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GP Week : Issue 114
Formula 1 FEATURE >> Bull and Ferrari clocked up over 1,700 km. The switch had finally tripped in McLaren HQ at Woking and all effort was engaged in designing a brand new exhaust package to be ready in time for the season-opening grand prix in Melbourne on March 27th. “If you can’t beat them, join them” they say, and that’s precisely what McLaren did. Having failed to get their own exhaust to work, they looked into their neighbouring garage for inspiration, with their new system debuting in Australia bearing a striking resemblance to that on the Red Bull RB7. The brave move reaped rewards almost instantly. The team enjoyed a trouble-free first practice session the first time they ever ran the car with the new exhaust and even topped the times in the second session two hours’ later. “ That experience [of pre- season testing] prompted us to re-design the exhaust package in time for the first race in Australia,” continued Lowe. “In fact, first practice at Albert Park was the very first time we ran the car in that new configuration. It was also the first time we’d done significant mileage in a single day. “ Things came together just in time – and that was down to a combination of factors: we were lucky, I have to admit, but it was much more than luck. “ You have to factor in the skill of the team to work together in a very short period of time to push in a completely different direction; to understand all the different issues – the reliability, the performance – the skills of the team, all the tools they’ve created over the years; they all came through to our profit.” Although they weren’t able to challenge Red Bull for the victory on Sunday, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button brought their cars home in second and sixth places, having previously never been reliable enough to complete a single race distance without breaking down. The achievement was worthy of a win and put the team in the middle of a title fight that few had expected to feature anyone other than Red Bull and Ferrari. Two races on and McLaren are winners again. The emotion on Hamilton’s face as he stood atop the podium to pick up his second Chinese Grand Prix victory highlighted just how momentous an occasion it was to come from the shambles of a stop-start pre-season testing campaign to winning grands prix on merit at the very pinnacle of motorsport again. A scare with a fuel flooding incident just minutes before Hamilton was due to leave for the grid only added to the extraordinary achievement and reminded everyone that writing McLaren off is a foolish and dangerous business to be in. “For Australia, we had 10 days. In China, just six minutes. In both instances, the team brought all their resources to the objective and rose magnificently to the occasion,” concluded Paddy. “It still makes me emotional when I think about it.” 33