McLaren: Movable rear wings coming to F1 in 2011

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Movable rear wings will be the “trick technology” of choice in 2011, it appears.

In an media interview, McLaren’s engineering chief Paddy Lowe lays out what we can expect to see. Autosport has the back and forth:

Q. Are you looking forward to the return of KERS and what other challenges for 2011 do you expect to be announced later today?

PL: KERS is obviously still in the regulations but within FOTA it’s been agreed that we can use it next year. We’re taking a very serious look at it and we’ll decide in the next while whether we’ll commit to it for 2011. I think second time around we’ll have an opportunity to do an even better job than was done before. The system that Mercedes produced for the 2009 season was really truly excellent and I think reasonably recognised as the best in class at that time. I think if we can make that work and integrate it well within the car, then I really am looking forward to that.

With other rule changes, you’re aware of the removal of double diffusers for next year, that’s a significant aerodynamic change. The other thing that’s been agreed is to ban the F-flap, or F-duct, system.

But in their place, we will have an adjustable rear wing. The flap will be adjustable by the driver. He can run it however he likes in qualifying, so what we’ll actually do is make the flap so it has very low drag, and in qualifying that will allow you to get a better lap time by using it wherever you can.

In the race, you can’t use it for the first two laps at all, but after that if you’re within a second of the car in front then you will be able to deploy it. So that will be very interesting. That’s a FOTA initiative to improve the show and I think it’s very exciting.

I’m anxious to hear everyone’s reaction. My initial one is that once again it sounds like Formula 1 is coming up with an overly complicated answer to a simple problem: the lack of the car’s ability to run closely together because of aero and all the “dirty air” it produces.

Where I especially stumble is that the wing can only be deployed if a driver is within a second of the car in front. How will not only F1 monitor that, but how will the drivers? What if a car falls back outside of that second range? (I suppose that wouldn’t happen if it was deploying the wing, which would make it go faster, but…)

It just seems that this type of detail is why so much of the rules are confusing to teams, drivers and fans, alike. It also is the reason there are such gray areas that teams can exploit. Surely there will be one team that comes up with something eye-brow raising, ala double diffusers and F-ducts.

But that’s al 2011. Lowe also looks ahead to the next few races, and as does Ferrari, McLaren has its eyes on the rear of the Red Bull:

Q. Can you talk us through the updates McLaren has planned for Valencia and Silverstone?

Paddy Lowe: For the Valencia weekend we’re not promising any massive steps in terms of car upgrades. Most of our efforts have just gone into making the best of this circuit. I know a number of other teams have brought particularly large updates. We’re not one of those for this particular event.

But we will have a bigger package for Silverstone. It won’t have escaped your notice that Red Bull have made an interesting use of exhaust exit flow. I think all the rest of the teams, it’s pretty much common knowledge, are playing catch-up in that area. It’s quite a significant performance step. That’s something we’re aiming to bring to the British Grand Prix and to try and make it work from the outset.

There are some technical challenges with it, especially blasting your bodywork directly with exhaust flow can generate some particularly high temperatures. It’s not without challenges to hit the ground running with a system like that when we don’t have any proper track testing. We’ll be doing trials at an aerodynamic day before Silverstone to hopefully have it working in the practice sessions and race.

[snip]

Q. How challenging was it to integrate the new exhaust system into your car, and what’s your main concern regarding the introduction of it – its effect on performance or the reliability aspect?

PL: It has been a pretty massive project, not least because you’ve got a new exhaust system and that has many challenges – especially when you try to do it quickly. In terms of how we see the risk profile going into its first race, we’re reasonably confident that we will get the performance we predict. We’ve tested in the windtunnel, we’re able to evaluate in the simulator how these things work. So I think we’re very well prepared to exploit it. So the concern will be more about making sure it’s reliable and fit for racing.

Lowe also — to my knowledge — at this point provides the most comprehensive answer to the move by his former colleague Pat Fry to Ferrari:

Q. Is McLaren concerned about Pat Fry taking 18 years of McLaren knowledge and experience with him to Ferrari?

PL: Pat was here a long time and is a great friend of all of us and is a great engineer, so we’ll miss him a lot from that point of view. We’re very pleased to see that he’s got something else that he’ll really want to do and enjoy doing. Ferrari is a long-time rival of ours. I think he’ll do a great job there. It doesn’t fill me with great fear, it’s not ‘oh dear, Pat’s taken all of our knowledge over there’. The team’s got great strength across all the different disciplines.

In fact individuals can contribute, but they don’t bring a whole across the board set of knowledge. You go there and you do a good job, which I’m sure Pat will do.

So I think the answer is we’re very happy for him. We’re not filled with dread. In fact, Pat won’t mind me saying this, when we have change it’s an opportunity for development flow within the team, which you need to sustain your long-term development. It’s thrown up some great opportunities for the next generation.

While this piece is focused on McLaren, what I actually take away from it is: keep your eyes on Ferrari this weekend. Lowe says the F-duct or blown-rear wing system could be worth half-second a lap, and he admits that if Ferrari nails it on its car, it could be a difference maker.

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