McLaren engineering director: Driveability critical in team’s late 2014 performance


While McLaren finished fifth in the 2014 constructors’ championship, the team noticeably started to pick things up toward the tail end of the season. Jenson Button in particular came on strong with four Top-5 finishes in the final five Grands Prix.

Now comes 2015, which will see McLaren join forces with Honda on its new MP4-30 challenger for Button and new teammate Fernando Alonso.

The team’s engineering director, Matt Morris, says that what they learned in the waning stages of 2014 will be helpful as they seek to get back to regular appearances on the podium next season.

Morris notes that attaining driveability became more important to the team than sticking with data simulations as 2014 progressed.

“One of the main areas we focused on during the season was our mindset about how we actually perceive performance gains,” he says in a “tech review” on the McLaren web site. “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 lap time 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.”

The Japanese Grand Prix was critical for McLaren in that regard. The team rolled out a new front-end aero package for that race, and immediately, both Button and 2014 teammate Kevin Magnussen reacted with approval.

“All of a sudden, the drivers were saying: ‘The car’s changed – it’s better,’ Morris recalls. “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.”

In Morris’ eyes, the late-season strides made by McLaren will serve as a good foundation for its work on the MP4-30 this off-season.

“In general, the last four or five races were very positive for us,” he said. “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.”