x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

McLaren moving in the right direction

Fourth and 14th on the grid might not quite be what the team had in mind, but it represented a recovery of sorts at the British Grand Prix.

Jenson Button, the McLaren-Mercedes driver and world champion, walks through the garages after qualifying yesterday.
Jenson Button, the McLaren-Mercedes driver and world champion, walks through the garages after qualifying yesterday.

SILVERSTONE, ENGLAND // While Red Bull-Renault endeavoured to patch over the tangible fissure that exists between the two sides of their garage, McLaren basked in genuine harmony at Silverstone yesterday. Fourth and 14th on the grid might not quite be what the team had in mind, but it represented a recovery of sorts, and the manner of their achievement spoke volumes for teamwork.

McLaren originally planned to introduce their new, exhaust-blown diffuser at the next race, in Germany, but such has been the pace of development that its debut was brought forward. The system uses hot exhaust gases to accelerate airflow over the car's rear floor - and that, in turn, generates downforce. It also generates extreme temperatures, about 600°C, and that caused the bodywork to overheat.

"We were carrying out running repairs throughout Friday," said Martin Whitmarsh, the team principal, "but we also learned some useful things." To evaluate their best option, the team dispatched test driver Gary Paffett to their Woking factory on Friday evening - and he took all the data the team had accumulated during the day. The Englishman spent almost six hours in McLaren's simulator, doing back-to-back tests using virtual versions of old and new floors, and it was eventually decided to refit the originals, although other fresh parts - including a revised front wing - were retained.

The initial results were encouraging: both drivers felt happy with their chassis balance yesterday morning. Button's car, however, lost rear grip when it mattered. "I really don't know what happened," he said. "The car felt fine this morning and we didn't alter it at all before qualifying, so I have no idea where the grip went." Hamilton, though, felt the lap that earned him fourth place was "the best he'd ever driven".

He added: "Fourth makes me happy like you wouldn't believe. I'm so proud of my team, too. They've been pushing so hard all year, but in the last couple of weeks, they've pushed longer and harder than ever to get the upgrade package here. "The new parts are an improvement, but we just weren't able to get them all to work properly. "The team did a remarkable job to get everything ready for qualifying.

"We knew we were some way off the Red Bulls on sheer pace, so my grid position was really down to getting as good a lap as possible." And why did he feel it was special? "That's just my instinctive feeling," he said. "You always push to your maximum, but sometimes you realise that there is absolutely nothing more you could have got from the car." To have an outside chance at victory, he just has to do that for all 52 laps today.

sports@thenational.ae