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Q&A with McLaren's Martin Whitmarsh

NEWS STORY
24/01/2005

Talking to the McLaren team website, McLaren's Martin Whitmarsh answers questions regarding the new rules for 2005.

During the winter period, McLaren has to take into account rule changes for the upcoming season as the MP4-20 has been designed and built at the McLaren Technology Centre. The package for 2005 is perhaps the most significant for many years, and the team's engineers have several challenges to face. At the start of the first test of the MP4-20 in Barcelona this week, Martin Whitmarsh, CEO Formula One, Team McLaren Mercedes, discusses the changes.

How have the regulations regarding tyres changed for 2005?
Martin Whitmarsh: Until recently the only restriction on the Michelin tyres used by the Team McLaren Mercedes team for race day was that whatever set was used in the single qualifying run on Saturday afternoon was also used at the start, due to the parc ferme conditions. As a result the tyres became an important element of pit stop strategy, and at the stops it was possible to switch to either brand new tyres or scrubbed sets that had been used in practice or first qualifying. From the start of the 2005 season in Melbourne, the set used in final qualifying has to last for the whole race distance. That means up to four times as long as previously – depending on the number of stops normally made at a particular circuit. It represents a huge change in philosophy in terms of how the tyres are developed.

What challenges has this created for the team and Michelin?
MW: Traditionally tyres have been optimised in a number of ways. While wear, durability and degradation have been important issues, the performance of the tyre on its first lap was very significant. Ordinarily that tyre then had to last typically for no more than one-third of a race distance. It is of course well within the capabilities of our Technology Partner Michelin to make a tyre that lasts far more than a race distance, but there is always trade-off between performance and longevity, and that's something that we've got to address. If we're too conservative in our tyre choice that will undoubtedly affect the performance of the tyre. The challenge now for Michelin and ourselves is to take into account the wear characteristics of every circuit. That varies from circuit to circuit, and it also varies from the start of the weekend to the end of it. We'll have a relatively small opportunity on Fridays to choose between the two specifications of tyres that we'll have available for the weekend.

How do you believe this will effect how the team handles tyres over a race weekend?
MW: While it's obvious that making a tyre last for a full race is not an easy task, there are specific challenges that have to be addressed as a tyre goes through its life cycle. “We pre-heat the tyres before we use them, because the compounds are designed to operate at elevated temperatures. While the car is on the circuit that temperature is maintained by the work done within the compound. That phenomenon is fairly well understood, and it requires a certain mass of rubber in the tread band itself. Otherwise you don't get either the movement of compound which generates heat, or the thermal mass to retain the heat, because you've got a tyre that's rushing along at high speed being cooled all the time. Where that becomes significant is when the car comes into the last fuel stop. The tyres will cool down, and it is then difficult to reheat tyres that don't have sufficient tread mass. If we get it wrong, you could have tyres that have poor performance in the last stint because we're unable to put heat into them.

Is this regulation change only affecting the work of Michelin's design team?
MW: It is not just a question of what Michelin delivers to the team, we have a clear role to play in the equation. In reality things like camber settings and suspension geometry all have an influence on this, so it's not a challenge that we can solely pass to Michelin. We have to work with them on all those aspects so we can understand how we can develop a tyre that is quick over one lap of qualifying, will last the duration of the race, and have good performance over the two or three sectors of the race. Until recently the work to develop suspension, car operating procedures and to optimise the tyres themselves has not been focused on that.

What revisions have been implemented to engine use for the new season?
MW: Last season engines of course had a life of a race weekend. If a change was made as the result of a failure or accident damage, the driver had to take a 10-place grid slot penalty. Now the team's Mercedes-Benz FO 110R (TBC) engines have to last for two full race weekends. Most teams are now aiming for a life of around 1500kms, which is twice as much as previously. Of course rather like the tyres, you could design an engine that does the whole racing season, but what we now have to do is tread that fine line of performance trade-off for durability. The engine engineers will be able to give you a matrix that says, what would you rather have: x rpm and 1000kms, or y rpm and 1500kms? That's the trade-off that you are going to make.

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