicker than they’ve looked.

  26. I read somewhere that the Mclaren rear wing is not working as it should and is essentially stalling the aerodynamics at the rear of the car. Which is why they have been using 2008 spec wings in the tests. It seems they have tried 3 different versions of rear wing in the previous test and it didn’t seem to work. Its a believable theory given the circumstantial evidence.

    I am sure though that the Mclaren car would be alright come Melbourne or at worst when they are back in Europe after the flyaways. This car will surely win races. But if it starts the season off the pace, Lewis can forget defending his title given how competitive other teams are.

  27. I’m no fan of mclaren, but I’d say they are sandbagging, I’d like to see them behind on development but the mclaren technical team are some of the smartest around, so I doubt they are struggling, at worst, just a few small issues, nothing that wont keep them from challenging wins

    1. Even Force India was not 2 seconds off the pace in 2008 racing. Given current technologies and their understanding by the teams, I would be surprised if any team is 2 seconds off the top pace. So, my guess is that McLaren is definitely sandbagging here. I am sure we will see a lot of new things during Friday testing at Melbourne.

  28. Eduardo Colombi
    10th March 2009, 3:07

    I did not see Hamilton’s crash, but don’t you think that it could be a sign of McLaren’s problems? was he using 08′ wing? Houston, i think we have a problem…

  29. The tragedy here is that either way it is bad news for F1 fans in general: if McLaren is hiding their game (which I find extremely unlikely considering the drastic reduction in testing time) then they must be exceptionally confident in their car, which means 2009 will be a one horse season (well, we’d get to see Lewis x Heikki, but something tells me it wouldn’t be very exciting).

    On the other hand, if they truly have a problem of this magnitude then McLaren fans might have to live with a season of playing catch-up. If that’s the case, let’s hope that another team (maybe more!) take the challenge to Ferrari.

    1. McLaren being slow wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing for the racing…some of the best racing has been when incredibly gifted drivers haul a dog of a car to finishing positions they, in all honestly, had no right being in!

      Senna was famous for this.

    2. Of course, that goes without saying (don’t worry, being brazilian I remember Senna very well indeed).

      My point is that I hope to see a season with a few top teams (hopefully 2 or 3) challenging each other, rather than a season with an absolute stand out team and others fighting for the scraps. Even the great Senna couldn’t take the challenge to the Williams’ in 1992-93 simply because their car was significantly superior.

    3. Well If not Mclaren then I hope BMW or Williams take it to Ferrari

  30. Hard to believe that McLaren would be truly struggling with all the resources the team has. While they may not be in a true “struggle” , I think the 2008 rear wing useage indicates they have some problems that aren’t sorted out yet. Obviously, if that’s the case, they need to get their act in order ASAP.

  31. If Mclaren are sandbagging,why are they always faster with the 08 spec rear wing?I don’t think there is any reason for them to be super-confident at this time as all teams will be keeping their cards closely(especially BMW,Williams & renault).The same was said about renault in 2007,when they struggled in testing.And they did struggle to the end.I think sandbagging at a time like this will not give any results.
    They are really having a problem.

  32. Terry Fabulous
    10th March 2009, 4:26


    As many have pointed out, last year was the first time in ages that they managed to put together two strong years consecutively.

    Don’t forget also that at the end of 08, they and Ferrari were throwing time and money at the current cars while the rest of the grid quietly prepared for 09.

    And also, all the talk about McLaren’s amazing resources conveniently forgets that Toyota, BMW and Ferrari are spending the same amount.

  33. At some point in testing, you need to prove on track just how fast your car is, in race trim. Look at BrawnGP (Lord, that reads great, doesn’t it?!?!?!) first time out of the box, light fuel and all, they had to find out the limit of the cars performance.

    If Mac can’t generate a top 3 lap time then I don’t think it’s sanbagging. Then again, I can’t believe that knucklehead RD would allow Lewis to race for 5th place at Interlagos with the title on the line either.

    The point is that McLaren tend to do strange things strategically, but I’ll vote the “In trouble” ticket on this issue.

  34. certainly struggling, i don’t think its clever compromising ‘real testing of the car’ for the sake of putting sand in others eyes. I mean seeing a slow McLaren will put skeptical Ferrari nd friends at ease?

    1. especially after 2007 Spygate….

  35. Of all the teams on the grid, I just can’t see McLaren being the only one to fall totally on their ****. In Melbourne I expect unique parts on the car they don’t want the other teams to see yet and suspect that is the reason they are not showing their pace in testing at the moment.
    That’s just my hunch though.

    I can’t wait for Melbourne to see the true pecking order. The teams can’t all be at the top so seeing who is going to be giving Ferrari and McLaren a run for their money is really interesting. I’d like to see Williams and Toyota up there and Williams’ flywheel KERS to run well.

  36. I’d vote for sandbagging. There’s simply no way they can be this far off the pace, seeing how other teams have actually caught up with Ferrari.

  37. I would love them to actually be struggling just to see if Hamilton is really as good as he thinks he is.

    But unfortunately, they are probably just sandbagging and will back up the top with Ferrari come Melbourne

    1. Er, he’s the world champion and his teammate came 7th. Unbelievable!

    2. If you don’t think Hamilton has already proved this you obviously haven’t seen his amazing comeback in that infamous Turkish GP2 race.

  38. In my opinion, they are not sandbagging, but at the end they will be one of the top contenders as every year.

    If they are using 2008 rear wing because this set up simulates the downforce they will have with their final 2009 aeropackage, one must say their times have not been quite a lot extarordinary to see McLaren blowing up the rest of the teams.

    So, they will be one of the title contenders, but not the superfast car some McLaren fans are imaging.

    1. S Hughes – that was in a GP2 car and cannot be compared to F1.

    1. Its a very pretty car even if its screwed up, well done Mclaren!

  39. i am a fan of Hamilton and Mclaren. Aperantly some people ( read many )think that Hamilton was faster of Alonso in 2007 because of the team etc..
    Some of those people should do a little research because he was quick in everything he drove up to f1.
    As for Mclaren this year i am on the thinking that they have problems with the car.

  40. Interesting theory but personally I’m getting a little concerned with McLaren…

    1. I know yesterdays test results should not be over analysed but I wonder how much support McLaren will continue offering Brawn GP at this rate…

  41. Finally 0.6 seconds are gone.

  42. McLaren is sandbagging. Just to be annoying – they will probably win Melbourne.

  43. Personally I think this is a pretty big issue. I suspect it is solvable but it will hurt McLaren for the first four-six races.

    It is very rare in public testing for teams to use Flow-vis paint – gives too much info about flow to competition so that in itself indicates there is an issue. How big an issue we don’t know for sure but looking at tyre wear at the rear end it is clear than back stability is an issue. Running the 2008 wing is try to replicate intended downforce to test the front of the car – probably trying to determine if the issue was at the front of the car. If there is still an issue with the 2008 rear wing attached then that indicates the problem is at the front of the car.

    McLaren may sort out this issue before Melbourne but other teams are focusing on set-up in the current round of testing. Given the testing ban playing catch-up is that much harder. Valuable resources are being used up where they wouldn’t otherwise be.

    Some pundits point to Renault issues in 2007 as a corollary example. Far from it. The Renault issue was a result of a cock-up on rear-forward balance, fundamentally caused by the V-keel approach. The McLaren issue feels aerodynamic.

    I’m willing to bet that neither McLaren will be on the front row for Australia. Any takers?

    1. It is very rare in public testing for teams to use Flow-vis paint

      Haven’t Renault also been using it in public this off-season?

    2. i thought all of the big league race teams used flow-vis all the time.

    3. I won’t take it as a bet because I agree with you.

      For those who think it’s just sand-bagging: just make sure you’re not assuming that Ferrari and the rest are running at full speed and spec. If they aren’t, it could be 3-4 seconds that McLaren need to find in ,what, 16 days? Lifting off on straights or not, that’s a lot of time to find. I’d say there’s definitely a problem, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t be in the top ten every qualifying, or be challenging for podiums or even wins at some stage.

      Just because McLaren may not be the fastest this season, doesn’t mean they’ll be the slowest.

  44. I think we’ll only know if it’s sandbagging or genuine trouble when it comes to race day.

    Interesting to see McLaren have taken the front wheel hubcaps to a whole new level this year. They stick out to the front edge of the tyres, and look fairly ugly in doing so.

  45. McLaren does appear to have had some problems with its rear wing. From what I could see, it is the only team to have done significant running with a 2008-spec rear wing on a proper (i.e. not interim) 2009 car. There has also been some speculation that McLaren’s 2009-spec rear wing has been prone to stalling, which would make the handling somewhat difficult.

    However, working through problems like this is what testing is for. BMW Sauber appeared to be struggling in testing last year but were quick straight out of the box in Melbourne. If any team has the resources to be able to understand the problem and work out how to fix it then it has to be McLaren.

  46. Hugo Bourgeois
    10th March 2009, 9:33

    struggling… I’m too worried about that rear wing element. They should at least have that fixed or used, even… I wonder how their speed has changed, compared to that of the others. Let’s say basis for comparison would be January.

  47. I don’t think they have an issue at all

    “The morning session was spent focusing on longer runs using an existing bodywork package in order to establish an accurate baseline ahead of the evaluation of new parts in the afternoon.”

    just basic testing – not trying to throw down hot times.

    1. Sounds like Ronspeak for “we have a problem and we’re trying to fix it.”

  48. I’d love to see McLaren struggling, and I’m a McLaren fan. Thing is, it would give Hamilton a chance to silence all the critics who say that he’s “not that good and only wins because he has the best car”.

    People often say that Schumacher, Senna et al could still win given a car that was less than the best – I’d love to see Hamilton do that this year.

    On the other hand, my primary support has been for Button since he started in F1 and I’m 100% behind the Brawn GP guys this year, so I’d love to see them being the team McLaren have to beat.

    As for any question over how much “support” McLaren will give Brawn GP if they’re being beaten by the customer team. Well it’s simple, they will presumably hand over the engines and have nothing more to do with it…

    Either that or Ross will answer his phone, listen to someone talk and then reply with…

    “What do you mean you want borrow our rear wing..!!”

  49. As a huge LH fan, I am distraught at all this. I think they have problems and I am faced with a 2009 season of despair.

    1. Who did you support up until 2007? You could just go back to them for the year.

    2. No, I will always be loyal to McLaren/Lewis.

    3. c’mon – it will be fun. Needs to prove himself.

    4. S Hughes – “As a huge LH fan, I am distraught at all this. I think they have problems and I am faced with a 2009 season of despair.”

      Welcome to life as a Williams fan!

  50. Oh well, no point debating, we’ll know soon enough if they’ve got what it takes.

    It would be nice if Lewis gets a really sh*t car and does an 08 Alonso, by making it better and winning races. At least he will asnwers his critics.

    1. Is Hamilton loyal to you though?

  51. As a McLaren fan and a pessimist I think they are struggling.
    It’s all very well saying they are going to bring some super secret developments to the last test which will blow the opposition away, but no matter what all the computer and wind tunnel simulations say there is no substitute to actually bolting the pieces on the car and going round the track.

  52. Sandbagging. There is no way the Mclaren is as slow as they are showing. However what if the other teams are sandbagging to?

  53. I do think that McLaren are hiding their pace to a degree, but I don’t think they would sandbag to that extent, maybe they would mix it with brawn and rbr if they were hiding their true pace. We can’t forget that there is the possibility that most of the other teams are also not doing quali pace. To be so far towards the bottom of the sheet says that they are almost definitely having some issues. The only thing we know for certain though is that no team can be written off at this stage of the year.

    That floor looks awfully close to the rear wheels, doesn’t it? If they have a puncture or tyre delaminating it would be interesting to see whether or not it would tear it apart.

    Talking about tyres, how are McLaren handling theirs?

    Whatever happens, I hope that either Ferrari or Fernando win the championships.

  54. I find it hard to believe that McLaren are having problems, especially as one of their own is on the Overtaking Working Group who came up with the new aero regs.

    This should have given them a large head-start over the others.

  55. I really hope they’re not sandbagging.

  56. I would vote for Struggling.

    The Sand Bagging advocates are pointing to 2008 BMW testing pace. But mind you; BMW admitted later, they were not sandbagging in testing; and the car took a really long time to find its sweet spot.

    Mclaren also seem genuinely slow. I will echo John Beamer’s point of using green paint. A team intent on sandbagging won’t give away air-flow details around their car so freely to other teams.

    But by struggling I mean; below the pace of BMW, Red Bull and Ferrari. They should still be faster than other mid-field teams like Renault, Willimas and others.

  57. it looks like mclaren are in the thick stuff thinkin of the poor form that blighted them in 04 when they got there new areo super computer and things went totally side ways on them this is mayb 1 of them seasons that macl has from time 2 time look at the car that RBR has bulit and who has designed it macl lost 1 the best ever f1 designer and i thing it shows the first time i seen the car in reminded me off the 96 ferrari that bulbus bubbley look? im not sure but i think sand bagging isnt an option macl have a problem. but they r very good at fixing problems so the first race is deffo goin 2 b intresting roll on the end of march wooohooo!!!!!

  58. I agree with ‘breezer’ this year’s McLaren does remind me of the ’96 Ferrari, it looks quite heavy and overly bulky at the front. There doesn’t appear to be anything particurly special or groundbreaking about the design, unlike the Red Bull, which incorporates a lot of clever ideas, like the rear suspension. Or the Renault, although ugly it has a very cleverly designed front nose, which generates downforce on the underside.

    Are they struggling? Well so far in all the testing we haven’t seen anything to suggest that this car is one of the fastest. So I think that says it all really! In previous winter testing, I’ve never really seen them sandbagging before. I remember in ’98 pre-season testing, before the first race it was clear that McLaren had the fastest car, but it didn’t become apparant how much faster it was until the race in Melbourne was over!

    A lot of people seem to think that it’s a given that the McLaren will be one of the fastest cars, but when you look at their form from previous years, their form is really quite patchy. When you compare them to Ferrari, from ‘1997 to ‘2008 they’ve only produced one dud car – the ’05 Ferrari.

    1. thanks jasper u know ur stuff m8 haha… the 05 car wasnt as bad as it lookt it really was the fia lookin to demott ferrari and give the other teams a chance to recover thats how i felt then and still do it was plain as the nose on my face. roll on the first race in melbourne i havnt been this excited since… 2006 shumi com back they wer great races. im not 1 sided anymore apart from ferrari but im hopin therel b 6r7 drivers pushin at the front this year that would be the dogs balls yeehaaa..

  59. It’s really too strange. I think they are in serious trouble, perhaps McL are more testaholics than the other teams due to their bigger budget, but then why are they wasting precious test time? I can believe they could get into trouble, but it seems impossible that they aren’t able to react.
    As for the sandbagging theory, it is common knowledge that there is very little room for improvement nowadays, there aren’t “miraculous” or revolutionary solutions anymore. So why would they do that much ado for a 0.2 seconds advantage? But then again, some modern day Colin Chapman or Gordon Murray could prove me wrong.
    But, if they are sandbagging, please do it in a subtle manner. 4 secs behind the leader? Ridiculous…

  60. Whether they are sandbagging or struggling points up a bigger issue. If they are struggling how do they regain form without any in season testing???

    As many have pointed out wind tunnels and CFD modeling can only take you so far, the proof is where the rubber meets the road. If they are struggling it would take 4-6 races to come up with a competitive repair and that may cost them the season.

  61. Y’know I’m gonna stick with the theory i proposed last week – McLaren have found something for the rear wing that the others haven’t and they will leave it as late as possible before showing everyone what they have got. comfortable McLaren 1-2 in Melbourne :D

    1. But they have also been running a 2009 rear wing in testing…and even if this theory were true, a rear wing alone will not make the huge difference you allude to.

    2. 4th and 8th jon they r in the **** im afraid ur season is over b4 it begins mcl! r else they will build a new car over the nex 2 week :L

  62. i just can’t seee any other reason why heikki will back off on the long straights to avoid setting a fast time ,it just points out that they are trying to hide something until the friday sessions ,and with in-season test banned ,they( MCLAREN )know that by then even if any of the teams learn about thier innovations they won’t have enough testing time to develop such innovation to work for them .

    won’t be surprised to see mclaren leaving the field behind in melbourne ,for now i have my fingers curved

  63. Given the current situation about McLaren, I’ve finally reached a conclusion in a rather agnostic view that we cannot draw any conclusion based on these data whether they are sandbagging or struggling.

    One thing however is for sure -thanks to almost 3-sec off the pace performance- that McLaren doesn’t want anybody to have an idea about either how much they screwed up or how much they hit the jackpot.

  64. I think they are struggling, because if they used the 2008 wing to generate the amount of grip the 2009 package is supposed to have, they would have produced some more competetive times.

    I don’t think the extra drag on the straights will result in a 2 second gap.

  65. think of this what serious team who have problems with 2009 season will have anything to do with 2008 rear wing and 2010 tyre models ,just my observation.

  66. I´m just guessing…

    The bottom of time sheets today was:
    9. K. Nakajima – WilliamsFW31…………….1:22.813
    10 H. Kovalainen – McLarenMP4-24…….1:22.948

    GAP: 0.135

    It is not big.

    I think the diference has to do with KERS weight.
    Alianora has wrote an interesting article about KERS that could highlight some ideias about the way the system could affect a car performance regarding weight.

    A QUOTE:

    “KERS systems of the current generation weigh between 20kg and 65kg. As such, the lightest is like carrying a smallish dog in the car and the heaviest is like carrying an extra adult passenger (one that weighed as much as a fairly typical F1 driver).

    10kg of weight costs between 0.1 and 0.3 seconds per lap. So the currents units will cost a average of between 0.2 and 1.3 seconds a lap. When the total benefit is considered to be 0.35 seconds at best, this causes a problem – many of the systems are so heavy that the would make the car slower.

    Even if the question of balancing weight with technology comes out in favour of technology, the weight issue arises in another form. F1 car and driver combinations have minimum weight limit of 605kg. The previous paragraph explains why additional weight is not welcome. What may not be immediately obvious is that the teams have for many years managed to make their cars so light that they have had to install ballast to make the car/driver combination meet the minimum weight again.”

    You could read the article in full here:

  67. Bollywood Bub
    10th March 2009, 17:06

    Someone earlier in the thread suggested that McLaren’s (seeming) lack of pace could have steemed from the drastic reduction in testing because they’re overly dependent upon it, given their resources. I wouldn’t have thought so.

    I’d read somewhere that McLaren had made some investment some years ago in some super duper simulator to get around the lack of testing they had in comparison to Ferrari who could, in the previous years, freely take their cars for a spin at Fiorano. By this logic, I’d have thought that it’d be Ferrari who’d feel the squeeze of the test bans the most.

    Not a McLaren fan myself, but I think they’re sandbagging, they’re simply too good at what they do. Besides, the race tell will the truth about the car.

  68. Maybe it’s both – sandbagging how slow they really are :p

    I’d say it’s sandbagging until proven otherwise – and I hope the other teams treat it as such. I’d expect McLaren to be in amongst the top at Australia, and if not then they were just slow…in which case you can almost be sure they’ll pick up the pace quickly into the season.

    If they’re slow, then this is the best time for other teams to make the most of the points available.

  69. as a brit i really hope they’re snadbagging otherwise hamilton could find himself in a tricky position.

  70. They must be having some problems. If you are playing with sandbagging you aim to the midfield of the timesheets not the last places.

    Also,there is their weird game with last year rear wind.

    I think the have some problems that i’m sure they will solve..since they are a big wealthy team

  71. Interesting snippet from James Allen:

    On one occasion, Kovalainen lined up just in front of Raikkonen and when the McLaren launched, the Ferrari went too. Within 300 meters the Ferrari was in front. It was that noticeable. Now Kovalainen could have been playing games, knowing the Ferrari was behind him and watching, but it didn’t sound that way.

    1. Sounds as if Kovy was just having a more chilled out out-lap than Kimi.

      Maybe Kimi just wanted some clean air (despite new regs) and a clean run?

      Unless there’s a video with Kovy repeatedly urging his car to go faster, I’d be weary of the context of this. Another tactic (speculation on my behalf, dunno if it’s been done before, or effectively for that matter) is that once you are recognised to be slow, you exagerrate it so that disarms your rivals even more. Kinda like the crippled playing the dead.

  72. I’ll just have to wait for the first race before I make my conclusion. But I guess, Mclaren is always the team to beat.

    (P.S. – am a Ferrari fan)

  73. im not quite sure to make of this…most ppl are blaming the rear wing…its not THAT hard to design a rear wing that works reasonably well (the other teams have). they can get a junior designer to make a basic wing from scratch to test if the rear wing was such a problem. perhaps they created this illusion to distract us from the real problems of the car…or the total perfection of the car…we’ll see march 29th!

  74. If they’ve put as much effort into the car as their latest Mclaren/vodafone viral marketing video then it should be fine.

  75. well lets see mac 1sec fasterthan monday ferrari 0.5 sec faster,renault slower

  76. Heikki Kovalainen said in the interview of finnish magazine that Mclaren is slower what they thought it would be. He said that they are not where they should be and that they have a lot of work to do.

    So no sandbagging…they are just behinde test schedule.

  77. Oh yeah and they have problem to cool brakes. Their cooling system do not work like it did in simulator.

    Thats information what Kovi gave.

    1. I’d say there are more chances for struggling. They are constantly slow. I don’t know if they would be able to sandbagg this constantly (especially when changing so many things on the car). Besides, I don’t think they would have any benefit by performing this level of sandbagg as they are only encouraging the competition. I don’t imagine Ferrari saying “well they are so slow, our job is done, let’s go home” they will further try to improve with more optimism on their side as they will not have the same level of tension applied as I think McLaren might have right now.
      I hope McLaren will be able to fix their issues and still be able to challenge for the title. Though… to me it looks like they are already playing catch-up just that they are not losing any championship points … yet.

  78. hello f1 fanatic, first complements to keith for creating such a wonderful website & this happens to be my first post.well i am relatively new to formula 1, so please dont take my opinion seriously, in particular mclaren fans. of late there has been a lot of heated debate as to whether mclaren are so called “sandbagging” or are they really slow & struggling as the testing times suggest. i am seriously of the opinion that mclaren have committed the same mistake twice in the same decade. “radical approach”. while one could have justified this approach in the design of their 2003,2004 cars as the ferrari of that era seemed to be unstoppable & mclaren definitely needed a step up in performance. but we all know how the mp4-18 & 19 failed. not many radical designs have succeeded in the modern era. now again after 5 years they are in my opinion committing the same mistake. there was no need for mclaren to the up the performance upto an all new level since they are at par with arch rivals ferrari in any case . seeing their testing times cannot install any confidence in them.not so very long ago, McLaren used effectively to own barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya, which is regarded as one of the most comprehensive tests of a car’s capabilities on the Formula One calendar & seeing them strrugling to beat their B team force india in the same circuit is a painful sight. in my opinion this is going to be a repeat of the 2004 season. i am not saying that ferrari will dominate but for sure the mclaren will struggle for the first few races . only saviour for mclaren will be the mp4-24B. thank you.

    1. u hav hit the nail on the head borat

  79. Unless they pick up pace in the last few days of testing , I say they are not sandbagging , they have some problems. Considering the major changes on this years cars , even a resourceful team like McLaren will at least want to know how they compare out on the actual track itself against , before arriving at the 1st race.

  80. After Toyota and Williams revealed their cars – 1 other team went to work on changing their rear end to be the same.

    I think this team is McLaren and thats why we are seeing the 2008 wing in action…

  81. The proof of the pudding will be at Jerez next week. If McLaren are still slow then we know they are struggling. I think they will want to set some fast times just to be sure…

  82. He doesnt say they are Struggling.. he just says they are not where they want to be… Surely ALL teams would want to be ahead of where they are at the moment.

  83. I hope McLaren are sandbagging, but I have a feeling that something is wrong. Hope it can be sorted out quickly.

  84. they are probably running their car in race trim with the 2010 spec tire again

  85. Pete Firestarter
    11th March 2009, 14:29

    I think McLaren are in a bad shape this season. They are struggling for pace and their design principle for the new car are flawed (Or is it floored!). The F1 overtaking group even used McLaren’s wind tunnel, McLaren’s test driver etc, and look whats happened. I think heads need to roll.
    If you look back, Adrian Newell revitalized the MP2? to a faster, then stable and winning car. Adrian put the design together and the rest were evolutions. So the new car has no baseline carried forward from Newell. Also (i know he was bad), there is no Coughlan! Paddy Lowe and his guys need some fresh ideas. As sorry as i am, i think McLaren season is a write off, unleass they buy Honda,s (BrawnGP) car off the shelf!

    I also advise Lewis to start looking for a new team.

    McLaren, lets start working on 2010!

    1. Wow, that’s some write-off! Everyone knows McLaren will fight it out – they have the technology and resources – and they will likely be in amongst the top at some point in the season even if they are behind just now and at Australia.

      Lewis will be fine where he is – you can’t expect a team to be churning out championship winners ALL the time. No team does that (anyone who says Ferrari, look at 2005 and 1979-1997). Besides, he’s made it clear he doesn’t want to race for anyone else :D

      Nobody can write off McLaren so quickly. They’ll come back guns ablazing. They annoyingly always do.

    2. Pete Firestarter
      11th March 2009, 15:59

      This is from the tests going on today:

      Lewis is 2s off the pace on average! How can you get that back in F1? Maybe they will get 0.5 before Australia! 2 seconds is a huge gap!

  86. ok now I am really beginning to wonder how many times people have to be told that pre-season testing is an extremely poor indicator of what times and performance at the first race will be.

    you simply just can’t look at the testing at Jerez and say Lewis is 2sec slower, so he needs to make up 2sec before Melbourne. Anybody with a clue on how pre-season testing works (and testing in general) knows that such a theory is just preposterous and absolute rubbish.

    I am bookmarking this thread just so that I can point back to it once the race in Melbourne is over. You guys might then finally learn just how different real-race and test performance are.

    1. It’s all very well saying that but even James Allen and other “experts” trackside are casting doubts. The way Lewis was looking at his crashed car today said it all. He didn’t look impressed!

  87. I thought the reason why Ferrari were poor in 2005 was because of the tyres rather than the car itself.
    When the rules changed so tyres had to last the whole race, Michelin did a better job than Bridgestone, except for Indy obviously.

  88. In today’s test Mac was 2.5 seconds off the pace AND Hamilton put the car in the sand. Which to my way of thinking, he was exploring the limits of the car and setup
    and couldn’t generate any speed.

    Yes testing is different than racing, but could Mac be SO confident in their performance not to show it AT ALL during testing?

    I don’t think so and therefore conclude they are in deep horse dip. I hope I’m I’m wrong, but it just doesn’t add up.

    1. Pete Firestarter
      11th March 2009, 18:37

      I am a McLaren fan, but i think next season i will have to support another team as i know it will take half the season to challenge for wins. It is a shame of lewis as he will not defend his title. This is really a new formula and if BrwanGP have got the steal, then fair play. In fact, they had all things going for them last year in terms of preparing for this year – all the honda money and they stopped developing that car (which looks better than McLaren of this season so far).
      I think i will get my kids some new T-Shirts for BrawnGP and JB.

      It will be awful for or departing champion. Really McLaren have missed the point.

      Some years ago, McLaren come up with a dog of a car (the one Mansell refused to drive) which was purely designed by a computer (probably a x386 in those years). It was a flop! I think something if that nature is evident here. So if say the problem is aerodynamics, surely the whole car is wrong and will be a err Honda 2009?

  89. Slightly off-topic, with the abolition of flip-ups and the likes, what is with the uber hub-cab, spinner-wannabe on the Mc?

  90. Interesting angle on the discussion from James Allen:

    There are many who think it’s a new approach to testing in a season when testing will be banned from two weeks from now onwards. McLaren have even run Monaco parts along with the rest of the job sheet.

  91. Now THAT’s a brilliant bit of insight that I dare say no one else has thought of yet! New hope springs in the hearts of all McLaren fans. Their car is SO good they are testing components for different tracks to insure their dominance for the entire year.

    I take it all back, they’re not in trouble they’re brilliant!!!

  92. “Wow” could it be so, if this the case what a genius idea, still holding my breath until the first race.

  93. That’s because they don’t have F Alonso to make their car perform better.

    1. Couldn’t have put it better myself…I don’t think it’s any surprise that McLaren have been hugely competitive since their more circumspect 2006 season. Alonso’s testing nous shaped the 2007 car and will have influenced a lot of decisions in 2008 as well. Hamilton can’t bring that experience to the table yet – I certainly don’t get the feeling from him that he is in possession of the same level of ferocious intelligence that his ex-team mate has.

    2. Reading this, I came to a conclusion that he should be doing a good job at his own team…

      The time sheets doesn´t show anything special in the R29 so far…

  94. Every time McLaren has a problem … it’s because Alonso is not there. For sure I can understand Alonso’s fan but … it is a bit exaggerated.
    Ok … maybe a bit more to me honest.

  95. Well here we go – McLaren sandbagging or do they have a finely developed donkey? – do no teams hold back just a bit during testing sessions? – which thankfully do not earn points – or do they thrash them to the point where they are only fit for scrap?
    Roll on the real race in Australia and then we can see who and what works right – looking forward to then.

  96. Here is the full-stop to the discussion:

    “We are not competitive” -Mclaren.

  97. So it seems they are struggling after all. If you think about it, if last year the best quali time was 1.20.7 or so… well McLaren have already achieved this (bearing in mind that it is said that the car should have less downforce than in 2008 and the slicks will not fully recover the loss of downforce) plus the drop of rpm from 19.000 to 18.000.
    The problem is that some teams (and I’m really surprised by BrawnGP) have done extremely well, even going under 1.19 …. it seems staggering to me that the car of 2009 is about 1 second faster than the one from 2008.

    1. It’s actually 2 second faster. Q2 time was 1:20.7, while Rubens’ time 1:18.9.

  98. I guess we know now, struggling, time is running out, lets hope it can be fixed. But to be honest the bullish talk from Martin and Haug is unconvincing. Lewis must be beside himself with worry.

  99. I agree, the way they spoke about it doesn’t make it sound like it’s a quick fix. Designing, manufacturing and testing of new parts is a lengthy process, especially with a lack of in season testing. Being behind at Melbourne could mean struggling all season.

  100. So it is official now as this links suggests:

    So the main topic in the early part of the season (or the rest of the season if Brawn gests some big money sponsors)will be – Is JB faster than Rubens Barrichello? This is worth starting a new thread…

    Cannot wait.

    As for all of us McLaren supporters, mid season maybe, otherwise its all gone.

  101. theRoswellite
    13th March 2009, 22:29

    WOW…….what a post response!

    Numerous comments seem to assume that it should be almost impossible to “get it wrong” when the teams have top computer simulation programs, wind tunnel and past data histories to feed into future design parameters. The problem is still complexity, and more to the point, that the system under question is dynamical or nonlinear in nature.

    If you look at certain key ideas reflected in Chaos Theory, you find that extremely small changes can result in unpredictable results, and, in fact, it can be impossible to predict with absolute certainty the results if…. the elements are complex or variable enough. Remember, often the performance variation between success and failure falls well within one percent.

    When you consider ALL the factors that come into play regarding the performance of a GP car….on track…it is easy to see why only actual testing can provide for an “ultimate reality check”.

  102. McLaren have a major problem, which will see them running down in 10th most of the time and have them struggling to get into the points. This season they will have a mare just like they did in 2004. Hamilton will struggle. They should correct it again for 2010 im sure. Ferrari will be fighting it out with Renault, Red Bull, and more than likley the new BrawnGP team. Which im happy about as I am not a fan of Hamilton, Mclaren, and Dennis. Anyone Remember they stole Ferrari information? This is why with the new rule changes they have to think for themselves, and they just arnt that good at it.


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