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Horner lays blame on McLaren ECU for Webber woes

18 March 2013

McLaren has more than enough headaches in the technical department after the team's dire showing in the Australian Grand Prix at the weekend, the first race in the 2013 F1 world championship.

But now they've come under fire from rival team boss Christian Horner, who has suggested that it was a vital component developed and delivered by a McLaren subsidiary which directly caused Mark Webber's dreadful start in the race at Albert Park, Melbourne.

"Mark's problems were hugely frustrating because it was an ECU issue that is obviously supplied by a third party," said the Red Bull team principal. "I'll let you guess who that is!"

The ECU - the electronic control unit - is the brains of the car and handles all the telemetry systems in an F1 car. All the teams use a standardised sealed unit provided by McLaren Electronics Systems (MES), which has supplied ECUs to F1 and many other motorsports series around the world for a number of years.

The previous ECU system used in F1 had been regarded as "bulletproof" in terms of reliability. However, this season sees the introduction of a new generation of ECU components as part of a major change in technical regulations coming through for 2014, specifically relating to a new generation of energy recovery systems (ERS) and the introduction of V6 engines to the sport.

Red Bull was not at all happy when that new unit for their #2 car failed, depriving them of access to critical data immediately before the start of the race in Melbourne.

"We lost all telemetry on the formation lap, so we couldn't do the preparation you need to for the start. It totally messed it up," fumed Horner of the problems facing Webber and his car crew. "He and the engineers were completely blind."

Not only did Webber lose six spots off the grid as a result of the launch set-up issues, the Australian also went half the race without being able to use his KERS boost system - something else that came down to the issues with the McLaren ECU.

"The ECU issue also shut down KERS, so by the time we had reset the whole system, it lost Mark the start and early ground," revealed Horner. "It's something they need to get on top of because there were a lot of issues during testing," he added, giving a direct warning to McLaren that he was not happy with the situation.

Over at McLaren, the increasingly beleaguered team principal Martin Whitmarsh told Press Association Sport that he was "distressed" to hear of Horner's complaints.

"I'll be disappointed if it is our fault because in F1, NASCAR and IndyCar, we've not yet stopped a car, and we're very proud of that record," he said. "It undoubtedly caused some headaches at the beginning of testing and I hope we haven't caused anyone problems here.

"I don't want to be defensive about our electronics business because if you undertake to supply these things then you expect them to be faultless," he added. "We'll put our hands up if it's a fault that's derived from the hardware or the BIOS [but] you can also inflict ECU problems on yourself by how you set it up."

Whitmarsh promised to look into the matter and said that customers usually weren't slow to let him know if anything was amiss with McLaren's products.

"It is very complex [and] we're running a completely new system on an old established engine for one year," he pointed out. "But at least next year when we transition into the new engine, and with a lot of complexity around the ERS - which is far more complex than KERS - we've something that has the capacity to deal with it."

Subsequent reports on Monday quoted the managing director of MES Peter van Manen as saying that Webber's problem in Melbourne had been tracked down to the data systems in the Red Bull garage, rather than an issue with the ECU in the car.

Webber ended his home event in sixth place despite starting on the front row alongside team mate Sebastian Vettel. "I felt like I drove well all weekend," he said, "so it was frustrating to come away so low down in the points.

"Things went against me from the start: we had no telemetry on the grid, we had no KERS for the opening 20 laps and the car fell off the jacks at the first pitstop, costing me time," he explained. "When you find yourself in the middle of the pack and you don't have KERS, you're in a really hard place. You can't attack and it's hard to defend through the DRS zones."


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