The Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team unveiled their latest car, the MP4-26, during a press event in Berlin today (February 4th).
The new MP4-26 features some interesting concepts including a long flat high nose, radical, high L-shaped sidepods and airbox tweaks. In addition, a more standard exhaust layout, unlike the Renault R31 seen in testing at Valencia this week
By opting to wait until after the first pre-season Formula 1 test to unveil the MP4-26, McLaren made use of the time with an interim MP4-25 to focus on tyre development from Pirelli in Valencia this week.
And although the decision means that McLaren’s main rivals have had three days of running so far with their new cars, Jenson Button believes that the team have an advantage. The reason? By having more development time with its 2011 challenger, McLaren were able to benefit more R&D leading to a better understanding on the Pirelli tyre characteristics.
“I am sure they are saying also that they have got an advantage because they are driving the new car already, and doing set-up work, KERS work and rear wing work, but I think that for us as a team we understand KERS and that is important,” Jenson said.
“I think it was important for us to spend as much time as possible building our car and that when we get it on the circuit it is competitive.
“For us it was the best situation to go to Valencia with the old car and to drive the new Pirellis, and it is good because we can compare the tyres – and you can get lost if there is so much going on.
“We have had to limit also some set-up changes and really think about what we are doing, because you are just getting used to the tyre the whole time. But we found some really interesting things at the test and we should be happy with what we have learned.”
Button added that he feel far more integrated with McLaren this year because he has had a whole winter of preparation.
“It has been a good year actually,” he explained. “Before Christmas I spent a lot of time at the factory driving the simulator and getting fitted into the new car. And I feel a lot more at home in the car.
“I haven’t driven it yet, but the position in the car I am properly in it. I feel very comfortable and I can feel the car has been built around me, and that is something that wasn’t possible last year because I arrived so late.
“I am the tallest driver so I am the limiting factor, but I fit in very well and I am in a much more comfortable position, which is important.
“We have just been making steps forward in many different areas. Lewis and myself have been giving a lot of feedback and it has been a good winter of simulator work, and we have a good simulator model of this tyre, which is very lucky.
“If all that set-up effort works when we put it on the car in reality we will be in a very good position already in Jerez.”
Button also thinks McLaren’s chances of success are boosted by the good working relationship he has enjoyed with team-mate Lewis Hamilton.
“We have both achieved a lot in our careers already, but we want to achieve a hell of a lot more,” he said. “We want to be beat each other, but we also want to work together because two technically minded people, rather than one, makes a big difference.
“You can throw comments out there, and really work against each other, or you can work with each other. It has really helped us learn over the year in 2010 and you will see this year we will be a lot stronger.”
We will find how competitive the MP4-26 compares to the others in the next testing session at Jerez.