2014 tech review of the year
On the surface, this year’s MP4-29 chassis was a logical evolution of last year’s car. However, the new-for-2014 powertrain regulations – which saw the end of the 2.4-litre, naturally aspirated V8 era, which began in 2006, and the introduction of all-new 1.6-litre turbo V6 with sophisticated energy recovery systems – meant a thorough overhaul of the design.
Valuable lessons learned during ’13 were incorporated into the design, and the engineering team kept pushing hard to bring development to the car right up until the very last race of the season.
While the car’s debut was strong – Kevin and Jenson both finished on the podium at the season-opener in Australia – it was the strength of the end-of-season development that most buoyed the team, for those new concepts will be taken over into 2015’s MP4-30 McLaren-Honda.
McLaren engineering director Matt Morris talks through the design of the MP4-29, and analyses the key areas of development that took place through the season.
Into 2014: getting a handle on the new powertrain regulations
“The biggest and hardest challenge for 2014 was the new powertrain, and how that integrated into the car. There were a lot of unknowns – cooling requirements, general packaging concerns – but also the ERS management side, in terms of all the harvesting and deployment strategies.
“The new regs put a lot of strain on the drawing office because there were so many new parts to design and push through the system. The general part-count for the car has gone up by about 20 per cent – from around 10,000 to 12,000 separate components – so we had a lot more to do.
“We didn’t finish 2013 with the most competitive aero package, so we tried to make further big strides over the winter. We obviously changed quite a lot – one of the biggest changes was the novel rear suspension concept.
“So aero and powertrain were the biggest challenges of our winter.”
Melbourne – the calm before the storm
“At the first race of the season, in Australia, we scored a double-podium finish. That was a fantastic great result for the whole team – but it was the calm before the storm, and we knew a storm was coming.
“Let me put that in perspective: our result in Melbourne had more to do with us finishing strongly when a lot of other teams didn’t. Clearly, we had the most reliable engine and ERS system from Mercedes-Benz, which helped, but we’d also done a really good job in terms of cooling and packaging, whereas a lot of teams were suffering with burnt bodywork and overheating components.
“So, for those first few races, we were riding a wave of strong reliability compared to some of our competitors. But when we looked at the data, we knew that wasn’t a true picture. We were looking at the competition – at their apex speeds – and we could see that, once they got it together, they’d make fast progress.”
Driveability: the holy grail?
“One of the main areas we focused on during the season was our mindset about how we actually perceive performance gains. What I mean by that is that, in the past, we’ve used some very mathematical models to tell us a new part is faster – and we’ve tended to believe that. Now, however, what we’ve been increasingly doing is looking at some of those aerodynamic concepts, and thinking beyond what the computer predicts as the laptime improvement.
“In other words, we’ve looked at them more in terms of overall driveability. The word ‘driveability’ has definitely moved up the ranks of our decision-making process as the season’s gone on.”
Successfully building a car the drivers could trust
“And to give you a tangible example of that: at the start of this year, the drivers had complained about the driveability. We tried lots of things to resolve that, but we didn’t really bolt something onto the car that made a difference until we got to Japan, where we ran a new front-end aero package.
“And that made a big difference.
“All of a sudden, the drivers were saying: ‘The car’s changed – it’s better.’ Increasingly, we’re finding that if the driver likes it, he can use his self-confidence in the balance and handling to make the car go faster. That mindset was definitely a catalyst for us pushing further in that direction.
“What we’ve done is increased our envelope of understanding around the car – it’s more holistic; we’re looking at the car in broader terms – and we’re making decisions on a more global scale. That’s one of the big things that we’ve changed in engineering.”
Japan: the start of the turnaround
“Suzuka is a proper circuit, a place that respects well-engineered and aerodynamically efficient cars. So it was good to be competitive in both the dry and the wet around there. That was really encouraging for the engineering team.
“In general, the last four or five races were very positive for us. In those events, Jenson got absolutely everything out of the car, and kept his nose clean in the races. If you look at our competitiveness, taking Mercedes out of the equation, we were probably more competitive than Red Bull and Ferrari in the last four races. Going into the winter, it’s good to know that we have that baseline, as that is what the MP4-30 is based upon.”
The Abu Dhabi front aero package – a step towards the future
“We always knew that the new front aero package we brought to test in Abu Dhabi was going to change the car in a big way, but its arrival at the very last race of the season meant we’d always be limited on time to assess it.
“The package was a significantly new concept, so it had a knock-on effect – not only to aero, but also to set-up. During Friday practice, we unfortunately lost time with Jenson during FP1 [he suffered suspension and hydraulics issues that stemmed nearly off his morning session], so that knocked our test schedule back.
“All the data we’d collected during Friday practice showed that the new package was performing exactly as we’d expected, but we just needed more time to tune the set-up to properly balance it.
“However, we didn’t have the track-time that particular weekend to feel confident about making it work. There was a danger that, had we committed to it and failed to get the set-up right, it would’ve been worse than what we’d been originally running. If we’d introduced it in Brazil, we’d have had more time to develop and race it in Abu Dhabi, knowing that it would be a performance step. We just ran out of time to validate it. Very frustrating….
“Nonetheless, it will be the roll-out front-end package on the MP4-30, as it showed us we were headed in the right direction.”