Whilst conceding that it has no 'massive step in terms of car upgrades' planned for this weekend's European Grand Prix, McLaren-Mercedes has played down the significance of the F-duct being brought along by Red Bull Racing in Valencia - but did admit to 'concern' over the much-touted new exhaust-blown rear end being debuted by Ferrari.

Following the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal just under a fortnight ago, the duel for glory between McLaren, Red Bull and Ferrari could scarcely be any more finely-poised - so much so, indeed, that it is nigh-on impossible to accurately predict a winner around Valencia's harbourside streets on Sunday.

Whilst RBR is likely to run its F-duct - a drag-reducing innovation pioneered by McLaren back at the beginning of the year - in the race, Ferrari is boasting of an improvement of as much as a staggering seven tenths of a second a lap from its exhaust-blown rear end, a Red Bull-style aerodynamic update that channels airflow around the diffuser and rear beam wing far more efficiently.

The pair's Woking-based rival, by contrast, will have to wait until it arrives on home turf at Silverstone for the British Grand Prix next month before introducing its own exhaust-blown rear end to the MP4-25, a car that proved to be the class of the field in Canada and is tipped to shine again in Spain. McLaren engineering director Paddy Lowe confesses that the Scuderia's greater alacrity in getting the device onto its F10 has potentially thrown a short-term spanner into the works.

"For Valencia, we are not promising a massive step in terms of car upgrades," the 48-year-old revealed in a special Vodafone McLaren-Mercedes Phone-In session ahead of the race. "Most of our efforts will go into making the best of this circuit. A number of other teams are broadcasting reasonably large updates, and whilst we are not one of those, we will have a bigger package for Silverstone.

"We will see what [Red Bull] do [with the F-duct]. They brought it in Turkey, ran it on the Friday and then bailed out for the rest of the weekend, so this is their second attempt. It is a system not without challenges to get it to work, particularly in a way that is net-positive in performance improvement. It's not a huge concern for us - we expected teams to be playing catch-up in that area, just as we are emulating their exhaust aspect. When Red Bull get it to work, we are ready to face that.

"[Ferrari's exhaust-blown rear end] is a concern; we will have to see how they get on with it. It's a shame that some others have been slightly quicker to get it to race than we have, but we are where we are. Red Bull have made an interesting use of the exhaust exit flow, and all the rest of the teams are playing catch-up in that area. It has been a pretty major project and there are some technical challenges in designing it - not least the fact that blasting the bodywork with exhaust flow can generate some reasonably high temperatures.

"It's quite a significant performance step, and it's something we are aiming to bring to the British Grand Prix and try to make it work from the outset. We are able to evaluate in the simulator how these things work, and with no proper track testing, we will be doing trials and an aerodynamic test in the wind tunnel before Silverstone, and hope to have it working in the practice sessions ahead of race day on the Sunday. I think we are very well-prepared to exploit it, and we are reasonably confident we will get the performance we predict [from it]. The concern is more about making sure it's reliable and fit for racing.

"This weekend, we have to just see what we can do. Each circuit has different characteristics. We saw Ferrari really struggled in Turkey, and I can't predict as an overall package where they will end up [in Valencia], no more than I can predict where we will end up. That unpredictability and variation from circuit-to-circuit is great for the interest in the sport at the moment."

One element that will arguably play against McLaren and in favour of Ferrari in the months and years to-come is the fact that the former's highly-regarded erstwhile chief engineer Pat Fry has this week been confirmed as having joined the Prancing Horse as assistant technical director, and will begin his new role at Maranello at the beginning of next month.

With the best part of two decades' experience at McLaren, the Englishman's loss will be keenly-felt - but Lowe is adamant that it will not adversely affect the team, and will in fact create new possibilities for fresh blood to rise.

"Pat was here a long time as a great friend to all of us and a great engineer, so we will miss him a lot from that point-of-view," he acknowledged, "but we are very pleased to see he has got something else that he will enjoy doing. Ferrari is a long-time rival of ours, and I think he will do a great job there.

"It doesn't fill me with any great fear or dread that he has taken all of our knowledge over there, because our team has great strength across all the different disciplines. Individuals can contribute, but they don't bring a whole across-the-board set of knowledge to another team. When you have change within an organisation, it throws up some great opportunities for the next generation, and it's a chance for growth within the team which we need to sustain our long-term development."


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