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Formula 1

What McLaren's hiding on its new F1 car

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
4 min read

McLaren’s 2024 Formula 1 car has finally been revealed a month after we first saw its livery but some parts are still being deliberately hidden.

Secrecy is nothing new in F1, especially in launch season, and McLaren is not alone in holding stuff back. Dummy wings and floors, and deceptive renders, are common features at this time of year.

What we’ve seen on McLaren’s MCL38 is not an unfaithful recreation and is understood to largely reflect what ran at Silverstone in a shakedown on Wednesday, but McLaren has been particularly careful not to reveal some sensitive areas of the car.

There are some basic tactics at play here, like limiting the number of images available, being very specific with the angles to disguise certain areas, and fitting what look like basic wings and a simple floor.

But it has gone to greater lengths too. And the closer up you get to certain areas, the more is concealed. Obviously we cannot say the exact details that have been disguised but we can tell what areas are being hidden.

Whatever’s on the floor edge in the side-on image McLaren released, for example, seems to have been brushed out from a couple of specific angles.

The area at the back of the front suspension and into the central section of the floor is very dark in the head-on image, which makes it tough to pick out more detail.

And what is clearly a very different sidepod inlet approach, which would mark a departure from the prevailing trend that McLaren was already part of and many others are moving towards, is largely disguised by the distance and darkness of the side-on shot and things like the front wheel and front suspension in others.

Team principal Andrea Stella said various factors mean that “sometimes you may want to just have this lower profile in launching your car” and a “variety of approaches” given McLaren has previously put on different kinds of events at its McLaren Technology Centre base. But disguising parts of the car is an interesting, deliberate step beyond keeping things low-fuss.

It’s worth pointing out that the car we have seen is at least, as Stella puts it, “pretty accurate”. So what is there (and what is hidden) should be mostly real rather than just a complete bluff or misdirect, which can happen in launch season. That means, for example, we should take it as read that the new sidepod design is McLaren’s real development direction.

“I wouldn't be prepared for anything too shocking,” Stella said when asked by The Race how the launch images compare to what ran at Silverstone.

If that’s the case, though, why go to this trouble to hide stuff? Habit, partly - McLaren has done this before in recent years, including last year with a launch spec it was not even happy with.

And there is probably a genuine desire to keep some bits under wraps. Running this car at Silverstone, where spy shots often start leaking out, and doing it on the same day as Mercedes, means this car gets out into the open a little earlier than if it had waited until Bahrain to shake it down like last year.

That’s why, at least for now, it is hiding some design ideas in the images it can control. Then a few more days pass before people, including rivals, can see them.

“Because we can,” was driver Lando Norris’s slightly tongue-in-cheek answer for why McLaren is hiding stuff. “Because it's a game of performance, and why would you ever want to give away anything?

“You’ll see what the car looks like. But you'll see in two weeks or something. So, be patient!”

Team-mate Oscar Piastri added with a smiling reference to Red Bull’s RB20 Silverstone shakedown two days ahead of McLaren's launch: “At least we showed our car before it went on track, unlike others.”

Does it really make a difference to rivals? Possibly not. But if McLaren was willing to do that with the MCL60 after an underwhelming 2022, and knowing it could be uncompetitive at the start of last season, then it is no surprise to see it do so now, when things are different.

If all goes according to plan, the new McLaren should build on being a regular podium threat in 2023, be a direct competitor of Mercedes and Ferrari, and maybe snipe at Red Bull from time to time.

Whether you think there’s any point at all in hiding parts of a car the whole world is going to see from all angles in a few days’ time, McLaren is at least more likely to have something worth hiding now than in previous winters.

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