Technical analysis: MP4-25

McLaren today rolled out their 2010 charger, the MP4-25. But how will it fare on the track? Is there anything we can learn from the look of the car as to how it will perform?

The ’25’ is strikingly different to its 2009 predecessor. For a start, the wheelbase is decisively longer; so much so that when McLaren tried to get it into the lift to bring it to Vodafone HQ to be unveiled, it did not fit.

Other noticeable differences are the raised nose, with ridges along the top, a move which is designed to emulate the success of Adrian Newey’s Red Bull RB5 of last year, which by the end of the year had become the aerodynamic yardstick. Another feature of the new McLaren is its shark-fin, anvil shaped engine cover, which again channels the airflow better over the rear wing and thus maximises downforce. Critics of such an engine cover have said that it can increase yaw or sideways movement, but McLaren obviously believe it has a beneficial effect.

The MP4-25 also sports a bulging midriff not dissimilar to a beer belly. This, press were reliably informed, was not ballast but rather the new fuel tank which will have to store enough petrol to get the car from the green light to the chequered flag.

‘The biggest challenge was incorporating the 160kg fuel tank,’ stated Jonathan Neale, McLaren managing director. ‘It affects weight distribution, airflow over the car, at every level.’ Engineering director Paddy Lowe added that ‘the fuel would get very hot’, another potential issue that the team had to solve at source.

McLaren hid their rear diffuser from prying eyes, in the knowledge that as soon as pictures became available rival teams would copy it. Lowe assured the press that the idea of the double diffuser had been ‘exploited as far as possible…it’s a fairly extreme solution and another step further.’

The 2010-spec narrow front tyres are also a key feature. ‘It’s difficult to say how they will behave,’ said Lowe. ‘The jury’s still out on whether the drivers will need to stop once or twice.’ It is clear that tyre management, which has been a weakness of both Button and Hamilton in the past, will become something both need to master if they are to stay competitive in 2010.

Team principal Whitmarsh said that not stopping for tyres would ‘improve the spectacle as the incentive to overtake is greater.’ Neale added that he envisaged teams being able to change the four tyres during a race ‘within 3 seconds’, raising the spectre of extremely competitive pit tussles.

View MP4-25 gallery.

Lewis: racing Schumi will be special

Lewis Hamilton today confirmed that racing against Michael Schumacher would see the realisation of one of his aspirations to race the best in the world.

The Englishman, speaking at the McLaren launch directly to forumula1.com, said that although he would have loved to race against Ayrton Senna it would nevertheless be very special to go wheel-to-wheel with Schumacher.

‘It will be pretty special to race against Michael. As I was growing up he was the one I was watching on TV, and to see him on the grid in your mirrors, or in front, or wherever, will be something else. Hopefully he’ll be behind,” quipped the Stevenage man.

Hamilton was coy about what the MP4-25 had felt like in the simulator, saying that although it got reasonably close it would not help with tyre simulation.

He and team-mate Jenson Button would not be drawn in greater detail on the behaviour of the car in McLaren’s simulator, which is known to be one of the most realistic in the sport. Instead, both said they would be waiting for Valencia to find out what the car’s real performance was like.

‘It will be harder to stop the car [because of the extra fuel weight]’ said Button. ‘The narrow front tyres will hurt front grip and it will be a massive fuel load compared with what we’re used to…I think in my career I’ve only ever driven cars with 80 or 90kg of fuel in them,’ said the Frome man. This year’s fuel tank will hold up to 160kg.

Whitmarsh defies ideas of Mercedes neglect

McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh today defied suspicions that Mercedes concentrating on their works team would have a detrimental effect on the development of the McLaren MP4-25.

In a question put to him directly by forumula1.com, Whitmarsh said that development ‘was not just about money, but about efficiency,’ and that previous years’ cars’ improvement had ‘come from McLaren’ itself as opposed to Mercedes.

Moreover, Whitmarsh insisted Mercedes would continue to be ‘good partners’, having as they do a signed and sealed relationship as an engine supplier til 2012 with an option to continue to 2015.

Mercedes boss Norbert Haug was ill and could not attend the McLaren launch, which was alluded to by Whitmarsh in his preamble. Whitmarsh went on to say that McLaren would have a ‘different’ relationship with Mercedes, but that the Woking squad relished the challenge and the prospect of competition with the works team.

McLaren launch day – 12.40pm

So there it is. The McLaren launch over and done with. It was as much as expected – swift, to the point, concise and with all the right themes trotted out by the management and the drivers.

The car is certainly striking, and there have already been whispers about its weight distribution considering the 160kg fuel tank that has had to be incorporated. But it looks good, and Jenson and Lewis are hoping that it will propel them to the front of the grid in Bahrain.

Martin Whitmarsh acknowledged that the car had some things on it that he had not seen before, but told the assembled press to ‘spot, speculate and theorise’ about what exactly these things were. It underlined a quiet confidence that seemed to permeate proceedings. McLaren quite patently have no idea where their car is in relation to the other teams’ cars, but assured the world that it would continue to evolve, and that the version on display here today would not be the same one that will take to the track in Bahrain.

The drivers seemed relaxed, at ease, and witty, although there were a few times that Lewis got crotchety with some questions that he said misquoted him. In his line of fire in particular was a question that concerned his allegedly receiving superior equipment to Heikki Kovalainen last season, and he was quick to set the record straight.

So the day is over, really, and all the writing up is earnestly being done. It was all very nice, but it does not, in effect, tell us anything. Nor, for all the conjecture, will the times in Valencia next week. It is only truly on the grid in the sand of Bahrain that the true pace of this car will be revealed.

McLaren roll out MP4-25

McLaren today launched their 2010 challenger the MP4-25 at the Vodafone HQ in Newbury, while the world’s press and guests looked on.

The new car was startling in its appearance, with a noticeably bulkier engine cover designed around the new larger fuel tank, and a raised nose similar to that of last year’s successful Red Bull RB5.

Team principal Martin Whitmarsh paid tribute to the design, saying that many thousands of man hours had gone into it. He also pointed out some key features of MP4-25’s innovative and revolutionary design, including a radical double diffuser which was covered up by the team for reasons of competitive advantage.

‘MP4-25 truly exploits the double diffuser concept. The car has got some things on it that I’ve never seen before,’ joked Whitmarsh, although he refused to specify what they were.

The team principal added that he was ‘thrilled’ to have the world champion pairing of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton on board, paying tribute to their ‘astute technical minds’ and saying they were natural ‘winners’.

Director of Engineering Paddy Lowe went on to outline how having two world champions in the team had pushed his design team to even greater heights.

”Designing this car was a huge technical challenge, with our inspiration and pressure coming from the two world champions we now have,” he said.

Nevertheless, Lowe felt the car was ‘elegant,’ although some observers no doubt disagreed. The prominent ‘shark fin’ anvil-shaped engine cover stretches right back to the rear wing and has the effect of making the car look slightly awkward.

Drivers Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton were also effusive in their praise of the car, this being the first time the pair had seen it themselves.

Button said: ‘It looks amazing. We can’t wait to drive it and the numbers are really positive.’

‘It is so much different to last year’s car,’ Hamilton added. ‘I feel great seeing this car as I have had a lot of input to it. But we do have a big heavy fuel tank to get used to, and we’re going to need to maximise testing.’

McLaren launch day – 10.23am

The press room is filling up with yet more hacks, photographers et al, and the McLaren publicity people are working overtime trying to glad-hand them all. But the rumours flying around, especially from the Italian members of the press, are not connected with the McLaren team at all.

No, they are connected with the results of a wind-tunnel test Ferrari supposedly did in France last week of their new machine the F10, the results of which – it is rumoured – were not satisfactory at all.

It has to be said that this is not substantiated in any way whatsoever, but it is something to think about, and gives the McLaren boys and girls a definite, tangible spring in their step.

McLaren launch day – 9.30am

Arrived at the Vodafone HQ. The place is buzzing with press and ‘guests’ – all extremely good-looking and better-dressed than your correspondent. Don’t know how I got in, must have been a glitch with the system.

It’s clear that whatever budget constraints may be upcoming, McLaren are still ostentatiously well-funded. There are free embossed pens and pads lying around, and nice people keep asking if we want pastries or coffee. This is a big event and McLaren are keen on making a statement of intent, it seems.

McLaren launch day – 8.20am

8.20am…your intrepid reporter is sitting on a Great Western train in a dank Paddington station, very early this Friday morning. He is bound for a town outside London called Newbury, which is sure to be a lovely place, although probably not in this weather. All sorts of questions are going to be asked and hopefully answered today, as the world gears up for its first peek at the McLaren Mercedes MP4-25. In as slick a piece of marketing as ever, title sponsor Vodafone will play host to the proceedings, which are expected to last only til midday. By then, there will have been pictures taken with the car, drivers and management grilled and everyone just waiting for Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button s verdict…

Follow the McLaren launch (nearly) live tomorrow at forumula1.com

Forumula1.com will tomorrow publish regular updates of the McLaren launch day, with the first posting expected to be just after 9am.

Journalists will be attending the event in Newbury, Berkshire, with the actual unveiling of MP4-25 expected to be around 11.30am.

Follow the action almost live by checking back to www.forumula1.com at regular intervals throughout the morning.