In the latest of McLaren's series of pre-grand prix media conferences, its engineering director Paddy Lowe discussed the team's push to get its new "blown rear end" exhaust system ready for Silverstone, and the rule changes that could spice the racing up even more in 2011.
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 has 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.
Q. Red Bull is hoping to use its F-duct in Valencia, is that a concern for McLaren?
PL: Well, we'll see what they do with it. They brought it to Turkey and ran it on the Friday, and then didn't have it the rest of the weekend. It's a system that is not without challenge to get it to work, particularly to work in a way where it's a net positive in performance improvement. That's up to them, I don't know how well they're going to do or not do.
It's not a huge concern for us. We've expected teams to be playing catch up in that area, just as we're emulating the exhaust aspect.
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 the 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 recognized 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.
Q. How worried is McLaren about Ferrari bringing its own blown rear end to Valencia? If it's a half-second step forward then, based on Canada times, that could put Ferrari in a dominant position...
PL: I agree with your math there. That is a concern. I think we'll have to see how they get on with it. It's a shame that some others have been slightly quicker than we were getting it, but we are where we are. I think we'll have to do what we can and see.
It all depends at each circuit on how the different characteristics suit some cars and not others. For instance Ferrari really struggled in Turkey. I can't predict where they'll end up any more really than I can predict where we'll end up.
What's very interesting and really great for the interest in the sport is the variation you get in very fine differentials between teams as you go through the different circuits with different characteristics. It's not very predictable.
Q. Is McLaren's system definitely due for Silverstone?
PL: Yes, that's our plan.
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 wind tunnel, 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.
Q. We saw a really good race in Montreal, mainly due to the tires. Should the 2011 tire supplier be more aggressive with compounds to make this happen more often?
PL: I think we could clearly see the effect of having tires that degrade a bit more and we would like to see it more often. Whether we'd want to see it every race, I don't know. But certainly it increases the uncertainty and spectacle. There is a little bit of a difficulty that we should recognize, that the tire supplier generally doesn't want the subject of discussion to center around how bad the tires were. So there's a little bit of a conflict there that we should acknowledge.
When you're not in a tire war, drivers are generally saying how great the tires are. If they're saying how bad the tires are then that's not a great outcome for the tire supplier and we need to recognize that.
Q. In Germany we'll have two steps between the tire compounds. How do you think that will affect the race?
PL: I don't know if we can expect such an extreme result as we had in Canada. What happened in Canada was that the prime tires were graining up quite badly, that's why in the race some frontrunners stopped very early. That's pretty atypical. A regular circuit characteristic won't be that extreme.
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.