McLaren explain Suzuka car problems

2012 Japanese Grand Prix

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Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, Suzuka, 2012McLaren believe they have got to the bottom of the problems which affected their cars during the Japanese Grand Prix.

Managing director Jonathan Neale said in a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Phone-in that reliability problems are “always a concern for a Formula One team because when you’re pushing, we have to take a managed risk”.

Jenson Button’s gearbox problem was traced back to an overheating brake duct which caused a fire during his first pit stop, Neale explained:

“When Jenson came in for his first pit stop the rear-right brake duct was very hot and was smoking. Although the stop went OK the mechanics reported there was a small fire on the rear brake duct, which is not altogether uncommon.

“But on this particular occasion that melted one of the harnesses that travel down the rear suspension, through into the brake duct. And it was that melting the harness that caused an electrical short from time to time and that upset Jenson’s gearbox.

“We could see that on the data back in the garage. We had a range of options open to us but the software in the gearbox contained it pretty well for us. There was a few anxious moments when he came in for his second stop, we could have exposed ourselves to the same problem. But as it was it continued. So nothing fundamentally wrong with the system there, or the system’s design, just a result of overheating the rear-right brake duct.

“The brake ducts were certainly picking up a lot of rubber during the race and we’ve seen rubber debris from the tyre affecting the car throughout the weekend.”

Hamilton “wrestling with the car”

Tyre debris was also a factor in Lewis Hamilton’s problems during the race, said Neale:

“At or around about lap 21 Lewis felt what he thought was a mechanical balance change in the car. That was probably an aerodynamic balance change as a result of debris somewhere, probably pick-up on the front wing or around the front floor somewhere.

“He ran four laps with a car that was at a very forward balance which made it very difficult to control. And then whatever was on the car let go and Lewis said the car felt like it had just come to life and he could drive it properly again.

“But there certainly was a four-to-five lap window in which he was wrestling with a car that wasn’t handling properly and we think that was tyre debris somewhere in the system.”

Neale said Hamilton began the race having gone the wrong way on set-up following a technical problem on his car during practice:

“We had set-up issues in Japan. Lewis took the responsibility on Saturday for the set-up direction, I think with the benefit of hindsight and the analysis after the event, there were some technical issues with the car on Friday that contributed to he and his engineer taking a particular set-up decision that, with the benefit of hindsight, was wrong.

“So that’s not entirely a judgement call – there were some technical issues that we probably should have found. But we can rectify that for this race.”

Hamilton’s original problem was believed to have been related to the suspension.

2012 Japanese Grand Prix

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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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    24 comments on “McLaren explain Suzuka car problems”

    1. Another reliability problem of MP4-27?

    2. Too much aero relieance on todays cars

    3. So Hamilton didn’t choose the wrong setup after all. He was never going to be able to choose the right setup.

      1. And I was giving him stick for it on Twitter. Oops.

    4. Somehow, looking at Mclaren’s reliability, I now feel maybe Lewis’ move to Mercedes was a smart one. Maybe he’ll run through a dry spell for like 2 years, but then eventually he will be in a championship winning car, hopefully with better reliability.

      1. Mercedes isn’t reliable either.

      2. No, the Mercedes right now isn’t reliable. The real upside of the move is that Hamilton will get Brawn and Willis to custom tailor him a car. We can already see that with a car cut for two different men, he continues to be phenomenally quick in raw pace while cinching in the slack by set up. In that case, the 2014 Mercedes need be only as reliable as the next quickest car. I expect next year’s car to be a terrible dog, turned out early by junior engineers and then ignored, while the big names in the team work on a Hamilton-specific 2014 car.

    5. I’m confused . What was the problem ultimately ?
      a) The suspension ?
      b) The tyre depris affecting the aerodynamic balance?
      c) Some false component driving Hamilton to a wrong setup in Friday?
      d) all the above?
      d+) maybe a gearbox problem?

      1. @cosmas A caused C, then B happened.

        1. thanks Keith ,
          i thought A and C were not related.

      2. d+ was the other guy ;)

    6. This detail debrief just goes to prove how close to the edge of the envelope the teams are with their cars now. Three years’ stable-ish rules and they’ve wrung every last tiny drop out of the formula, to the point where a bit of rubber getting stuck to the car can make a significant difference to the balance.

      Can’t wait for 2014.

      1. @topdowntoedown

        bit of rubber getting stuck to the car can make a significant difference to the balance

        Which also happened to Hamilton in Korea last year – in that case it also manifested itself in a sudden increase in understeer.

    7. So it wasn’t Hamilton’s fault?

      1. William Brierty
        11th October 2012, 17:59

        Just like it wasn’t Hamilton’s fault that he got a rubbish start and had poor pace at the Australian GP he had “a clutch software clitch and an aerodynamic imbalance.”

        1. Some people still think Hamiltons gearbox failure in Brazil 2007 was Lewis ‘cracking under pressure’, so, y’know, pinch of salt and all that..

          1. That’s what I though back then (and I was rooting for Lewis) but then I learned that it was down to “bad luck”…

          2. No, but going off the road and losing positions early in the race was.

            1. Oh you mean where he had to lift off to avoid the abnormally slow Ferrari on the exit of turn one ( ) (giving Alonso the opportunity to pass) and then locked up as he had to swerve to avoid contact with Alonsos rear into T4?

              Some drivers avoid contact and lose places and are deemed heros, some drivers avoid contact, lose places, and are deemed chokers.

              Pinch of salt, and all that..

    8. It’s always Hamilton’s fault.

    9. Lewis, this seasons most consistent qualifier – and without looking at the stats probably not the first time either.
      It’s a bit annoying that there’s a number of people that basically jump to the conclusion that Lewis can’t set up a car because they went the wrong way on set up (which this time was apparently for external reasons) on one or two occasions.
      It’s quite clear that Lewis (and his engineers) can dial the car into what he needs for a top lap time pretty much most of the time. I’m sure he hasn’t yet got all the answers but I’ve also no doubt he’s one of the greatest at getting the most out of any car.
      With tolerances in the sub 1/10th of second territory this season it’s probably a minor detail that can swing things the wrong way.
      Fantastic analysis from McLaren by the way and a surprising amount of detail shared with the world (an almost Scarb level if detail). There’s always the possibility that it’s all just bluff – but that’s the beauty of F1 :)

      1. As you point out, stats clearly prove that he can set-up his car.

    10. Colour me cynical, but I read this and the first thing I think of is McLaren explaining away Hamilton’s problems to show that they are treating him the way they normally would so that there can be no accusations of sabotage in the face of his imminent depature for Mercedes.

      1. And Jenson’s problems?

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