Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

McLaren: From F1 to a formula for Winter Olympic gold

By Matt Majendie, for CNN
December 17, 2013 -- Updated 1406 GMT (2206 HKT)
The McLaren Technology Center in Woking, England, is home to not only the company's Formula One aspirations but also to a wing of its applied technologies venture MAT. The McLaren Technology Center in Woking, England, is home to not only the company's Formula One aspirations but also to a wing of its applied technologies venture MAT.
HIDE CAPTION
Inside McLaren's Winter Olympics operation
Inside McLaren's Winter Olympics operation
Inside McLaren's Winter Olympics operation
Inside McLaren's Winter Olympics operation
Inside McLaren's Winter Olympics operation
Inside McLaren's Winter Olympics operation
Inside McLaren's Winter Olympics operation
Inside McLaren's Winter Olympics operation
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • McLaren Applied Technologies working with GB team in quest for Sochi medals
  • Major targets for MAT are in skeleton and bobsleigh with a crack unit of engineers
  • MAT enjoyed success at London 2012 with canoeing, cycling, rowing and sailing
  • Project leader helped create F1 simulator used by McLaren's drivers

(CNN) -- If 2013 was an "annus horribilis" for McLaren, then next year provides a double chance of redemption for the motorsport giant -- and Russia will play a key role.

By the time Sochi hosts the country's first Formula One race next October, McLaren bosses will know if the team has been able to bounce back from one of its worst seasons in more than two decades, with major technological changes required due to the sport's new engine rules for 2014.

But well before then, the British manufacturer's innovations will have been put to the test at the same seaside resort, as Russia hosts its first Winter Olympics.

McLaren is working with the UK team -- specifically skeleton and bobsleigh -- via its applied technologies operation MAT in a bid to help improve GB's medal chances in February.

A helping hand from Ferrari
Sochi 2014: The torch begins its journey
Sochi's Olympic challenges one year out

"It's similar work to what we did with the Summer Olympics, concentrating on sports with a greater chance of medals," says MAT project manager Caroline Hargrove, who used to work for the McLaren F1 team and created the race simulator which drivers such as Jenson Button use away from grand prix weekends.

For a team so synonymous with success -- 182 grand prix victories, eight constructors' titles and 12 drivers' championships -- this year has been an undoubtedly unwanted blot on McLaren's copybook.

Button and Sergio Perez -- who has since been replaced by rookie Kevin Magnussen -- were ninth and 11th respectively in the drivers' standings, with the team a lowly fifth in the constructors' table, more than 450 points behind dominant Red Bull.

But McLaren has previous success at the Olympics, with Team GB winning 30 of its 65 medals at London 2012 in sports with which MAT was involved: canoeing, cycling, rowing and sailing. Half of those were gold.

It is a model that clearly works -- MAT also worked with skeleton racer Amy Williams to a lesser degree on her path to Olympic skeleton success at the last Winter Games in Vancouver -- and there is a sense of excitement of another medal haul at Sochi.

Brought in by the government-funded agency UK Sport, MAT will focus on the downhill sledding disciplines.

"What we've done for the other sports, it's more generic in that we've done a little bit and still do a few programs with UK Sport, and we ran workshops recently with all the coaches for inspiration looking at other sports," Hargrove told CNN.

"In our case, we showed the side of Formula One, and the equipment and technical side of it."

Sochi Games: Need help with Russian?
Actress Ino Menegaki, playing a high priestess, hands the Olympic flame to the president of the Hellenic Olympic Committee, Spyros Kapralos, at the Panathenaic stadium in Athens. Actress Ino Menegaki, playing a high priestess, hands the Olympic flame to the president of the Hellenic Olympic Committee, Spyros Kapralos, at the Panathenaic stadium in Athens.
Greece passes Olympic flame to Russia
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
>
>>
Greece passes Olympic flame to Russia Greece passes Olympic flame to Russia

The work done by MAT varies from use of its dynamic chassis rig -- also known as the shaker rig -- which is used on the development of F1 cars and now skeletons and bobsleds to run the rule over their respective suspensions.

Its technology is used to make both the equipment and the kit worn by British athletes, but also in data analysis and how the human body reacts to the skeleton and bobs in question. However, in order to keep an edge on rival teams, the specifics are kept closely guarded.

There are also strict rules which restrain MAT's area of operations.

"We don't have enormous margins for imagination," Hargrove says. "They prescribe the type of steel and where rubber can be used -- and that's hardly anywhere. But like in F1, we are able to use attention to detail to make things as near to perfect and that we assemble things as well as we can."

The bobsleighs are being tested in France to measure the gains that have been made.

"We can see a tangible time difference that we have made with the bobsleigh," Hargroves adds. "Our measurements are by the millisecond."

The Olympic projects are relatively small scale compared to MAT's other business strands, which span from pharmaceutical trials to working with the behemoths of oil and gas.

A solitary MAT engineer is working fulltime on each of the skeleton and bobsleigh projects, even testing the equipment themselves on the ice at high speed -- true workplace immersion.

Read: Ferrari ... on ice

The main 40,000 all-seater Olympic Stadium, which has been nicknamed 'the fish' will host the opening and closing ceremonies. The main 40,000 all-seater Olympic Stadium, which has been nicknamed 'the fish' will host the opening and closing ceremonies.
The Fish
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
Sochi gets ready to put on a show Sochi gets ready to put on a show
With a year to go before the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, the Russian organizers are seeking to complete one of the world's largest construction projects. With a year to go before the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, the Russian organizers are seeking to complete one of the world's largest construction projects.
Sochi: One year to go
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
>
>>
Sochi: One year to go Sochi: One year to go

At Sochi, MAT will be in direct competition with McLaren's traditional F1 foe Ferrari, which has been working with the Italian Olympic team -- in particular with the bobsleigh.

"There's definitely a little bit of rivalry with Ferrari in this," says Hargrove. "You always want competition, it helps to push you on."

For Hargrove, who was brought up in Montreal, Canada, with a love of winter sports, this project is a perfect fit. And she sees the love of sport as being a key ingredient to her team's success.

"When I interview people for jobs, one of my questions is are they sports fans," she says. "Sports fans tend to be inherently competitive and that is good for this working environment. It also means if and when you employ them you can bear them in mind for future sporting projects."

For all MAT's collective brainpower and tech nous, however, she acknowledges that there is only so much they can do for the competitors.

"It's all about the athletes," she points out. "If an athlete gets injured, there is nothing the kit will do without the athlete. But we hope to support what we believe is very real potential for medals.

"It's great working with people that are so driven, especially the coaches who don't see much of the limelight."

Read: Dr. Ice's quest for Sochi glory

UK Sport covers MAT's expenses and time costs -- though otherwise the work is done on a non-profit basis -- and has given open access to its data.

World's longest indoor ski tunnel
Will Sochi be the most connected Games?

However, not all the athletes are 100% compliant. Kristan Bromley, who runs his own skeleton-making business, is understandably loathe to share details of his intellectual property so he and his partner Shelley Rudman will be without MAT's backing in terms of their equipment.

"That said, Kristan has still worked with us on other aspects," adds Hargrove.

In addition, there have been skeptics of what is, on the surface, an alternative approach to the Winter Olympics, and Hargrove relishes that.

"The thing is that we don't have all the solutions," she says. "But by doing this it generally brings in more lateral thinking to the discussions."

Research from Infostrada has suggested that Great Britain is set for its most successful Winter Olympics, with a predicted five medals. Should that be the case, that will be in now small part down to MAT, and the world of F1.

Read: The free spirit of freestyle skiing

Read: Skeleton racer - 'I had to stop breaking my body'

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
February 24, 2014 -- Updated 1705 GMT (0105 HKT)
With the Olympic cauldron now extinguished, CNN takes a look at whether Russia's $50 billion Sochi budget was money well spent.
February 24, 2014 -- Updated 1440 GMT (2240 HKT)
The athletes on show in Sochi provided moments of drama and destiny that captured the imagination and settled in the collective memory.
February 24, 2014 -- Updated 1615 GMT (0015 HKT)
Russia may have topped the medals table at the first Winter Olympics it staged, but which country was most successful per capita?
February 24, 2014 -- Updated 1648 GMT (0048 HKT)
From eye-popping helmet designs to F1-influenced bobsleigh, the Sochi offered a bewildering array of technological innovation.
February 24, 2014 -- Updated 1146 GMT (1946 HKT)
Sochi's closing ceremony took an artistic look at Russian culture before the Olympic flag was handed over to South Korea for the 2018 Games.
February 23, 2014 -- Updated 1857 GMT (0257 HKT)
Critics say it would have been cheaper to coat this Russian road with caviar but will the route made for Sochi reap long-term rewards?
February 18, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
Navigate your way around this spectacular 360-degree picture from Sochi's ski-jumping venue at the Winter Olympics -- and find out how it was created.
February 18, 2014 -- Updated 1045 GMT (1845 HKT)
Sochi's transformation has left even the local cab drivers a bit lost and confused -- but don't let that put you off visiting this rejuvenated Black Sea resort.
February 14, 2014 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
Australia's silver medalist Torah Bright celebrates during the Women's Snowboard Halfpipe Medal Ceremony at the Sochi medals plaza during the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 13, 2014.
What do you get if you mix Valentine's Day, thousands of good-looking young Olympians and a popular online dating app?
February 14, 2014 -- Updated 1211 GMT (2011 HKT)
For a Winter Olympics, there are some very colorful characters from some very tropical climates taking part -- including this "Mariachi" skier.
February 14, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
If snowboarders were an introduction to a younger, hipper, "slacker" generation of Olympians, the next wave has taken it to another level.
June 3, 2014 -- Updated 1052 GMT (1852 HKT)
He didn't like carpets, he banned portraits and he walked in water rather than swim. Welcome to Joseph Stalin's dacha.
February 13, 2014 -- Updated 2319 GMT (0719 HKT)
ebanon's Jackie Chamoun skis during the Women's Giant slalom first run at the 2013 Ski World Championships in Schladming, Austria on February 14, 2013.
Like most skiers in Sochi, Jacky Chamoun had hoped to cause a stir on the slopes rather than off them.
February 12, 2014 -- Updated 1014 GMT (1814 HKT)
A prop from the Winter Olympics opening ceremony.
It has been dubbed Russia's Las Vegas. But has Sochi's massive renovation come at a cost to the region's stunning natural environment?
February 23, 2014 -- Updated 1733 GMT (0133 HKT)
Take a different look at Sochi 2014 as CNN showcases the most compelling images from the world's best photographers.
ADVERTISEMENT