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McLaren: Korea ‘neutral’ for leading teams

21 October 2010

Contrary to claims elsewhere, McLaren believes that the new Korea International Circuit will not favour any one of the three title-chasing teams, and insists that it can put Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button back into the championship hunt this weekend.

Speaking ahead of the inaugural Korean Grand Prix, the team's principal race engineer Philip Prew told journalists that, after a disappointing Japanese race, McLaren was confident that it had made progress with its latest developments – notably a revised F-duct system – and could be a threat to Red Bull and Ferrari.

Both Hamilton and Button remain contenders for a second world title, despite slipping 28 and 31 points behind overall leader Mark Webber respectively. And, although favouring one or other in the three-race run-in may help McLaren land the drivers' title, Prew insists that the best way of defeating those ahead in the championship is to allow the pair to run their own races without interference.

“I think our target this weekend is very much to get on the podium,” Prew noted, “In fact, we need to be in front of Webber. We need two cars at the front, competing for the front row of the grid in qualifying, and then delivering a race result on the podium. That's the target.

“[The circuit is] a very good combination of quite a few different sorts of circuits. Obviously, it has some long straights with big stops, which is not dissimilar to Canada, which I think will favour our car. Sector two is a bit more like Turkey, where we performed quite well. And then you come to the last sector, typically a high-downforce sector, a bit more like Hungary perhaps. So, if I had to say which car it favoured, I would say it's actually quite a neutral circuit and there are aspects of it which will favour every one of the top teams.

“It just depends whether we can gain enough on the long straights and in the high-speed sectors to compensate for the strengths of the Red Bull in some of the flowing and long corners towards the end of the circuit. There are certainly areas where we will excel and some areas where I think the Red Bull will be very strong. I don't think any of the top three cars will have it all their own way.”

McLaren's push for both titles saw it take another raft of updates to the Japanese Grand Prix, where simply a raft would have been more suitable, as incessant rain flooded the track and restricted the amount of time the team had to work on assimilating the new parts with the car.

Prew admits that the development programme had to wait while both drivers reverted to the previous set-up, but confirms that the team has been working hard in the intervening couple of weeks to ensure that it is more race-ready for Korea.

“[In terms of] our understanding and knowledge of how it was all going to work with the car, and interaction with the rest of the car, we gained some knowledge there, but really we ran out of time at Suzuka to gain the confidence that it was a robust enough solution to take racing,” he conceded, “A good clear session on Friday here will give us a lot more track time and we are optimistic that we can work through a programme to give us that confidence.

“Obviously, our desire and hope is that we can race that with confidence and gain the performance out of it that we think there is available. We will certainly be running the new rear wing on Friday and continuing the investigations that were cut short in Suzuka, [while] we also have a new front wing. They are the two big updates that will be visible on the car [but], in addition to that, we have some smaller mechanical updates, all aiming to add to performance.”

Given Red Bull's domination of qualifying this season, Prew accepts the suggestion that it might be a good time to get ahead of Webber and team-mate Sebastian Vettel on the gird, but insists that, with the KIC layout as it is, missing the front row may not be a disaster either.

“I think we've had some very good launch performance over recent races, which would put us in good stead going into the first corner,” he pointed out, “Then, on a timed lap, there are three good straights, which actually give you an opportunity to catch up, and another opportunity to overtake.

“In that aspect, I think there are some very good overtaking opportunities here, not just because of the braking points to make the overtaking, but the opportunity to gain on the first two straights and perhaps make the overtaking manoeuvre into turn four for example. I think we have strengths in that area on our car and I think the opening laps could be very interesting, even if we're behind.”


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