One man that has been a major part of McLaren-Mercedes’ testing team since 2005 is Britain’s Gary Paffett, who has been racing for Mercedes-Benz in the DTM for over a decade. He has been there through some major regulation changes during his ongoing tenure, and is well aware of what the teams have had to contend with for 2014.
Now that that final test at Bahrain has now left the teams packing up and going home, and get ready for Melbourne, I spoke to the Suffolk-based driver about the main focus that McLaren and a lot of the other teams have had during testing, as well as other topics such as who is doing well and what the key is to being competitive this year from his perspective within the F1 world.
The regulations were clearly the first topic under discussion, as Paffett explained: “That is the biggest talking point and issue. We redesign cars when it comes to suspension and aerodynamics every year, which is not a real big issue when it comes to the differences.
“Having a completely new engine package, especially when we have gone to a V6 turbo package and a different energy recovery system, is a big challenge for the engine manufacturers to overcome. Mercedes have shown that they have done the best job of everybody thus far, having covered the most mileage and seem to be the most reliable.”
He said that McLaren were clearly focused on making sure that the car ran before stepping up the ante towards performance, even with the fact that the team had issues with no running at all when it came to hitting the track for the very first time at Jerez: “We didn’t get any track time, but once we got going, we didn’t really have that many problems. There was confidence from the team that Mercedes were going to do a good job, so we had to make sure a good job was done with the MP4-29. The last test, we’ve been looking at performance and seeing what we can get out of the car. ”
The testing miles that have been racked up by both Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen showed that McLaren is in clearly better shape than last year, with the internal combustion engine failure putting a premature end to the final day in Bahrain.
The 2005 DTM Champion also gave his views on the opposition when it came to those that have to provide the power units that will push the twenty-two cars and drivers around the 19 tracks this season: “Ferrari seem to be next best, as they’ve done a fair amount of mileage, but have still had their fair share of issues, whereas Renault have struggled quite a lot with their engine packages.
“They are getting up to speed, but being the last test, Red Bull have not been able to get a lot of mileage under their belts ready for Melbourne.”
Red Bull, even with the disruptions today, has been able to get some mileage under their belts, but the fact is that everyone has had issues. It was a matter of not if, but when these incidents would occur that we would see what has transpired at testing. But the biggest question is that who is going to be the first victim of a very public power unit failure? That is anyone’s guess, and no one is safe from it just quite yet.
With Eric Boullier now Director of Racing at the team, Gary explained that due to testing being underway, he has been hard at work at the McLaren Technology Centre in the simulator, helping to accelerate the performance gains and provide intrinsic feedback for this year.
“There is a lot of focus, and not with just the fact that Eric has joined. Ron has come back in charge of the team again and we are all very focused on winning now. That was there before but now there is a bit more to it. The team seems to be happy now and is working hard as well. We are also hopeful of having a good year too.”
One of the biggest talking points is how the current crop of F1 drivers and the new guys, including Daniil Kvyat, Marcus Ericsson and Kevin Magnussen, will be able to adapt to the new regulations, which also has a fuel flow limit of 100kg per race and per hour. Paffett said that it will come down to those that pick up the regulations quickest and work them to their advantage: “Everyone is having to relearn how to drive these cars, so it is more of a blank sheet of paper that we all have to work from.”
He also mentioned that it was the right time for Kevin to make to move to a full-time seat, especially with his speed being no issue at all at Woking: “There is a lot more to it than that when it comes to fast times, as his consistency has improved over the test and the long runs he has been doing have been looking pretty strong.
“Until we get to the racing, we don’t know how it’s all going to pan out. There is still a lot for him to learn, but things are looking good at the moment.”
Richland F1 would like to thank Fiona Hewitson at Mark Blundell Partners for arranging the interview and thank Gary for his time in talking to us.
Images courtesy of Octane Photographic.