"I think we can bounce back, yes. I think last year was tough for all of us, but it was definitely a good learning year," McLaren driver Jenson Button said during a Twitter session earlier today. 2014 might be an even bigger learning year, though.
The new MP4-29 sports some interesting changes as part of the new technical regulations for this season. Of course, we've written at length about the addition of turbocharged, 1.6-liter V6 engines for this season, but we haven't discussed many of the other changes. Eight-speed transmissions replace last season's seven-speed cogswappers, while cars now have a maximum rate of fuel flow for 2014. The KERS system is more powerful as well, up from 80 horsepower to 160 hp, while the aerodynamics have also seen some tweaks (ahem, the nose).
"We've never had such significant new regulations before; reacting to them, and managing those changes, while still pushing the performance limits, has been an extremely tough job," said Jonathan Neale, McLaren's managing director. The drivers are aware of the effect the changes will have, as well.
When asked whether it would be reliability or speed that was going to win championships, Button highlighted just how radically different this year will be. "Yes - particularly in the first few races, where I think you'll be able to gain a lot of points if you have a reliable car. F1 over the last few years has become very reliable - I think we're going back to early 2000s now in terms of reliability levels," Button said.
We have a small gallery of images of the new MP4-29 up top – get a good look at that strange nose – and we've included a press release from McLaren below. You can also head over to the McLaren F1 Twitter page to get a recap of the question/answer session with Jenson Button. As always, we'd like to know what you think about McLaren's entry for this season's championship. Have your say in Comments.
Ready for formula 1's steepest-ever learning curve: McLaren reveals ITS 2014 challenger – the MP4-29
2014: Formula 1 begins its reinvention
Gone are normally aspirated engines – a Formula 1 mainstay for a quarter of a century; in their place come 1.6-litre V6 power-units, which sophisticatedly integrate turbo-charging and turbo-compounding, fuel-flow restrictions, and a powerful energy recovery system.
These new regulations will enable teams to harness both traditional internal combustion and electrical energies. They further underline Formula 1's relevance as a pioneer of future roadcar technologies, represent the biggest and most dynamic change to the sport since its inception in 1950, and are duly destined to re-shape grand prix racing.
McLaren, too, faces a period of dynamic change: the organisation has not only embraced the extreme technical and strategic challenges posed by the new regulations, it has simultaneously been growing and developing ahead of even bigger and more exciting future partnerships.
MP4-29: a frozen snapshot of intense development
We have responded to the disappointment of our 2013 season by pragmatically framing our approach to the technical challenge. The new MP4-29, revealed today, is a sensible and calculated response to the new regulations.
But it is very much a frozen snapshot of the design team's steep development curve, and, as such, a machine that will potentially undergo more technical change throughout a single season than any other car in McLaren's long and illustrious history.
The challenge for 2014 is to build-in both performance and reliability – something that can no longer be taken for granted given the steep technical challenge ahead.
And that is entirely as it should be: for this season will be Formula 1's steepest-ever learning curve.
It is also a time of transition. Our final season with our engine partner, Mercedes-Benz, will be our 20th together, before we begin an exciting new journey with Honda from 2015.
Our drivers: the perfect blend of styles
Jenson Button, the 2009 Formula 1 World Champion, remains for his fifth season at McLaren. For 2014, his experience, level-headedness and innate ability to read the behaviour of a racing car will be a powerful asset to our engineers, designers and analysts.
Kevin Magnussen arrives in Formula 1 with a stunning record in Renault Word Series 3.5, grand prix racing's feeder series, and, crucially, no preconceptions. Having already devoted hundreds of hours to refining and developing our 2014 car in the McLaren simulator, his eagerness and commitment will sync perfectly with Jenson's experience, providing us with a perfectly balanced driver pairing.
Powering the market with world-beating expertise
McLaren is leading the evolution of sports partnerships. The breadth of the McLaren Group's experience and expertise presents a wealth of opportunities for innovative technical integration with our partners, which can have an impact way beyond the racetrack.
Whether it be extensive engagement with ExxonMobil to develop new lubricant technology, which can help McLaren Mercedes cars on the grand prix circuit, and ultimately improve the efficiency of consumer cars; developing new lightweight coatings with AkzoNobel; or working closely with SAP to develop and implement innovative data analytics techniques, our work with partners goes way beyond what can be described as sports sponsorship.
Our strategic partnership with GSK is now also in its third year and is breaking new ground from manufacturing to pharmaceutical R&D.
Race technology is helping to improve the delivery of experimental trials into new medicines. Working with GSK we are using telemetry systems, which are inspired by the way we monitor our cars, to collect real-time data about the recovery of patients taking part in drug trials. These are at an early stage, but in future it's hoped that being able to take a constant stream of reliable information about a patient could significantly enhance the already robust process of drug evaluation.
Our commitment to innovation and creativity does not stop with technology projects, but extends to the implementation of marketing campaigns with and on behalf of our partners. Santander recently announced a renewal of their major eight-year partnership with us, and this reflects the continued impact that our creative marketing campaigns can have.
The depth of trust and respect we enjoy with our partners has allowed us to extend record-breaking relationships with the likes of Hugo Boss (33 years), TAG Heuer (29 years), Kenwood (24 years), ExxonMobil and Mercedes-Benz (20 years) and SAP (16 years), Johnnie Walker and Hilton (nine years).
JONATHAN NEALE - Managing director, McLaren Racing
Formula 1 in 2014 is all about managing change – how is McLaren going about that?
"We've never had such significant new regulations before; reacting to them, and managing those changes, while still pushing the performance limits, has been an extremely tough job.
"We've been relatively pragmatic about it. We know that the need for consistency initially outweighs the need for performance – the winter tests won't be about chasing set-up or refining the car; the envelope of performance is likely to be so wide, and so relatively unknown, that the winter – and to some extent the opening races – will be about understanding the operational boundaries of the car as best we can.
"To achieve this, we need a consistent platform – one that responds positively to changes. Moreover, the work of the engineers and designers to understand and interpret trackside data will be more important than before. That's because this year, more than ever, will come down to a development race: I don't necessarily think you can expect the car that wins the opening race to be the car that leads the championship charge, something we've often seen in the past.
"No, it will be all about a team's ability to react and respond. We already have an update package that we're readying for race one, and we're discovering new things in the 'tunnel, or in CFD, all the time. Once we start track testing, I think you'll see an intense throughput of ideas and concepts – that's the nitty-gritty that will win or lose the world championship."
There's a greater backdrop of change at McLaren, too, isn't there?
"A team with a fantastic heritage like McLaren is always faced with the challenge of continually winning races and championships. Equally, there's a responsibility to move the organisation – and our processes – forwards. In fact, we'll be doing just that during 2014: pushing ahead with an incredible amount of effort, analysis and commitment on the racetrack, but also making changes away from the track that will reap a greater dividend in the long term.
"There's a huge amount of talent and potential already extant within the organisation, but there's always more to discover. And we've made some very important key additions who'll have a significant input into our future momentum – we're incredibly pleased and excited to have hired the likes of Peter Prodromou and Dan Fallows, both from Red Bull Racing, and Ettore Griffini and Ciaron Pilbeam from Lotus, as well as more than a dozen top-level engineers from among the best teams in Formula 1, all of whom have seen the capacity and potential that exists here at McLaren.
"Nonetheless, this is a long-term process, and this year will be about developing and growing McLaren to a position where we can once again fight at the front."
What are your thoughts on the driver pairing of Jenson and Kevin?
"We all know and like Jenson very much – he's an integral part of this team now. And Kevin has shown such fantastic promise – both in the junior series, and on the occasions that he has tested for us – that it made absolute sense to develop him as our race driver.
"I really think the beauty of our driver line-up comes from its strength and structure through sheer contrast. In Jenson, we have Formula 1's unofficial ambassador, somebody who provides us with an unprecedented databank of experience; we can really work with him as we learn together how to develop and refine this year's car.
"In Kevin, I see a raw, unfettered enthusiasm and a fearsome work ethic. His arrival has been a terrific motivator for the entire team, and I've been really pleased and impressed by the way he's thrown himself into the process. While he'll naturally need time to acclimatise, we're undoubtedly of the opinion that he's ready for F1.
"Additionally, we have Stoffel Vandoorne as our reserve – another driver whose long-term potential is tantalising. He'll have an increasingly complementary role alongside our two drivers – he'll be attending all the races where GP2 is on the support bill, and will be heavily dialed in to our trackside operations as we ramp up his learning and experience.
"I think we have a fantastic line-up, and the best thing is that each driver will motivate and inform the other – it's a win-win situation for the whole team."
SAM MICHAEL - Sporting director, McLaren Racing
What are McLaren's expectations for 2014?
"We've made no secret of our disappointment at how the 2013 season turned out. The aim now is to get back to winning – that's what McLaren exists to do – but there's a certain amount of growth and regrowth that needs to take place before we return to a position where we can challenge for the world championship.
"The good thing is that we've acknowledged that, and we've actually been working towards that goal for many months now. We have Honda waiting in the wings, we have a number of key technical staff bolstering our existing design and engineering teams, and we are fostering the careers of our young drivers, all of whom have an incredible amount of potential. The future for McLaren is bright, and we're now putting in place the processes that will move us closer to our goals.
"For 2014, our aim is for continuous development; we'll be refining and strengthening the car and the organisation throughout the year, so you'll see a rapid turnover of parts and ideas on the car as we, like every team, wrestle with the many unique challenges of these new regulations.
"More immediately, our aim is to enjoy a smooth winter at all three tests, hopefully learning a lot as we go, and hopefully developing MP4-29 into something consistent, useable and quick."
How do you balance the equation of reliability vs performance?
"I think the key to the first quarter of the season could well be consistency. It'll be critical in the pre-season tests – firstly, to enable the drivers and engineers to learn about and understand the behavior of the new car; but, secondly, to provide us with the mileage and data our designers at the MTC need to further refine and develop the car for the year ahead.
"It'll be a season of complexity and subtlety; we won't find ourselves in a situation where the guy who wins the first race goes on to win the championship, I think it'll be unpredictable and exciting – and that's fantastic news for Formula 1's fans.
"One thing is for certain, though, there'll be a lot of cross-pollination of ideas during the season as the best concepts and solutions proliferate. We're proud of some of the concepts we'll be introducing with this car but, likewise, there'll be areas where we can learn and improve.
"In fact, I think constant learning and improvement will be the key motifs of 2014."
Our drivers – ready for anything
In Jenson and Kevin, we have both the sport's most respected senior ambassador and its newest and most promising young hopeful, respectively.
Jenson has proven again and again that his unmatched experience, application and supreme natural ability make him perhaps the perfect driver to spearhead the development and integration of the myriad of new systems introduced for 2014.
Kevin is motivated, incredibly focused and eager to learn. Everybody at McLaren has not only been convinced by Kevin's raw pace and commitment, but also by his ability to channel his determination and thoughts with singular and unblemished dedication.
Only 21, he is unmistakeably ready for Formula 1, and is prepared and equipped for the intense and steep learning curve ahead of him.
Our test and reserve driver, 21-year-old Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne, is the most promising racer outside Formula 1. He will combine a full year of racing in GP2, with the ART team, with his duties as McLaren's reserve driver – a role that will naturally dovetail with his racing activities at all coinciding events.
Both Kevin and Stoffel are outstanding protégés of the McLaren Young Driver system.
What are your realistic aims for the 2014 season?
"Obviously, we want to get back to the front. We want to have a better season than we did in 2013, too. But it's really difficult to accurately predict anything right now – these are such huge changes that they'll have a massive impact on the competitive order, so we need to wait and just see how things shake out.
"Our aim must be to have a smooth and productive winter; I'm very keen to learn all about the new formula and our new car, and I want us to be in a position where we head to the opening flyaways feeling comfortable with our package, yet still ready to absorb and learn more as we go.
"I don't think anybody's anticipating the next few months to be easy – I can't imagine anybody in the pitlane would admit to that – but our aim must be to make progress all the time, and to learn positively as we go."
Is it difficult to get to grips with so many changes all at once?
"It's part of the job of a Formula 1 driver. I've spent my whole career jumping from different specification cars – I've driven V10s, V8s, I've raced on grooved tyres, on slicks, with KERS, with DRS, with traction control, without it, with refueling, without it. I'm still here!
"Obviously, there's a period of adaption, but the way I drive – working upwards to find the grip level, rather than working downwards – has always made it quite a seamless transition. As a driver, it's just an exciting time. I'm really looking forward to it – I love the mental challenge of tackling such a complex task; there's so much to get your teeth into, and the prospect of problem-solving, and pulling apart difficult concepts and drilling down to find the best solution – that really motivates me."
Nevertheless, are you worried about the state of flux ahead of this new formula?
"I think every single person in Formula 1 is sitting on the edge of the unknown. That's both exciting and unsettling in equal measure. There will be lots of things going through my mind when I settle myself into the cockpit for the first time in Jerez next week, but, above all else, what I'll be looking for is that simple, positive feeling you get from knowing that the car beneath you is a solid platform; one you can work with, and one you can develop throughout the season.
"I don't think anybody will be coming out of this first test feeling certain that they've cracked this new formula. I think it'll be more of a case of slowly peeling away successive layers as the engineers and designers gather more information and gain an understanding of how the cars and power-units are behaving; and we'll see that being gradually refined throughout the forthcoming tests and into the opening races.
"I think this formula is too big, and too complex, for a single team to feel secure about getting everything right and quickly establishing an advantage. It's about diligently chipping away at it that we'll get there."
Finally, how does it feel having a new team-mate alongside you?
"I haven't really got to know Kevin properly as a team-mate yet. Over the winter, there aren't too many opportunities for us to spend time together, but that will change once we go testing – we'll be working very closely together to share data and gather as much information as we can about what the car's doing, and how we can improve it.
"But, yeah, I've been very impressed by Kevin all along – he clearly did a very good job last year and drove superbly to win the World Series by Renault championship. And I've been pleased by his professionalism and determination this year – it's a very difficult job for any driver in F1 this year, but I'm absolutely sure he'll do a great job."
How have your preparations been going over the winter?
"I've just had a singular focus: it's been about immersing myself within the organisation, with the people, and getting to grips with everything that I'll face when I finally sit in the cockpit later this month.
"It's no secret that I live in Woking and I go to the MTC every day. So I've spent every available day working – either with my engineers, with the team management, or with the trainers at MTC; building those relationships, getting to grips with the car, the style of driving, the cockpit and control systems, and improving my fitness. It's a constant learning curve, but it's fun and satisfying to be able to do it with a group of people who work so closely with you.
"It's been relentless, but I've enjoyed the discipline and focus of the winter. It will actually be nice to arrive in Jerez, to hopefully look out at a blue sky, and drive the car!"
Despite all the preparation, is there a sense of nervousness going into the first test?
"Naturally, sure. You never reach a point where you feel completely 'ready' – there's always more you can do. But I think every team and driver is going to be feeling uncertain going into the pre-season. Personally, I'm just working hard to make sure that I'm as ready as I realistically can be – so I've learned the cockpit systems inside-out, I've been in the gym at the MTC every day, and I've worked hard with my engineers to understand just what to expect from this new formula.
"In a way, the regulation changes makes things a little easier: at that first test in Jerez, everybody will be easing themselves into something new, rather than just getting in the car and driving away, so I'll really be no different from any other driver. It'll be how we react during the season that will define how successful we are. I know the engineers are working on new things all the time, but I think there's still plenty of scope to move forward.
"I don't think you'll get a definitive read on who's competitive and who's not until at least the Bahrain tests – maybe even later."
What's the biggest challenge to overcome ahead of the new season?
"I guess it's just getting to know people, feeling comfortable within this new environment, and learning what you can and can't affect. One of the things that's really struck me at McLaren is just how much influence you have as a driver – I can test something in the simulator, or we can work on something in the cockpit, and they'll really listen to my input and, the next time you get in the sim, or the mock-up car, it's been changed at your recommendation. That's impressive, and it encourages me that this team has the speed and motivation to react quickly to any changes.
"I'm learning how the team works, too. Obviously, a World Series team is a much smaller operation – you know everybody – and this is much, much bigger, so getting used to that has taken a bit of time. Obviously, I haven't really experienced much in terms of media and marketing yet – I've been in something of a cocoon – but I'm looking forward to getting out on the road with the team, going testing and seeing what happens."
What will your role be as McLaren's reserve driver?
"Obviously, I'm really pleased and excited to have been chosen as the team's reserve driver. I'll be working with the other drivers to develop the car using the simulator, which is something I've been doing since I became a McLaren Young Driver. And, as I'll be contesting the GP2 championship this year, with ART GP2, I'll also be present at many grands prix, and I'll be integrated into the race team's programme, assisting Jenson and Kevin wherever I can.
What are your aims for the 2014 season?
"Naturally, my aim this year is to win the GP2 championship, but the natural extension of that is the ambition to graduate to Formula 1 – so I want to be in a position where I can contribute to, and learn from, the race team as possible throughout the season. I'm positive that I can keep the momentum that I've developed over the past few years moving forwards.
How have you started to integrate yourself with the team?
"Well, I've been a McLaren Young Driver for almost a year, and I've been making increasingly regular visits to the MTC. I'm usually there at least once a week nowadays, and I'm increasing my workload and fitness levels so I can more fully commit. It's an exciting time for me."