I said I wasn’t going to write an article about McLaren this week. I really did. But here I am, writing what I’m sure is the three hundred and fifty seventh article published this week about McLaren and their assorted technical woes. So, I apologize if you’ve read this all before, but I’m narcissistic enough to think people will want to read this blog and, in turn, hear my opinions. So here it goes.
Everyone knew this was going to be a rough weekend for McLaren, right? They could barely get the car running for more than a full lap during testing. Engine changes nearly every day, constant breakdowns, frustrated drivers, frustrated mechanics: nothing seemed to go right.
But still, Honda kept assuring us that they would get their act together for Melbourne. That they would be, maybe, able to complete the race. Points were out of the picture, but completing the race was a possibility. Well, we’re two practice sessions down and I have to say, maybe, just maybe, they were right.
Fernando Alonso, who still proves he is one of the best every time he steps into a car, did what I certainly thought was impossible. He put the car into a position to raise eyebrows. Granted, they’re only raised because the bar for McLaren was set so comically low in the first place. He finished FP1 and FP2 with 18 and 19 laps under his belt, respectively and he managed to put the car within five tenths of making it in to Q3 during his second practice session. Alonso’s teammate Vandorne may not have had the outright speed of his teammate, but he put in 34 laps in FP2, just one lap shy of the total completed by Lewis Hamilton.
So how did they do it? Well, during testing we were told that the chief cause of the Honda breakdowns was vibrations in the car which caused parts to sheer off from the power unit. McLaren have remedied that by altering the settings in the gearbox, forcing the car to shift at lower revs and thereby reducing vibration across the entire chassis. While the car may sound like a dying Mallard each time it upshifts, it seems to have done the trick. The only problem with the solution being that, in shifting early, performance is lost. Performance being something that Honda didn’t exactly have a lot of to begin with.
Now, that loss of performance may be a major cause of concern, especially looking ahead at the next two races in China and Bahrain, but for the time being, it may actually bode well for McLaren. Despite being a semi power hungry circuit, Grands Prix at Albert Park often turn into a war of attrition rather than an outright sprint. New cars, new parts, new engines, new drivers: all these unknowns result in a high DNF count in the first grand prix of the year. McLaren, by electing to play it safe, may be in for a halfway respectable finish if their gearbox solution is able to keep the car from breaking down. They will be down on power, yes. But it doesn’t matter how much or how little power they have as long as they finish the race while those around them do not.
I still doubt a points finish is on the cards for them, unless Alonso can somehow pull of a miracle, but having both cars cross the finish line at the end of the race may just be vindication enough for the struggling former titan.
Now, whereas McLaren are having to remedy problem they were fully aware of in testing, Haas finds themselves in a position of having to fix a problem they weren’t aware of in the off season. Their shark fin and T-wing have been accused of flexing under high speeds. This is a feature that is expressly outlawed by the FIA, although certain teams with an energy drink sponsorship have pushed the flexing limits about as far as humanly possible in the past. See the link below to show just how much flexing is occurring on the Haas chassis.
The team has been directed by the FIA that to remove the T wing, presenting a whole slew of problems for the American team. Namely, Formula One cars are so finely tuned that taking a single, two centimeter piece off of the wing can have a significant impact on lap times. Just imagine what taking off an entire wing will do for the car.
The purpose of the T wing is to angle air off and around the back of the car to increase rear grip and reduce drag. Not having seen the full technical readouts of the Haas, I don’t have any idea of the overall impact the removal of the T Wing will actually have, but rest assured, it will have an effect. Grosjean’s stellar performance in the first two practice sessions may very well now be negated by increase drag off the back of the car created in the absence of the T Wing. I will be interested to see just how much of an effect it will have, but don’t be surprised if we see upwards near of a tenth of a lap downslide in times from the Haas.
Like mentioned above, Australia is often a war of attrition, so Haas may still well be in good shape, if their notoriously faulty brakes brakes manage to hold on for the entire race. But all the same, what was looking like a promising second year outing for the team now has a major wrench thrown in it.
Stay tuned for updates from qualifying tonight. I will be tweeting on Formula 78’s official Twitter @theformula78
File Under: F1, Australia, McLaren, Haas, Technical