You have been testing at the Circuit de Catalunya earlier this week, do its characteristics suit the MP4-23 and do you expect to be competitive there?
“It’s always difficult to predict these things as all the teams are continuously progressing. Winter testing there was positive and this week we have covered a good amount of laps. I feel we have a competitive package at the track; the car seems to work quite well. We have a range of new components coming on board for this race which we tested this week and had some positive results, but we are not alone in doing this! The Circuit de Catalunya is a great track; we can’t ever lose it from the calendar. It always sees competitive racing and there are so many enthusiastic fans there all the time which makes for a great atmosphere.”
What are the key challenges at this race?
“The Circuit de Catalunya is a challenging track for the engineers and drivers. It has changed a little bit in character prior to last year’s Grand Prix. One of the key factors at this circuit is achieving a good balance through the variety of corners. Turn Two is a big corner and it provides a good challenge from both a driving and set-up perspective. With the end of the circuit now being tightened up a fair amount we have got to get that balance so we will get good high speed corner performance and traction coming out of the low speed corners. There are a range of different challenges and technically it is an interesting circuit.”
How have you spent your time since the Bahrain Grand Prix?
“I have been pretty busy since the last race, I have spent some time with the team at the McLaren Technology Centre, a couple of days of promotional work, I’ve done quite a bit of training and then I went to the Barcelona test. After that, I went home to do some more training. We have the opportunity in this gap to get some good work done in this area.”
Can you describe the main characteristics of the Circuit de Catalunya and why is this circuit so popular with teams and drivers?
“This circuit is one of probably the two most important test tracks we use, together with Jerez. It is a real performance tester; you need to have a really good aero performance in the car to go fast round here, which is why we always come here as it allows us to understand how well our aero package is performing. It also has some very heavy breaking areas, so it is good for evaluating this and some good corners to understand the balance of the car. Also, the slower chicanes mean we can test how the car changes direction. It has a good range of challenges so you can test everything. Also, usually the weather is good here.”
This is characteristically a high speed circuit, where are the best places for overtaking opportunities?
“I think turn 1 is best because you can drag the other car out of the new chicane that is quite slow, along the pit straight. Apart from that is it very difficult, you can probably think about overtaking into turn five, maybe into turn ten if you get a good run into turn nine, that is about it really.”
How have you spent your time since the Bahrain Grand Prix?
“It is really preparing physically for this race, because we have a bigger gap, we are actually trying to increase the fitness level. We do some power work, some speed work, a bit of cardio. That has been the priority. I have been to Woking for a couple of days and spent some time with the engineers. Apart from that, nothing special, just trying to make sure that when we arrive here for the race we know where we are and have a good starting point for the weekend.”
MARTIN WHITMARSH, CEO FORMULA 1, VODAFONE McLAREN MERCEDES
Many people see the Barcelona race as a benchmark for the level of competitiveness for the rest of the season, why is this and how do you think the MP4-23 will fair?
“The Spanish Grand Prix sees us entering the European season and Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, along with all the other teams, will be in Barcelona with significant upgrade packages on the cars. The cars remain relatively consistent over the course of the fly away races and this race weekend is the first opportunity to understand how we have moved forward with performance and developed the MP4-23 in comparison with our primary competitors. We are confident that we have improved the performance of the car, but this week’s test was not an accurate indicator of performance, so we will need to wait for the race to establish how the MP4-23 will fair.
There has been a three week gap since the race in Bahrain where Vodafone McLaren Mercedes has been able to test at the Barcelona circuit, how did this compare to the test just before the start of the season?
“A key difference is that the track and ambient temperatures are a little bit warmer and therefore more representative of the race conditions than pre-season, when it was very cold. In addition, the car was new to all of us when we were testing in the winter, it is now an established package and like any car it has its strengths and weaknesses. There is a very comprehensive package of components and systems that were fitted to the car at the test, hopefully to build on the strengths and reduce the weaknesses, but we will see how far forward we have been able to take the car. As always with these test sessions there are a range of variables such as tyre specifications and fuel loads. In addition it was decided by the teams and Bridgestone that we needed to spend some time developing the 2009 slick tyre. In order to test those in a representative manner you have to estimate the level of downforce that will be available under the 2009 aerodynamic regulations, and we do not know what the other teams are doing in that regard. Whilst we confined this testing to one day, this was not the case across all the teams which led to a range of times during the whole week. As a result it is difficult to make an accurate assessment as to where everyone is.”
What areas of the MP4-23’s development have the team being focusing on in the build up to the race, and at this test in particular?
“The emphasis has been on the aerodynamic performance, developing downforce, balance and aerodynamic efficiency. In parallel we have developed the suspension systems and the chassis. We have come away from three races with no testing where inevitably we discovered vices that were not analysed before the start of the season. This period has provided an opportunity for the drivers and race engineers to focus on a bit of set-up work as well for this race.”
NORBERT HAUG, VICE PRESIDENT, MERCEDES-BENZ MOTORSPORT
What are the development possibilities after the engine homologation for the remainder the season?
“The engine rules have been specified until the end of 2012. Following the Malaysian Grand Prix, every manufacturer delivered a reference engine for homologation to the FIA. From this time onwards no more modifications of the engine are possible, except for the development of fuels and lubricants, and for improvements of the peripherals components. The engines, which have been used in the Bahrain Grand Prix, will also be used in the upcoming Spanish Grand Prix within the cycle of two race weekends.”
What are the challenges of the Circuit de Catalunya for cars and engines?
“The track at Barcelona with the long front straight and with long sweeping corners as well as tight bends is one of the most demanding of all circuits in terms of aerodynamic efficiency. It is also challenging for the engines. About 70 percent of a lap will be run under full throttle and after the new chicane before the start and finish straight, about 13 seconds will be run under full throttle. Barcelona is the circuit which all competitors know best, because it’s the test track all teams use the most, and they have a lot of data from there.”
Why is Barcelona as a test track so popular among all Formula 1 teams?
“It’s a rule that those who can win here are capable to do so at all the other Grand Prix circuits. The track is particularly demanding for a Formula 1 car’s aerodynamic efficiency. Therefore, many teams focus on the Circuit de Catalunya at Barcelona when they test, and therefore, they have more experience there than at any other circuit of the current Grand Prix calendar. Prior to the season, we completed here considerably more than 1,000 laps during the test days corresponding to more than 5,000 kilometres. Moreover, we tested from Monday to Thursday in the week prior to the race and completed another 1,600 kilometres on the Circuit de Catalunya.
What is the importance of fuels and lubricants concerning the development of the engines?
“As a consequence of the significant restrictions by the new engine rules, the significance of fuels and lubricants has of course increased. Accordingly, the improvements in this sector are important. Developing more and more efficient lubricants in co-operation with our Partner ExxonMobil, we concentrate on reducing friction, and with fuels, the focus is on optimising combustion. As everywhere in Formula 1, we explore the practicable limits.”