Huge gains to be made in 2017, says McLaren technical boss

Rear view of the McLaren MCL32 Honda seen at its launch on Friday. (Photo: Steven Tee/LAT Photographic)
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McLaren chief technical officer Tim Goss concedes that the team still has much to learn about the 2017 regulations, but he believes that it can make good progress with the new MCL32 once testing gets under way in Spain next week.

Goss stressed that while the bodywork rules have changed substantially, the team was able to start from a good foundation.

“As the regulations were being talked about and being galvanized they kind of moved around a bit,” he explained. “We generally knew where they were going. And we started work nice and early. In those days it was about trying to get the underlying flow physics right. Whilst it’s quite a big bodywork change, the general flow physics is similar, it’s just it’s been disturbed, but it’s been disturbed enough that there’s a lot of re-work to try and get the car work acceptably again.

“Once you understand actually what it’s all about and how you’re going to get the base flow physics to work, then you start loading up the car. So there’s that aspect the car underlying is just right, and then we start cranking on the performance.

“We’re on a fairly steep learning curve, and we’ll continue like that, especially as further things happen, two more inputs – we’ve been kind of flying blind for a bit, without track testing, so as we take the car to the track we’ll learn about the way the car and the aerodynamics are performing in real life.

“Also as we start seeing other cars and other teams start to see our car you just learn, you learn how other people have done it. I think we can expect that for ourselves and other teams that everyone is still going to be on a steep learning curve for a while.”

Regarding different approaches seen on the launch cars of various teams, he said: “For sure there are going to be opportunities out there, I think more so because we’ve been given a new set of bodywork regulations to work with, and we’ve invented out own ways to deal with the changes in flow physics. Then to start with all the teams will have slightly different ways of going about things, particularly in the areas where there’s a lot more freedom.

“If you take the bodywork from just in front of the cockpit template to the rear wheel centerline, you’ve got the rule that we call the ‘R75’ rule that restricts the amount of furniture – winglets and so on – that you can put on the car.

“But in the areas where you’ve got more scope, which is between the front wheels and the sidepod inlet, the new bargeboard area/sidepod wing area, I think you’ll see very, very different solutions. Looking at the cars that have been launched, there’s two or three of them, ourselves included that, put a lot of detail into that area.”

Chief engineer Peter Prodromou stressed that a big effort went into defining the concept of the MCL32, with the work starting in the Fall of 2015.

“For us we spent quite a long time defining the fundamental concept for this car,” said Prodromou. “We actually started this project a good 18 months ago. The lion’s share of our time has been aimed at putting together a good foundation.

“So we’re in that luxury position where we’re finding very good gains at the moment. I think for us the main challenge is to convert those gains to the track as quickly as possible. That’s is what we are deeply involved in at the moment, trying to get upgrades on the car as quickly as we can.”

Regarding the T-wings seen on the Ferrari and Mercedes he said: “There is an area, one of the regulations boxes that wasn’t covered in the way people expected when they were designing the regulations, which has allowed these T-wing to go in that area. It is something we are looking at.

“The car that has impressed me so far is the Mercedes. Clearly Mercedes has put a huge amount of man hours into the car. That’s the one that stands out. In terms of major surprises, I don’t think we have seen anything yet that looks like a big loophole.”

Director of engineering Matt Morris noted that the team put extra effort into understanding the weaknesses of last year’s car – such as its performance in medium and fast corners – in order to create a better starting point for the MCL32.

“We did do a lot of work at the end of last year trying to understand the weaknesses of our car. You probably saw we had quite a lot of instrumentation on the car, and we spent our Fridays doing a lot of test runs to try to understand the car more deeply.

“It was obviously a big decision for us, because we were taking away resource from designing this year’s car, but we felt it important to understand our weaknesses before we invested in the new car. We did achieve what we set out to do, to understand the weaknesses, and hopefully we’ve addressed those on this year’s car.”

Morris believes that the new car represents a fresh start for the team: “I’m really excited about the new McLaren. I think the statement of the car with its new livery, some new faces, is really exciting. From an engineering point of view we have had a lot of change, and I feel that now we’ve got a team that can really produce great cars. So I’m just excited to get the thing on the track, and get testing.”