McLaren has unveiled its 2009 contender, the MP4-24, the car with which Lewis Hamilton aims to defend his World Championship title.
With an unprecedented series of rule changes introduced ahead of the 2009 season, the MP4-24 represents a significant departure from its championship-winning predecessor.
Incorporating new bodywork regulations and the much-heralded return of slick tyres, the Woking team's new challenger not only looks radical but also incorporates a host of new innovative features under the skin, such as a sophisticated kinetic energy recovery system (KERS). While still retaining the distinctive family look established with both the MP4-22 and MP4-23, this year's car is visually very different from its predecessors as a result of two main factors:
This year's aerodynamic regulations were framed by the FIA and the Overtaking Working Group (helmed by Vodafone McLaren Mercedes engineering director Paddy Lowe, Ferrari's Rory Byrne and Renault's Pat Symonds) which met throughout 2007 in order to address the issues affecting passing in Formula 1.
The OWG's influence can be most clearly seen around the front wing, which has been widened, and the rear wing - which is now more compact. Other factors affecting aerodynamics include the banning of ancillary appendages, the addition of driver-adjustable front-wing flaps and a heavily revised diffuser.
The MP4-24's KERS device has been developed in collaboration with McLaren and Mercedes-Benz HighPerformanceEngines, which has been developing and refining the system for almost two years. The device enables the car to recover energy under braking, store the energy for a lap and release it when the driver presses a button on the steering wheel.
With a fully optimised KERS device's output capped at 400kJ (discharging 80bhp boost for 6.7s per lap), the development team's primary focus has already shifted to further improving the unit's integration within the chassis in order to minimise performance loss elsewhere within the package. An optimised KERS package can be expected to deliver a 0.3-0.5s gain per lap.
"Last year was immensely satisfying for everybody at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes," said Ron Dennis, "but our intense focus ahead of '09 gave us little time for celebration. The regulatory changes have only increased our ambition to remain at the competitive vanguard and, for this year, our target is clear: to win both world championships if possible. Lofty aims, I grant you, but we exist to win."
"The new regulations for 2009 are the biggest changes to Formula 1 for many, many years and are expected to significantly affect every team's competitive parameters," added Martin Whitmarsh. "As such, this year's world championship could well be won through strength in depth, resourcefulness and sheer ingenuity. And the reality is that we feel very well-equipped to fight in every single one of those areas."
Mercedes-Benz Motorsport boss Norbert Haug added: "The 2009 season will probably pose the most difficult range of technical challenges in contemporary Formula 1 history. These include new aerodynamic rules, the reintroduction of slick tyres, the implementation of KERS combined with the stringent testing restrictions. In addition, the recently introduced and very important cost-saving ideas will make the '09 world championship campaign a singularly demanding affair.
"The overriding focus of the 2009 technical regulations has been cost reduction," he continued. "Not only have we been striving to achieve this together with the other teams but at the same time have also been developing our own individual cost-efficient systems. Having said that, I am also of the belief that these rule changes will significantly improve the Formula 1 show - and that's great for the fans.
"Of course, this process of continuously reducing costs does not imply that we will expend any less effort and energy in achieving the same result as in the 2008 drivers' championship and one better in the constructors' rankings than last year."