Martin Whitmarsh said he expects McLaren to race their exhaust-blown diffusers in Germany this weekend. It brought to the British Grand Prix but removed them after Friday practice.
He said the configuration, which only Red Bull had on their cars at the start of the season, was one of two notable innovations in F1 this year, along with McLaren’s F-duct, which the team first ran a version of at Monaco in 2009.
Speaking during the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes phone-in Whitmarsh said:
We’re working on the premise that we’ll have blown diffusers on both cars to start with. In Silverstone Lewis wanted to keep the blown diffuser on on Friday night. But we made the decision there to switch them both back to the old diffuser.
We could end up dividing the drivers if there was a preference from one side of the garage to the other. If I can I will avoid that but we’ll do it if we think it’s the right way to perform.
There are advantages to running one car in one configuration and one in the other. But provided that in so doing you don’t end up rightly or wrongly accused of treating the two drivers differently.
And he sees no reason to favour Lewis Hamilton over Button at present:
I think Jenson is second in the drivers’ championship and had two great wins this year. He’s proven a great racing driver and great reader of the race. But also someone who can recover from 14th to fourth is a phenomenally quick and adept racing driver, and has a lot of determination to be able to do that.
I’m sure Jenson hasn’t given way to Lewis’s charge for the world championship. He will want to win this weekend and move that momentum back in his favour and that’s just how it should be.
He pointed out that it was difficult to conduct side-by-side tests of the cars in different configurations because of the time it takes to change the floors:
One of the challenges is that whereas flaps, wings and various aerodynamic appendages are fairly quickly changed on a car, and you can do a back-to-back during a session, the blown diffuser is completely different floor, different heat management components and of course a different exhaust. Therefore it’s not possible to perform an in-session back-to-back. It’s quite difficult to do it even between sessions.
So we will have to rely on the data we previously collected. There will be modifications to the blown diffuser which will probably change between the cars or from one car to another. There is a compromise – in the old days we’d go testing and have two cars run alongside each other. We can’t do that, so we’re torn between the priorities of develop the car for long term improvement versus using the very limited track time the drivers get to understand that particular event, that race circuit and prepare for Saturday qualifying.
So it’s not easy, but it’s the same challenge for everyone.
He explained that part of the decision not to run the new part at Silverstone was because of other challenges presented by the circuit:
Our priority was get as much data as possible and make sure we were treating the drivers as equally as we could. I don’t regret taking it and I don’t regret running it on the Friday.
I think at the time there were a number of things happening at the circuit. The new track had some entertaining bumps in the new section and on the old sections of the circuit, presumably from construction traffic – not a feature that you normally have to deal with at Silverstone.
It was also gusty. And clearly we can’t test before races so I think we got some good information.
There were some views within team by Sunday that we could have left it on the cars but we were conscious of the need to score as many points as possible in the British Grand Prix.
So a decision was taken on Friday to eliminate some of the variables. We couldn’t eliminate the gusts or the bumps but we could eliminate [the new package].
I think it was the right decision. We then had a back-to-back in a sense – on Saturday we ran without the blown diffuser and that was useful to compare with the data we generated from the day before.
I think we did the right thing and I’m comfortable with it.
Button described the car as ‘undriveable’ after qualifying but found it much better during the race. Whitmarsh believes that was because the MP4-25 performs better with a heavier fuel load:
We’ve been working hard to develop the race car this year and I think it’s been fairly quick on a number of occasions, certainly quicker than any other car including the Red Bull.
In qualifying we have comparatively struggled but I think it was a view that Jenson had based on the qualifying car, I think in the race he was quite comfortable.
He believes the team are in a good position providing they keep up their pace of development:
I’m not sure we’ve been behind in the development race. I think we’ve had car that’s been capable of winning races.
You have to be reliable and quick enough to win races. I think we’ve had both of these things generally. You’d always like to be quicker, you’d always like to be more reliable. I think we’re in a reasonable position but we need to develop the car apace if we’re going to win both championships this year.
However early weather forecasts suggests McLaren’s planned testing on Friday could be disrupted. Whitmarsh said:
Inevitably any race weekend can be disrupted by weather. Personally I don’t pay too much attention to weather forecasts until we get within 48 hours of it because they swing about.
We’d prefer it to be dry so we can get more information but we’ll deal with what’s thrown at us.
He added he was surprised more teams hadn’t pursued their own version of the F-ducts after McLaren ran an ‘un-switched’ version of the rear wing at Monaco last year:
This year generally people knew what was coming: there would be more extreme version of double diffusers which of course will disappear next year. The double diffuser last year was something of a surprise to many of us who wouldn’t have deemed it legal were our engineers to have brought such a concept to us.
So that was a surprise and created a lot of catch-up for the teams.
This year I guess there were two things the teams generally didn’t expect. First, the move back to blown diffusers. Blown diffusers have been in F1 several times before. But they have challenges attached to them to get performance so that’s been an interesting tension for various teams.
Similarly the F-duct clearly wasn’t anticipated – oddly, because the F-duct, or a non-switched F-duct was first introduced on a McLaren in Monaco last year 14-15 months ago. Variants of that developed and the switched one obviously started this year and caused a bit of surprise.
But it’s been a particularly interesting set of challenges. I think both of them – exhaust-blown diffusers and F-ducts – are not super-expensive to implement. Certainly the F-duct is a series of carbon fibre ducts and a slot in your rear wing element.
So by Formula 1 standards the cost is within the means and capability of any team to develop and exploit. Blown diffusers offer a bit of an engine management challenge, but that aside they are not too challenging.
But they’re both very interesting topics for F1 teams. And really, historically, not the sort of thing that has been developed in Formula 1. In future we’ve got to concentrate more on high-efficiency concepts in Formula 1 but nonetheless they’ve created some interested dynamics in the season so far.
Asked if he felt the championship was a two-horse race between McLaren and Red Bull, Whitmarsh answered:
I’d love to believe that but experience has told me you can’t write Ferrari off. They’re a strong team, technically capable, with fantastic resources. They’ve got a former world champion and one other top-line driver.
Mercedes similarly have another multiple world champion and a very good driver in Nico as well.
I think it’s too early to write them off
We’re trying to improve our car and do as good a job as we can do. Red Bull are clearly quick at the moment but I don’t dismiss the others.
He added that he wasn’t unduly concerned by Hamilton’s first-lap contact with Sebastian Vettel at the first corner in the last two races:
You want them to be as aggressive as they can be providing the car comes around intact and not requiring a pit stop at the end of the first lap.
A Formula 1 standing start is one of most exciting spectacles. It’s a very critical phase of the race, it’s when you are closest to your competitors, you can lose places or gain them.
And you have to take some risks and have a degree of aggression to do it very well. I think Lewis has done that very well and so, indeed, has Jenson. He came around from 14th to eighth in one lap in Silverstone which was mighty impressive.
You don’t overtake cars like that without taking some risks. The skill of the really great drivers is balancing that risk, taking the right amount of risk to gain what is achievable at the start.
I think both of our drivers have done a very good job in that regard.
2010 German Grand Prix