Mclaren’s launch of a new car was surrounded with optimism and expectation, so when they had an awful pre-season testing campaign, it appeared that any success was out of the question. Admittedly, their car hasn’t been locking out the final row of the grid every race, but dreadful reliability has prevented Mclaren engineers from being able to smile at all on Sunday evenings.
It has become pretty clear that Honda are not going to improve their engine, and any attempts at increasing downforce will become pointless to an extent, such is the car’s disadvantage in a straight line. Consequently, Mclaren appear to have come up with a strategy to improve their car. Instead of simply making the car faster through corners and slower on straights, the car has been designed to produce less drag. In other words, the aim is to make the job of the near-useless Honda engine significantly easier.
Mclaren particularly focused on reducing the amount of air hitting the heavily exposed front tyres. The front wing was significantly updated to carry out exactly this job. The main area of the front wing is designed to direct airflow to the inside of the car, however it is simply an unassailable task to direct air close to the endplates to the inside of the car. Therefore, engineers cantilevered a small elements of each endplates which directs the air away from the car. The issue with this is it prevents the air being used for cooling and producing downforce.
They also changed the diffuser geometrically in order to produce more rear downforce, and they also added a slot near the rear wheel. This actually increases the car’s straight line speed to an extent, as it produces more traction for the rear wheels. The issue with this is that in the first 4 rounds engineers had figured out that the rear tyres were causing turbulent air which the diffuser cannot turn into downforce. Therefore, an extra slot was added on the floor to direct air towards the diffuser, as supposed to the rear tyre.
It is quite easy to assume from the double DNF at Spain that these updates solved nothing. However, it appears Mclaren made some progress at Spain. Fernando Alonso qualified the car an astonishing 7th on the grid. Stoffel Vandoorne seemed relatively content, saying “I think it was actually quite an encouraging weekend for McLaren-Honda as a whole” in his column on Motorsport.com. Eric Boullier pointed out that crucially the CFD data and data in real life matched up, saying “In Spain we brought a new front wing, new bodywork, new floor, and new rear wing and it is correlating 95 percent”. This proves Mclaren have a reliable way of designing aerodynamic elements.
Mclaren now intend to bring more upgrades for the downforce-reliant Monaco Grand Prix, so although it is not confirmed, it seems likely that more improvements will be made to the front wing and particularly the nose cone. Hopefully for Mclaren, and the competitiveness of the sport, they can improve even more. At the same time they do need to remember that results wise, it can’t get any worse.
(The featured image was taken during pre-season, the second image is during the Spanish GP, courtesy of Sky Sports and Formula One)