Is McLaren-Mercedes Cheating Again?

Anne DoeCorrespondent IAugust 10, 2008

Had a look a McLaren's new steering wheel recently?

Don’t worry, fans of the Woking-based outfit. Although I am a Raikkonen fan, this is not an article filled with unprovoked attacks on McLaren or its drivers.

All of this starts at the home of F1. I believe that it was at the British Grand Prix. Hamilton had just won, with a minute or so before anybody else was to cross the line, oh, and it was pouring down rain. So why did he finish with such a big margin.

A) Because he is a good driver.

B) He was driving a McLaren with a nice shiny new steering wheel.

McLaren introduced, at Silverstone, a steering wheel with, in total, six paddles. The first set, of course, is to change gear. The second set looks joined to the first set, but they are, of course, clutch paddles.

So far, this is nothing new, every team in F1, bar Force India, are currently using the same type of system. But it is last set which are the most intriguing. They are paddles to adjust the torque. So what McLaren have, in effect, done is develop a type of manual traction control.

"But traction control is banned isn’t it?"

Dig deeper into the FIA rules, and here is the rule, word for word: "Torque setting cannot be triggered by same drive input as a gear change."

This is exactly what traction control did, and this rule bans it.

But those McLaren guys in Woking did something both simple and crafty. Essentially, hey just made a dual-purpose paddle into two separate ones, so that when a driver pulls both paddles simultaneously, they have a kind of manual traction control.

It also works as a type of launch control. So all Heikki and Lewis have to do to make the torque changes automatic is wrap an elastic band around the two paddles, et voila! Then hide the elastic bands when the FIA pop round to have a look.

I believe that this is the reasoning behind McLaren's current run of form. Engineers will always be smarter than the people who write the rules. What will the rivals do? Try to copy and if they fail, protest, in that order.

The FIA though they put a blanket ban on traction control, but McLaren engineers have apparently unpicked the stitching. But is regaining a type of traction control overstepping the mark? We know that traction control has the ability to allow the less talented to stay on level with their more gifted counterparts.

Personally I think McLaren have been smart to spot the loophole, but do you think getting a type of traction control back should be classed as cheating?

McLaren: devious or genius? Please leave your opinions below. I’m in Finland for the next couple of weeks, but I will reply when I return.