Q & A with McLaren's Jonathan Neale

With just a few days to before the start of the Formula 1 season in Bahrain, McLaren lies in a far healthier position speed-wise than it did a year ago, with drivers Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton both looking like contenders for victory at Sakhir

Q & A with McLaren's Jonathan Neale

Following the launch of McLaren's partnership with investment specialist X-Trade Brokers in Warsaw, the team's managing director Jonathan Neale spoke to reporters via teleconference.

Q. Will there be any new modifications to the MP4-25 in Bahrain compared to what was run at Barcelona?

Jonathan Neale: There are some pretty low level ones, but nothing night and day. We will continue to work through details regarding the efficiency of our pitstops. There are one or two minor aerodynamic developments on the car, but it will look and feel like the car we had at the end of the Barcelona test.

Q. Where are the aero modifications?

JN: Some around the diffuser and we're yet to make a decision on what we do about sidepod wings. There's the usual arsenal of stuff to come over the next few races.

Q. Do you have any concerns over the legality of the car's rear wing, ahead of the FIA inspection in Bahrain?

JN: Charlie [Whiting] is not inspecting really, but is going to continue to confirm that he's happy, which is what we've tried to do all the way through this process. It's regrettable that his plane got cancelled while leaving Sao Paulo by 24 hours because it would have been nice to take the opportunity with him and some of the other FOTA team members to finish it off [and have the inspection carried out] in the UK [before leaving for Bahrain], but we're quite relaxed about it.

We've spoken to [Ferrari team principal] Stefano [Domenicali] and some of the other team principals and colleagues there and of course everyone wants to see clarity. We're doing the same on a number of other teams' developments. There's nothing untoward about it though - we're quite confident the car is legal.

Q. Why do you think you're car has been singled out?

JN: We don't feel that way. Charlie and the FIA have been very co-operative throughout this process.

Q. Can you say yet whether Jenson Button's or Lewis Hamilton's driving style will suit the MP4-25 better?

JN: We're still getting to know Jenson and his preferences on set-up and how we get him dialled in with the car. It's a good question though, who will have the advantage, if any, given the nature of the car and what tyres we take to each race' Lewis is a more aggressive braker and turner of the car so he tries to drive the corners in more of a V-shape.

Jenson is very smooth, which means he carries more momentum in the corners and loads up the car with more lateral G-forces. Both have the propensity to damage tyres if that's done in an unguarded way. At this stage there's no separate development plan. I don't see anything in the vehicle dynamics package that would cause us to deviate, as we have done in the past. It's early and we'll know more after two or three races.

Q. How does the car seem on both light and heavy fuel loads, based on the evidence of testing?

JN: At some point you have to run out of fuel on-track in testing at some point to check just how low you can go and make sure all your warning systems work and tell you it's about to happen. You also know there's a huge range in lap time so when someone was one 1m24s, then they're probably running 100-150kg [of fuel], and there's not much point in being on 135kg. So you can book-end that pretty well.

Most of us are looking at Ferrari's enviable consistency on long-run pace and seeing that there's clearly a lot of effort and work gone into that. You can see from Barcelona that ourselves, Ferrari, Red Bull, Mercedes and even Force India are very strong on light fuel and new tyres, so in qualifying trim it could be very close

Q. Are you taking a backup rear wing to Bahrain in case your current package is deemed illegal?

JN: We're not taking a radically different package, but you just never know what the stewards are going to do on the day. We get the best advice we can from the FIA in the interests of transparency. If the stewards decide on a different course of action though it's still our duty to go racing, so we have a contingency, but I wouldn't put much effort into it.

Q. The MP4-24 was at its best on high-downforce, slow-speed tracks. How have you made the MP4-25 better across the board?

JN: We're confident it will. We've had limited time on tyres and on the new fuel loads. Obviously on cold tracks in testing they never really give you a full signal of how much damage you can do or how tolerant your system is. Jenson and Lewis both commented about how the car felt through turns three and nine at Barcelona and that the car felt really planted.

That gives us good confidence about our high-speed corner performance. But at low speeds it's very easy to lock-up and turn. It's a challenge lots of teams have to navigate through. That's what will guide our development programme. When you look at where we were this time last year too, we weren't going to get sniffy about how efficient the downforce was that was going on the car.

Q. What do you make of the new section of the Sakhir circuit?

JN: We've run it in simulation. It's quite tight so it will remain a high-downforce track. I'm not sure anyone will get onto full throttle on the new piece, so it will be high workload. I haven't seen a lap time prediction, but it will be one of the longer ones. Punishing on the brakes and on temperatures - particularly when following in traffic.

Q. It seems just like last year at the first race when there was concern over the legality of double diffusers, and then more protests after the race. Is this scenario likely again?

JN: I have a pretty good idea, knowing [Red Bull chief technical offer] Adrian [Newey] and the guys as I do that they have a pretty good idea of what's going on with our car. They won't have figured it all out, but they'll be close.

Christian's [Horner] oblique reference to Ferrari being a bit more bossy about it then they were - I don't know. They sought clarity. We're talking to them to make sure that if there are any concerns, they can address them and yes, it depends on what the competitors do on the day.

Q. What is your opinion on the new teams? Should anything be done to ease their transition in?

JN: As a group we have to be supportive in getting new teams off the ground. I respect greatly what the drivers are saying and one or two have raised concerns about it, but I think that's a matter for the FIA. We have to try and get as many new teams off the ground and stabilise them as quickly as possible because we need it in view of the disappointing losses Honda, Toyota and BMW [since 2008] is disappointing.

I'd like to think that collectively we can achieve that. I wouldn't like to be an MD with a car running for the first time on a GP Friday in terms of the reliability package and how do you dial it in with such limited running and so few tyres.

I'm sure that the FIA will look very closely at it and if there are big gaps in closing speeds and plenty of red flags, then they'll take the necessary actions. And it's important that they do because we don't want yet more casualties before the start of the season.

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