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McLaren remains focussed on 2011

NEWS STORY
25/08/2011

Mast Coch writes:

McLaren is in a bullish mood as the season resumes in Belgium this weekend. Having won in both Germany and Hungary the team entered the mid-season break with its spirits high and now looks to continue its upward trend as the season moves into its final phase.

"It's like scoring a goal just before half time, it gives everybody a lift," said McLaren Managing Director Jonathan Neale during the latest Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Phone-In, though keen to emphasize that the team's performance prior to the break didn't mean it could relax. "Whilst we can draw some comfort from it, and it's very pleasing for both drivers to get wins in Germany and Hungary, we know we've still got a lot of work to do. Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren now all have cars that are capable of winning races and we have to keep our focus and keep our momentum.

"Last year or the year before we went to Hungary and found ourselves 1.7 seconds a lap off the pace, and let me tell you that is not a good way to go in to a shutdown."

Neale believes that, with the gap to Red Bull now closer that it's ever been, the time is right to change tact with DRS. "One of the ways you get the best out of DRS is you have to give up a little bit of your optimum wing design," he explained. "To make the optimum rear wing you wouldn't make a DRS enabled rear wing, it's not as aero efficient as a conventional rear wing. When you're chasing downforce and trying to catch the rest of the field up you have a choice to make: do you want to get the downforce and the aero efficiency from the car, or are you actually after the greater drag reduction?

"We've had competitive race cars for some time now in terms of outright race pace," he continued. "Both Lewis and Jenson have showed very good pace relative to Red Bull for probably six or seven races now, but the qualifying pace is where we've been falling short, and we haven't put the cars in the right part of the grid. Now that we've got ourselves in to a situation where we believe that we are more competitive in qualifying and race pace we have been able to devote time to the DRS system, and my expectation is that our DRS system will be competitive at the next few races."

McLaren currently trails Red Bull by more than 100 points in the Constructors' Championship, yet despite this Neale remains adamant that the team won't shift its focus to 2012 early. "If you're competitive in a season, if you're one of the top teams and you're running first, second or third in the championship, it's a brave man who puts the tools down halfway through the season and says 'that'll do me'. Our workforce, our drivers, our sponsors and our fans expect us to fight through till the last race. We're very much pushing very hard on our development program for the MP4-26."

"On occasion does that compromise the start of next year? Maybe, that's a possibility," he concedes. "It's not ideal starting the season with a recovery action," he continued. "I think we were in good shape in Australia, but we were certainly not where we wanted to be during winter testing."

Getting that balance right is the deciding factor, believes Neale, suggesting a considered approach to risk will ultimately yield greater reward for the team. "You're always on a knife-edge in Formula One. If you play it too safe and you make a car reliable you're not quick. When you're playing catch-up and you take risks then occasionally you stretch the system to the point where something breaks. The thing that keeps it interesting and honest for all of us is that, good or bad, if you make a mistake you do it in front of hundreds of millions of people, and the world's press, and that's rather unforgiving.

"Of course Formula One is governed, and rightly so, by a resources restriction agreement which all the teams are signed up to. That means that each team broadly has the same resources, and there's no way that anybody can, by regulation, either spend its way out of trouble or pile in a whole new load of resources. That doesn't exist. So we have to make choices, and at some point we're all faced with the choice about what do we do about what do we do in terms of next years car versus this years car. At the moment I think we've got the balance right and we continue to develop the MP4-26.

There are a series of upgrades planned for the next two races, and a package for Singapore as well. The most important thing for us at McLaren racing is to win races, and that's what we want to do."

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