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GP Week : Issue 121
T he raw numbers said it all. Sebastian Vettel – 320km/h. Fernando Alonso – 319km/h. Jenson Button – 316km/h. Lewis hamilton – 314km/h. Through the speed trap on Montreal’s longest straight. In qualifying. With rear flaps down. McLaren, virtual owners in recent times of Montreal, of the season’s first major ‘low-downforce’ track, had sunk virtually without trace. At terminal velocity. Right where they were always going to be strong. The three of them – Jenson, Martin Whitmarsh (team principal) and Lewis, all in black team leisure gear, sat next to one another in the cramped McLaren meeting room. ‘Drag’ was the catchword of the afternoon. The smiles were thin. “ Well, yes, I think it’s pretty clear now that we’re carrying too much drag,” began Martin sheepishly. “ We took a decision several weeks ago to focus on our larger-chord wing here and in retrospect – which is always a beautiful thing – we could perhaps have brought too much drag here to Montreal. We’ll see. If it rains we won’t necessarily have more downforce but the disadvantage won’t be as great. We’re not counting on the rain but the forecast at this stage is not looking good ...” Twenty-four hours before, McLaren’s technical director, Paddy Lowe, had explained why the team had not taken the traditional ‘low-downforce’ route in Montreal: “ We haven’t brought anything particularly special here – nothing like the sort of changes we would have done in the past. As we have seen, the regulations push us into a smaller and smaller box: the difference between a ‘high-downforce’ circuit such as Monaco and a ‘lower-downforce’ circuit such as Canada has become less and less. And that is true for us here in Canada.” That made sense – although Paddy then qualified his comments by saying that the advent of adjustable rear flaps had not been a major factor in his thinking: “If you look at the race, you are not factoring in DRS (drag reduction system) as a routine element. In terms of race performance, DRS is not a factor.” Paddy also allowed, as he was rushed away to yet another interview session, that this would not be the case at Monza: “Oh yes. At Monza we’ll definitely be in low- downforce trim ...” Williams’ Sam Michael agreed with Lowe: “We are in a similar state to everyone else in that you tend to race a much higher level of downforce in Montreal than you used to. From our point of view DRS does have an effect, however, because no longer are we going too far away from the optimum lap time just to add speed on the straight.” Now, though, in the McLaren office, with the damage done in qualifying, and with Jenson and Lewis lining up fifth and seventh, the mood was very different: faces were long. Jenson nervously jogged his left leg as he listened and occasionally chimed in; Lewis looked everywhere except at the people around him. Had a big mistake been made? Had McLaren neutralised their chances? The Red Bulls were indeed running a smaller rear wing at Montreal – and had picked up straight-line speed without any apparent loss of aero efficiency over the lap. Ferrari, too, were running less drag at the rear; Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa had responded by qualifying second and third. “We think that our DRS system is not as strong as that of Ferrari or Mercedes,” continued Whitmarsh. “We’re probably similar to Red Bull in this regard. So that is something we’re working on ...” Ah. So there was the hint: the ‘standard’ McLaren rear wing has a greater DRS effect than a smaller (typically Montreal- spec) wing would have allowed. That basically pitches the speed increase when the flap’s flat against the downforce the wing generates around the rest of the racing lap, when it’s vertical. Thus the use of the word ‘strong’: in compromise terms, the larger McLaren rear wing obviously provided the better solution to the problem. And the problem, of course, was the old one: how quick can you be around the full lap at Montreal without hurting your chances of overtaking in a straight line, DRS and all? Andsothemeetingswounddown.The talk that night was of Seb’s pole and of the resurgence of Ferrari. Seb had added his autograph to the ‘Champions’ Wall’ – the exit of the last corner – on Friday morning but had recovered beautifully to dominate on Saturday. And both Ferrari drivers had looked supple and unruffled. On this circuit, where there are no long, fast corners to flatter the RB7 and/or to punish the Ferraris and McLarens, it was Ferrari who appeared to be stepping up to take new advantage. JB suffered two collisions, a drive-through penalty, a puncture and made a total of six trips to the pits. And he still won. How did he do it? Peter Windsor analyses one of the most exciting Grands Prix anyone can remember... BUTTON: THE CURIOUS CASE OF HOW HE WON IN CANADA 22