2018 Mclaren Autosport BRDC Award
The 30th Mclaren Autosport BRDC Award winner will be announced this weekend. Here’s what the four finalists faced at this year’s Silverstone test days
One Formula 1 world championship, 649 F1 starts,
28 F1 wins, four Indycar crowns, three Indianapolis 500 victories, a trio of DTM titles and a World Endurance Championship success. That’s not a bad list of achievements racked up by Mclaren Autosport BRDC Award winners in its three decades so far, and some of those stats will soon grow.
The Award’s stated aim is to find British F1 stars and, with
Lando Norris (the 2016 winner) and George Russell (’14) joining the grid next year, that means seven of the 29 winners so far have made it to the sport’s pinnacle. And many of those who haven’t have gone on to make successful careers in motorsport, scoring wins that extend beyond those listed above.
The competition has come a long way since David Coulthard became the first winner in 1989. The future 13-time F1 victor didn’t have to go through any sort of test, but recently the four finalists have faced simulation and fitness assessments, as well as two days at Silverstone in an array of machinery that’s alien to them. This year was no exception.
The first step in 2018 was the judges’ meeting to select the finalists. This year the panel included chairman of the judges and former BRDC president Derek Warwick, two-time British Touring Car champion Jason Plato, former Mclaren designer Mark Williams, GT team boss and 1997 Award winner Andrew Kirkaldy, Mclaren’s Amelia Lewis, experienced commentator Ian Titchmarsh, and Autosport’s Scott Mitchell and Kevin Turner. Joining the panel full-time was former guest judge, 2008 winner and factory BMW driver Alexander Sims. After much deliberation, the four chosen from the ranks below European Formula 3 were BRDC F3 race winners Jamie Caroline and Tom Gamble, Formula Renault Eurocup champion Max Fewtrell, and British F4 title winner Kiern Jewiss.
The finalists were announced during the first week of October and the F2 seat fittings began immediately. The first part of the assessment took place the week after, when the drivers were put through their paces on 1996 Award winner Darren Turner’s Base Performance simulators. The runs, in a Ligier JSP3, were mainly on Silverstone GP, with Fuji thrown in for one session.
Being proficient in the virtual world is an increasingly important part of some professional drivers’ careers, and the tests often provide finalists with new insights. “I never really get on with sims, but Darren Turner’s was mental – it’s the most realistic sim I’ve tried,” reckons Caroline. “When I’ve got a full season sorted I’ll go back.”
The following week the finalists’ fitness was assessed – in pairs – at Mclaren’s Technology Centre in Woking. Although rarely a differentiator when it comes to the final prize, the fitness tests do provide excellent information for feedback, which all finalists are offered following the announcement of the winner.
The meat of the Award is, of course, the driving tests on Silverstone’s Grand Prix circuit. This year, the finalists got to watch 2017 winner Dan Ticktum’s Mclaren F1 prize test the day before heading out on track for the first time in Silverstone’s new Aston Martins for some sighting laps. Then it was straight into the Motorsport Vision-run Williams-built F2 machines, which produce 425bhp. Each driver got their own, randomly selected engineer to help with data and set-up.
The 1.8-litre turbocharged machines are ideal as all the drivers can be out on track at the same time, and the cars are unfamiliar to all as they are no longer active race cars. They’re quick too – the fastest times on day one were in the 1m48s – and twice as powerful as the racers the drivers are used to.
After a familiarisation run, the drivers got three new-tyre runs before turning their attention to the other two cars in the afternoon. This year the pair of 500bhp Mclaren 650S GT3 cars were joined by the Ligier JSP3 LMP3 machine (see page 54). Benchmark drivers – on hand to provide help for the finalists as well as checking for any track evolution that could influence the times – were Andrew Watson in the Mclaren and Sims in the Ligier.
The Mclaren is often the car that takes the drivers furthest out of their comfort zones. It’s heavier and softer than the singleseaters they’re used to, plus it has traction control and ABS for them to get their heads around – and use to their best advantage.
Again, they started with a used-tyre run before being given fresh rubber for a ‘qualifying’ effort. Finally, they were all given a longer run to see how they dealt with tyre wear.
“THE MCLAREN IS OFTEN THE CAR THAT TAKES THE DRIVERS FURTHEST OUT OF THEIR COMFORT ZONES”
Although the single-seater remains the focus, the other two machines are vital to the test. The overall winners have invariably excelled in one or both. Indeed, some of the most outstanding runs in Award history – Jenson Button (1998 winner) in the
Nissan Primera Super Tourer, Sims and Russell in the DTM Mercedes – have come in cars with a roof.
At the end of day one, the Mclaren and Ligier teams gave their independent feedback to the judges, leaving day two entirely for more F2 assessment.
The running on day two began very much as on day one, except the drivers were given the ‘push-to-pass’ to play with in the F2 car. This gave them two brief boosts of an extra 75bhp, on four laps. In one of the sessions, a little over 0.4 seconds covered all four drivers. Not that any of the drivers knew that, as the finalists don’t have access to the times set by their rivals.
That makes it quite a hard self-improvement test: they have to work out what they could do better with the engineer.
The next two sessions were the fastest of the tests – newtyre runs with boost. No session is necessarily more important than another, but this is the time when the finalists can piece together all that they’ve learned over the two days and really show their pace. Once again, it was close. In one of these
‘qualifying’ runs, 0.151s covered the top three.
The final on-track test was a pursuit run over 10 flying laps, using the best worn set of Pirelli tyres each driver had left. The cars were released at intervals so as not to interfere with each other and, after an out-lap and a preparation lap, the timing started. The total time was the important factor, not the best individual lap, and the gap between the fastest to the slowest was a little over four seconds.
The MSV engineers fed back at the end of the day and each of the drivers was interviewed by the judging panel. They were then allowed to have their phones, which had been confiscated on arrival at Silverstone, and head home, leaving the judges to go over the data – from lap times to throttle traces – and select the 30th winner of the Mclaren Autosport BRDC Award.
There was the odd spin and off, but all the cars were returned in one piece and three of the four drivers topped a session at one time or another. Which left perhaps the most stressful challenge of all: the five-week wait until this weekend’s Autosport Awards to find out if they’ve done enough to win a Mclaren F1 test.
“THREE OF THE FOUR DRIVERS TOPPED A SESSION AT ONE TIME OR ANOTHER”
Fewtrell shows what he can do during the Mclaren fitness tests
Sighting laps in Silverstone’s new Aston Martins kicked off the two test days MOTORSPORTIMAGES/LAT
Judges give finalists a briefing before the runs MOTORSPORTIMAGES/STALEY/LAT