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The engineering room

Your briefing for the US Grand Prix

Got your pass? Check. McLaren kit? Check. Okay, good, now switch off your phone and follow us through the glass doors and into the Paddock Performance Centre. Grab a coffee on your way in, and we’ll get started with our engineering briefing for the US Grand Prix.

The Circuit of the Americas is one of the newer tracks on the calendar but has a historic feel to it, having taken inspiration from some classic Formula 1 tracks, including Silverstone and Suzuka.

The track has undergone some resurfacing since we were last here and some of our planned work will focus on how that affects our set-up, with downforce, strategy and tyre choice on the agenda, as well as the continued learning of our new aerodynamic package. 

Looking to explain and simplify that for you is Jose Manuel López, who will lead this weekend's briefing. Take notes if you need them, but please keep them to yourself.

Engineer: Jose Manuel López
Event: United States Grand Prix
Circuit: Circuit of the Americas



There are always a few minor details being introduced, but we don’t have anything significant that’s new on the car. We’re therefore concentrating on set-up from the start of the session.

The things we need to learn at COTA are the usual job list – albeit perhaps a little more critical at this circuit than would be the case elsewhere. We’re interested in tyre performance, for both qualifying and the race, downforce levels, stiffnesses and ride-heights.

In the general sense, we’re still learning about our new aerodynamic package. Lando ran it in Singapore, then both cars had it at Suzuka – but neither weekend made assessing it easy. Singapore is very bumpy, and we had rain: Japan we had a lot of rain, so we’re still learning how to exploit it as much as possible. Interesting day ahead!

Key points

1 | Alex Palou's role in FP1

Something new for Friday this week, we have Alex Palou driving Daniel's car during FP1 as part of our requirement to have rookie drivers in for two FP1 sessions this season. Alex has recently tested the MCL35M in Barcelona and in Austria, but this is his first outing during a grand prix weekend.

Alex will be doing a reasonably standard session, contributing to our learning for this weekend. He’ll be collecting aero data at the start of the session, and then, as he gets up to speed, he’ll be helping the team with his feedback on track conditions and the balance limitations of the car.

Having Alex in the other car doesn’t change Lando’s programme for FP1 – though we obviously need to execute his plan well. While Alex is getting up to speed, we need to make sure we’re ticking all the boxes on our side of the garage.


2 | Tyre choice

The weather this weekend is expected to be dry and warm, getting progressively hotter as the weekend proceeds. Sunday is expected to be the hottest day, which will make the race challenging as it will have a significant impact on how the tyres perform at high fuel and on long runs. Understanding this is the priority.

We have the C2, C3 and C4 compounds this weekend, from the middle of Pirelli’s range. COTA is a tough track on tyres, we’re expecting high thermal degradation, requiring a lot of pace management on Sunday. We would like to find out how much.

The other factor with the tyres is that the US Grand Prix still looks like being on the cusp of one or two stops, as has traditionally been the case. Qualifying is also important – though finding out if overtaking has become easier in 2022 is also on the job list – so we need to learn about all three compounds.

3 | Downforce level

We also need to find our best downforce level. COTA is a tricky one to judge, because it’s very close between our maximum downforce set-up and the higher end of our medium downforce package.

The circuit offers a variety of corner types, with Sector One very high speed and then a long straight in Sector Two and lower speed corners in Sector Three. The maximum and medium-high packages work well in different places.

We’re expecting strong winds this weekend, which will make the first sector quite tricky. In those conditions, we’ll play it safe and start with downforce at the higher end of the range and go from there, depending on the data and feedback we receive.


4 | The condition of the track

Another thing we must learn is the state of the track itself. There’s been a lot of resurfacing work at COTA, including pretty much all of the run from Turn Two through to the kink at T10, and then at the beginning of the Third Sector from T12 to T16.

Austin has always had a reputation as a bumpy circuit, and one where ride is difficult to judge – and we need to understand if that is still the case. Maybe it’s improved. We’ve walked the track and watched a lot of footage of other series racing here recently – but we won’t really know how it affects us until our car has driven on it.

The state of the circuit feeds into all our other calculations. It’s very important because ride height and all the stiffnesses we can run this weekend will depend on the data we receive. It likewise affects downforce level and tyre performance. If the track’s suddenly smooth, it’s a different race.

Our preference on downforce might well come down to the grip on the new surface. If the grip is a little lower than expect, then that favours the maximum downforce package; if grip is a little higher, then it favours medium downforce. Always difficult to judge with new tarmac.

5 | Pirelli's FP2 tyre test

Our ability to learn this weekend is hampered by FP2 being given over to a Pirelli tyre test. It means the session expands to 90 minutes instead of the usual hour – but at the same time we have to follow a run plan dictated by Pirelli.

This applies to a lesser extent on Daniel’s side of the garage. As a result of running Alex in FP1, Daniel gets the first half of FP2 to run his own programme, before the Pirelli mandate takes over. Lando will be working to the Pirelli plan for the full 90 minutes.

Each team will be given a different programme prescribed by Pirelli, and it means we are a little limited on what we can do during the session – but we’ll be trying to maximise our learning across the whole day and there will be opportunities to learn during the Pirelli test.

Briefing complete. Time for Lando, Daniel and Alex to head out onto the track so we can collect some data and put our hard work to the test.

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