Fernando is going to be a busy man this year, combining his F1 with the World Endurance Championship, but Zak is convinced that he’ll thrive, particularly if both programmes are competitive. He cited Alonso’s energy and enthusiasm at Daytona this year, especially when the car was on the pace in wet conditions, showing that his competitive hunger is as keen as ever. The feeling is that a happy Fernando is a competitive Fernando, and he likes nothing better than racing, particularly when decent results are achievable. Zak also feels that Stoffel Vandoorne learnt a huge amount from what was a particularly difficult early season for him last year, with more than his fair share of reliability concerns, and that the Belgian’s progress in the second half of 2017 will be built upon this year. Mind you, he’ll be glancing over his shoulder at the young Brit Lando Norris who is now the team’s official test and reserve driver as he attempts to follow in Vandoorne’s footsteps in winning Formula Two this year.
In terms of adjusting from running a Honda engine to installing the Renault, the design team feel that the decision was made just in time for them to have made the necessary changes and still be on schedule for the start of the season. Indeed the majority of work over the past two months has been on the update package that will be brought to the first race in Melbourne; it seems bizarre that updates take place before the car has even turned a wheel at the first test, but such is the level of intensity in F1. Architecturally the Renault is different from the Honda which has caused some changes to the chassis layout, but not much change to the aerodynamic profile of the car which will be an evolution of last year’s machine. But the look of the car will change more than any other car on the gird apart from maybe Sauber according to Zak, as the new livery will attempt to engage the McLaren heritage in a more telling manner. The Halo cockpit protection will change the look of all of the cars of course, and it was fascinating hearing both Tim Goss and Matt Morris talk about the engineering challenge that has been created; like it or loathe it, the Halo is a fact of life but it has meant a redesign of the monocoque chassis in order to spread the loads that occur at the three attachment points. The discussion confirmed that adding a halo to any existing car in a lower formula is not simply a question of bolting it in; it needs to be incorporated from the beginning of the design process.
Overall, it was an encouraging briefing for those of us that want to see as competitive a series as possible. There’s real confidence that Renault can produce a power unit they can work with, although at one point there was a telling comment from Zak that implied Mercedes are still going to be very difficult to beat given their superiority in this area from the beginning of the current engine formula. Don’t expect McLaren to leapfrog their way to the very top of the charts straight away, but we can hope to see them become a factor amongst the leaders and maybe, just maybe, achieve their first win since the end of 2012 in Brazil.