D he first appearance of the McLaren MP4-26 ended with raised eyebrows. At the presentation in Berlin, the peculiarities of the car immediately caught the eye. A nose with a splinter underneath. Side boxes in the shape of ears. An airbox with two air inlets. An idiosyncratic rear end with extremely wide wishbones and steeply sloping side pods. An exhaust that you couldn't see.
Exhaust trick turns into a crackpot
The McLaren The stretch limousine was also in the field. Team boss Martin Whitmarsh defends the principle of the extra-long wheelbase: 'This allowed us to make the tank narrower, and that created space in a sensitive area for aerodynamics. In theory, the car is a little slower to turn, but practice has shown in Monte Carlo that the disadvantage is negligible. '
For a long time it was puzzled as to where the tailpipes of the exhaust on the new McLaren open. Before you finally knew what the technicians had come up with, they had to throw the solution back in the trash. They had let the two exhaust pipes open into a collector behind the gearbox, from which the exhaust gases were blown off in all possible directions like an octopus. But the aerodynamic aid became a huge blow. Tailpipes broke, underbody melted and the hoped-for aerodynamic effect fizzled out.
During the test phase, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button bobbed around in the lower midfield. The car was in the garage more than it was scrubbing off kilometers on the racetrack. The pilots were already painting a future gray on gray when Whitmarsh spoke a word of power. 'Stop the experiment and build me an exhaust like Red Bull has.'
McLaren turns the tide
Two weeks later, Hamilton put the remodeled McLaren in second place in Melbourne. The underbody was partially reinforced with titanium plates to protect against heat radiation from the tailpipe embedded in the floor. In the second race, McLaren's makeshift made a name for itself as a Red Bull fright. Red Bull's lead shrunk from eight to a tenth in Malaysia. Race three in Shanghai went to McLaren for the first time.
Nico Hülkenberg applauded devoutly: 'When you consider how long it took most teams to copy the Red Bull exhaust, and then look at how quickly it did it McLaren succeeded thenyou can only take your hat off to this team. '
At the Spanish GP, McLaren pulled the first major facelift out of its sleeve. The rear axle was modified, the gearbox replaced and the rear section made slimmer. Hamilton had the victory the foot, but couldn't get past Vettel. One race later, Jenson Button stuck half the race in Vettel's slipstream. With Alonso's Ferrari as a buffer in between. When Button won the chaos race in Montreal, that was the only time you had the feeling the world championship could still tip over.
McLaren not constant enough
But then McLaren crashed for two races, and in Valencia the rear tires overheated because the cooling of the rear brakes was insufficiently dimensioned In England, McLaren suffered from the consequences of the ban on actively blowing the diffuser on, with Paddy Lowe, chief technology officer, among the secret ringleaders of the anti-diffuser campaign - when the FIA was part of it for the first time threatened a ban, Woking showed understanding and had the engine maps reprogrammed in a flash.
At Silverstone it became clear that it was an own goal. 'We need the blown diffuser more than any other team,' noted Button. The World Cup runner-up revealed to a friend: 'We win two seconds with this technique.' The explanation: The Red Bull is basically a better racing car than the McLaren MP4-26. It was easier for him to do without the artificial flow aid in the rear, even if he had the more sophisticated system.
As soon as you were allowed to blow exhaust gases into the diffuser in all throttle positions, McLaren was back. Hamilton won at the Nürburgring, Button in Budapest. The development machinery in Woking was running well oiled. A total of ten different front wings and twelve diffuser variants were added to the car. Then followed three stretches that broke McLaren's neck. Adrian Newey had made his RB7 fit for the high-speed slopes in Spa and Monza in a special assignment. The stop-and-go course in Singapore was practically tailor-made for the Red Bull.
McLaren with a few mishaps in qualifying
It was there that the competition gambled away good starting positions due to individual mistakes. McLaren broke down mostly in the qualification. And they cost good starting positions. In Monte Carlo they wanted to save tires, sent Hamilton out too late and promptly ran into a demolition after the Perez accident. At Silverstone, McLaren wanted to be smarter than the weather forecast. When Hamilton finally took to the track with fresh tires, it was drizzling.
In Spa communication with the driver was disrupted. Jenson Button was not given precise instructions that he had to drive two fast laps in a row without a cooling phase in between. In Monza it was understood too late that Vettel had drawn the trump card with his briefly translated seventh gear. Hamilton waited in vain in Singaporegreen light for his third attempt. The tank system sucked instead of pumping. By the time the necessary twelve liters were finally in the tank, the clock was up.
The Suzuka weekend began in the same style. McLaren sent both drivers out on the track so late for the last attempt that Hamilton, trying to keep the distance from Button, was unable to cross the line in time for his final flying lap. Button took on his part and won the Grand Prix with Grandezza. Red Bull gambled away with the setup. The last McLaren success in Abu Dhabi fell into the hands of Hamilton without a fight after Vettel's flat tire.
On good days faster than Red Bull
Conclusion: McLaren beat Red Bull on good days. But everything had to fit. The track characteristics, the setup, the pit stops. Curiously, the McLaren MP4-26 was fast on the tracks where its predecessor had no chance. Routes like Barcelona, Budapest, Suzuka or Abu Dhabi. 'In fast corners we lost up to 20 km /h to the Red Bull last year. Now we are as fast or better there,' interjects Button.
It also took too long to get the rear wing -Adjustment worked perfectly. Button: 'Only in the final stages of the World Cup was our wing as efficient as Red Bull's.' There are point deductions for the five zero rounds. Hamilton sidelined the car twice. Once the transmission went on strike. Button was stranded at the Nürburgring with a hydraulic defect, and in Silverstone the mechanics had not put on a front wheel after a pit stop. Before it could start its own business, Button stopped.
Jenson Button was one of this season's winners. He cracked Lewis Hamilton. No teammate of the colored Briton has ever succeeded in doing this. After Button's victory in Suzuka, his team-mate had to acknowledge: 'Jenson does a better job than me.' The Button share has never been so popular. In the final too, the 2009 world champion showed that his runner-up title did not come about by chance. Although the new soft Pirelli tires were too spongy to Button's taste, he coped with the problem better than his teammate.
Pirelli -Tire 2012 as a disadvantage?
It was a warning shot for McLaren for 2012 at the right time. The Red Bull RB7 responded significantly better than the McLaren to the larger tread movement of the soft tire type. Probably because the car is set up less hard. For McLaren, the FIA wants to put an end to the flexible front wing. 'This technology never worked for us,' regretted Whitmarsh.
It will be interesting to see what McLaren does with the exhaust next year. For a long time they fought against the impending ban on blowing the diffuser side by side with Red Bull. Apparently, McLaren had found a loophole.Another reason for this is that McLaren, like Red Bull, planned with too large a tank for the MP4-27. 'The chassis was approved in September, at a time when there was no talk of a total ban,' admits Martin Whitmarsh. 'We don't want to go into the 2012 season quite as aggressively, but we will have some interesting parts on the car,' the team boss promised.
World Cup place: 2
World Championship points: 497
GP victories: 6
Pole positions: 1
Fastest laps: 6
Race kilometers: 10804.1 km=284.3 km per driver and GP (4th place)
Leading laps: 238
Points placements: 33
Target arrivals: 33
Failures: 5 (3 defects, 2 accident)
Driver: Jenson Button (P2), Lewis Hamilton (P5)
Engine: Mercedes V8