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For the BBC Radio 5 live season preview special I had a unique opportunity to go behind the scenes at the McLaren Technology Centre (MTC) in Woking, where Jenson Button and Sergio Perez’ new cars were being prepared for the start of the 2013 season.

I’ve been to all of the F1 factories and I’ve visited MTC many times before, but this was truly special as I got to go into places that have always been “off limits” – such as the Simulator and the Operations Room and the Wind Tunnel. You can hear it all on the show which airs Thursday 28 February at 7.30pm.

The reason for McLaren’s openness was that we were recording for radio, so there were no cameras involved.

But even without cameras, the Simulator in particular has always been a closely guarded secret. McLaren invested heavily in this technology 10 years ago and got ahead of the game with it, which has brought a lot of benefits. The other top teams have caught up now, but it’s still rare to have a chance to see it.

What is a simulator, you ask? Well it looks like a giant Sony PlayStation game with a large curved screen and an F1 chassis sits in front of it, mounted on electrically operated rams.

So it’s a PlayStation with a difference. It’s so uncannily accurate that Button can drive a lap of the Melbourne circuit in it and it will be the exact same lap time to 1/1000th of a second as he would do in the real car.

Better still, the engineers can make changes to the set-up of the car - try a new front wing or a different tyre - and he will feel it in the cockpit and the lap time will be affected by it.

Vital strategy decisions

A lot of work in F1 today goes on in the simulators as track testing of real cars is limited for cost containment reasons. It costs around £1,500 per lap to run an F1 car and a typical days testing will be around 120 laps.

Elsewhere we visited the wind tunnel, where the engineers try out new ideas for parts that will make the cars faster in future races as well as the fabrication and assembly bays where the cars are manufactured. They are mostly made from carbon composite with exotic materials like titanium and inconel.

And we saw the Operations Room where a team of engineers monitors all the on track activities when the cars are racing – even on the other side of the world - and they make vital decisions on race strategy and pit stops.

We were hosted by some of McLaren’s senior management including Sam Michael the Sporting Director and Simon Roberts the Operations Director.  It’s a must for F1 fans and for anyone with an interest in just how much goes into the design and build of an F1 car.

Behind the scenes at McLaren on 5 live Sport, Thursday 28 February at 7.30pm. Get a download of the programme.

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  • Comment number 9. Posted by dollopskiver

    on 2 Mar 2013 10:35

    Three different spellings of Maklarren so far !............. sorry four.

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  • Comment number 8. Posted by Four Pounds

    on 2 Mar 2013 00:18

    Full credit to the BBC to offering FANTASTIC F1 coverage. Last year was the best yet, love Gary Anderson's insights. I'm a great Brundle fan, but think it has got even better since he left. I hope Suzi Perry is credible, as she knows more about bikes. Lee McKenzie certainly does a good job. I expect 2013 to be better still.

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  • Comment number 7. Posted by TonyBruce

    on 1 Mar 2013 14:55

    Can't comment on PR dept but Engineering/Composites staff are a pleasure to work with

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  • Comment number 6. Posted by Jackstumps

    on 1 Mar 2013 09:07

    McLarenn? Sorry - I've done it now, must be catching!

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  • Comment number 5. Posted by Jackstumps

    on 1 Mar 2013 09:02

    DDB85: I had to misfortune to work for one of McLarenn's Technology Partners at one time. Their PR department invented the word arrogance.

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  • Comment number 4. Posted by CHW

    on 1 Mar 2013 03:44

    Simulator very cute but the "wonder" of it must be misplaced. How does Button doing the very similar time to what he might do at the actual circuit mean anything? Then the "front wing" is changed and suddenly they know how it will respond on the car. I don't think so - its crude guesswork at best. Last season Ferrari couldn't even get it right in a wind tunnel ie actual flows of air around it. Simulator can only be to help the driver practice how the car might drive. Like Perez would benefit from. Wasn't Michael Schumacher sick last season doing simulator work? 7 times world champion. No, simulators are not a full subsitute for real life.

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  • Comment number 3. Posted by Think Tank

    on 28 Feb 2013 20:59

    Whoops - missed one. "Behind the scenes at McClaren on 5 live Sport, Thursday 28 February at 7.30pm" above the comments box.

    Never ceases to amaze me how the BBC think that making a (basic) mistake and then trying to amend it and pretend it didn't happen will regain any lost cred. Espcially as they can't cover it up properly. And James Allen should have know the name of the team he visited and then gushingly wrote about.

    I wonder if he would be upset if I referred to him as Jane Alan? I suspect so ....

    As ever BBC, poor show - must do better!

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  • Comment number 2. Posted by Four Pounds

    on 28 Feb 2013 19:19

    Behind the scenes at McClaren? Is this a new team or do you mean McLaren?

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  • Comment number 1. Posted by DDB85

    on 28 Feb 2013 13:42

    Lucky Man Mr Allen. Part of my dissertation in Uni was about green buildings and I used the MTC as an example of how you can use aesthetically pleasing features (the MTC Lake) as part of your green credentials. They use the water to cool the generators powering the wind tunnel, the water then gets discharged onto a cascading waterfall to cool before it hits the lake...clever people. I even wrote to McLaren to see if they could send me some info, they didnt reply, the BBC must have more clout than a lowly student!

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