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Q&A with McLaren’s Tim Goss



In a Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Phone-in, McLaren’s chief engineer on this year’s MP4-25 car, Tim Goss, discusses a variety of topics, ranging from Lewis Hamilton’s qualifying form and the team’s technical updates for Spain, to the role of turbos, KERS and larger tyres in the future of Formula One racing…

Q: It’s been suggested that the 2013 engine regulations will be based on 1.5 litre turbos with KERS. Is that a concept McLaren favour? Would you like the current rules to stay static until then, or would you like some things, like KERS, to come back sooner?

Tim Goss: As far as the 2013 engine is concerned, I think that Formula One does need to move on and show that it is moving in a fuel-efficiency age. So we fully support all the moves that the Engines Working Group and FOTA are doing to push Formula One in that direction. So the concept of a 2.4 litre V8 is getting a little bit dated now and I think the move to turbo-charged engines with KERS is the right thing to do. Obviously Formula One does need to maintain itself in terms of being at the pinnacle of motorsport and engine performance. Somehow we’ve got to come up with an engine formula that is associated with high performance but also with fuel efficiency and modern technology. So overall I think we’re moving in the right direction and we fully support it.

Q: We need to know very soon what’s going on with tyres for next year. From your point of view, can you give us a layman’s guide to the repercussions of delays on the decision?

TG: Obviously we’re well into designing next year’s car and always as an engineer you’d love to know what the regulations are before you design a car. Uncertainty just makes it a little bit more difficult, but in some ways makes it a little more exciting and challenging. As far as the tyre is concerned we need to know what the performance of both the front and rear tyres is going to be so we can get the fundamental balance of the car right. Principally that’s where you are going to pitch the weight distribution of the car and, aerodynamically, where you’re going to pitch your effort in front and rear wing capacity. So that’s important. Separately is the tyre shape, both loaded, in terms of cornering, and unloaded, which is important aerodynamically. I think all teams have realised in recent years that optimising your front wing in the vicinity of the tyre, and your floor in the vicinity of your tyre, is really quite important. So the shape of the car is important for aerodynamics, the size of the car is obviously important, the type of wheel – in that larger wheels have been proposed by Michelin. As engineers we’d love to have that information. I think we know that recently in Formula One these things do tend to take some time to get sorted. We understand it’s actually quite a difficult job to find a new tyre for Formula One. So that’s potentially it. It will affect the balance of the car and it will affect the aerodynamics of the car.

Q: So how critical is it?

TG: At the moment I’d say it’s not critical, but clearly the sooner we know the better. I think even if we do know the new tyre supplier, it will take us some time for us to start working with them and understand how we are going to ascertain the relative performance of the tyres in terms of cornering, stiffness, new characteristics and degradation.

Q: A few times recently a pattern has emerged where Lewis Hamilton has been going along nicely through practice and then Q1 and Q2, but then in Q3 he’s struggled. Why?

TG: I think you’re probably referring to China where he looked fairly dominant in the early stages of the weekend and then was disappointed in Q3, and Australia where he qualified outside the top ten. Both were quite different situations. In Australia we were obviously a bit shocked and surprised by our qualifying performance. When we looked at it afterwards, we did a lot of analysis and in the end we believe it was just down to tyre preparations, getting the tyres into the correct window of performance for qualifying. We just got that slightly out and Lewis hence then never really hooked it up. In China we were particularly competitive all through practice, Q1 and Q2. Come Q3, the wind changed and picked up a little and that caught Lewis out particularly into Turn 11. He made just a very small mistake, but actually the repercussions of that were quite costly and the result was that he underperformed to his expectations. In terms of Australia I think that it was just our own advice to him, and in China he made a very small mistake, which turned out to be more costly than it would be normally.

Q: You’re set to bring an update to Spain. What’s the most interesting aspect we should look out for?

TG: Like most of the Formula One teams, we’re bringing a significant upgrade to Spain. Probably the ones you’ll notice are to the front and rear wing, both of which are reasonably significant changes. On top of that there are some fairly small, subtle changes to other areas of the car. As ever, some of the subtlest changes are actually quite significant. At the rear of the car there is a small change to the floor just at the back. Probably, if you want to look out for anything, then look out for the front wing and the rear wing. I don’t think you’ll miss them.

Q: How much improvement do you feel you’ve made in general terms over one lap since Bahrain? And do you think you’ll be closer to the Red Bulls and Ferraris in Barcelona?

TG: We certainly have closed the gap. After the Barcelona test at the end of February, we were quite confident coming into this season that our competitiveness was there or thereabouts. But we were a little bit taken aback in Bahrain that we were some way off, especially compared to Red Bull. But we brought some significant changes to the car at Malaysia we and we were really expecting to be quite competitive in qualifying. Obviously as things transpired, we made a few mistakes with our weather predictions which meant we never really got to demonstrate that in qualifying. At China, barring the little slip-up that Lewis had in qualifying, we proved we’ve closed the gap in qualifying. We were probably only two to three-tenths off Red Bull in China. In Barcelona it depends very much on the upgrades we’ve made. We certainly know we’ve made a decent step forward, but we are fully expecting the other teams will do too. Red Bull, Mercedes have said they’ve made some significant changes to the car, and Ferrari have announced they’ll bring along a drag-reduction rear wing. So it’s very difficult to make too many predictions about Barcelona, although I’d like to think we can put a car on the front row.

Q: Would you support a return of KERS next season?

TG: We fully support what FOTA and the FIA are trying to do in terms of KERS. Certainly for using it for next season, it is getting a bit late in the day. There are a lot of people working on this. We understand the need for KERS in terms of its association with road car technology, and that it’s the right thing to bring it back. So really we’ll just go along with whatever FOTA and the FIA decide, as far as next year is concerned.

Q: How possible is it to make KERS cheaper, yet more powerful?

TG: We learnt an awful lot when we developed the KERS system for 2009 and Mercedes and ourselves did a particularly good job of it. But in the current environment of cost restrictions then the right thing to do is to cap the cost of KERS in some way, or it could potentially escalate and get very expensive. It certainly is realistic to reduce the cost and put the power up. A knock-on effect of that is that it’s going to get a little bit bigger and heavier. A lot of the improvement we made to our KERS system last year was the ability to downsize the system, which then makes it easier to package on the car and gives you freedom to get the weight distribution correct. It’s possible, that’s for sure.

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