McLaren technical director James Key has praised the innovation on the Mercedes ‘zero-pod’ design on the W13.
But he suspects they may not be a “major player” in how the car performs, with such different philosophies throughout the grid.
The reigning Constructors’ champions stunned the other teams and fans by bringing the changed parts to Bahrain, which have significantly decreased the airflow coming into the sidepods.
There has been mixed opinion on how the ‘zero-pod’ design will work in practice, however, with Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko claiming the innovation “wasn’t that impressive” during testing – although the impact of racing in anger is yet to be seen.
But Mercedes’ sidepods are not the only car design feature which has been seen as of interest to the rest of the grid, with completely different approaches having been taken to the new regulations and each car looking unique in its own right as things stand.
Key highlighted how “brave” it was for the Silver Arrows to try something so different, and will watch with interest how the ‘zero-pods’ work in practice.
“Hats off to them for giving it a go,” Key told the PA news agency. “It’s a brave decision to go for something so different which needs quite a lot of mechanical engineering to get it to work.
“You might also say it’s just one of 10 different concepts. Mercedes’ tiny sidepods are at the other end of the scale to Ferrari’s, but I am sure they will both be competitive.
“Perhaps that suggests the sidepods will not be a major player. Mercedes have certainly gone the most extreme, so it will be interesting to see how it pans out and if that was the right way to go.”
Key also predicts the results of testing are even less clear than usual when trying to predict a pecking order and if any team holds an advantage heading into the season opener.
With that, he is unsure where McLaren stack up against the rest, but still predicts the sport’s big hitters to be at the front.
“This year, more than ever, it is really difficult to tell,” he said. “Teams run different tyres, fuel and engine modes – all of which significantly change how fast the car is – during testing and there is no point showing your hand. It seems to be reasonably close.
“One has to believe Mercedes and Red Bull will be strong. They have both been bold with their designs, which you might expect given their legacies of investment, success and the methodologies which have worked for them in the past.
“Ferrari look strong and where are we in that mix? I don’t know. None of us can predict how the grid will shape up in Bahrain. We will only find out on Sunday.”
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