x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

McLaren to stick with revised floor

Hamilton's crash after only eight laps in the opening free practice session will not deter team from experimentation.

HOCKENHEIM, Germany // "It has completely ruined our whole weekend ?" Martin Whitmarsh, the McLaren-Mercedes team principal, smiled as he spoke, then threw an arm over Lewis Hamilton's shoulder. The world championship leader completed only eight laps during Friday's opening free practice session at Hockenheim before losing control at turn three.

"I damaged the car quite heavily against the tyre wall," he said. "I hit the rev limiter, but the wheels spun when I shifted gear and caused the car to oversteer. While trying to correct it, I put a wheel on the grass - and after that I was a passenger." The impact damaged all four corners of the chassis and he was unable to return to the circuit until late that afternoon, which left Jenson Button to do most of the evaluation work alone as the team attempted to fine-tune the new floor they had tried - but discarded - at Silverstone.

"I was quite upset with myself," Hamilton said. "The guys work so hard during the week to get the car ready, and then you get to the track, do a few laps and damage it. I created a huge amount of work, but the team has been phenomenal." McLaren subsequently decided to stick with the revised floor, featuring a "blown" diffuser, which uses exhaust gases to accelerate airflow and increase downforce. The team believes it is just beginning to scratch the surface of the technology's potential. Whitmarsh certainly did not believe the incident was a major setback for the team.

"Lewis's accident didn't set us back too much," he said. "The variable weather made it difficult to reach too many firm conclusions about the new floor, but it seems to work as it is supposed to. It opens up some interesting development opportunities for our engineers. So far, I'd say we have realised less than half its potential." Button admitted he was surprised by the performance gulf that separated him from the Red Bulls and Ferraris during qualifying, but believes the picture has partly been skewed by set-up preferences.

"The new diffuser is definitely a step forward," he said. "I was pretty happy with the way I drove my lap and don't really think I could have extracted much more. We clearly didn't have the best configuration for qualifying, but we were by far the quickest cars through the speed trap - and I'm sure that will help us in the race." McLaren might be in a comfortable position on paper, with Hamilton leading Button by 12 points in the title chase and Mark Webber another five back, but Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso remain within striking distance and Whitmarsh is well aware that McLaren have cultivated a position of strength by making fewer errors than their immediate rivals.

This is a crucial stage in the championship and the development race continues to become ever more intense, a detail that inevitably deflects attention from preparation of next season's chassis. "That," Whitmarsh said, "is a dilemma I'm happy to have."