My first impressions of the McLaren-Renault MCL35 2020 Formula 1 car are that I’m a little disappointed.
Yes, there are some nice parts and as the regulations are more or less the same as last year it’s difficult to come up with anything that will really stand out, but even so I’d hoped for a little more.
We’ll have to see during testing and the Australian Grand Prix weekend if there are some steps to come.
The front wing assembly appears to feature some small detail changes. The outer end seems to sweep down more gradually than last year and the nose looks like it’s a little narrower. So it’s a move towards more load outboard, but not a big step.
The nose’s cross-section where it meets with the chassis also looks smaller than last year. McLaren still retains the Mercedes-style duck bill and the vertical wing mounts below that with the slot gaps enticing more airflow into the centre of the car.
Looking at the front suspension, the top wishbone has been raised up just that little bit higher at the outboard end. This helps to reduce the negative effects that these components can have on the airflow coming off the front wing flaps.
The real detail is around the rear of the car
It also helps with the suspension geometry as it will induce more negative camber as the car increases in speed and the front of the car gets closer to the ground. You need more camber at high speed because of the tyre deflection generated in fast corners and you want less in the low-speed to help increase the size of the tyre contact patch under braking and in slow speed corners. You can’t keep blaming the tyres if you don’t use them in the correct operating window.
The bargeboard area is fairly basic. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still very complicated but not in the same league as what we saw on the Mercedes at the end of last year. It’s all of these small turning vanes working together that adds up to improving the total aerodynamic performance over the whole car and I’m not seeing too much there. But this section is a bolt-on component and I’m sure we will see lots of development in this area soon as this is, after all, a launch car.
The rollover bar intake area features the internal triangular rollover bar. This splits it into four duct inlets. One will feed the turbo and the others will be used for cooling ducts for the numerous cooling requirements that the current power unit packages require.
It is wider than what we have seen from Ferrari, Haas or Red Bull and the lower central duct reduces the ability to manage the airflow spilling out of ducts when they are not able to flow the volume that is being forced into the inlet.
The real detail is around the rear of the car. Ferrari made a big thing about the packaging of the rear of its car and McLaren has concentrated on the same thing.
The rear is the prime mover in how the airflow goes around the rest of the car. If you can reduce any unnecessary blockage in this area then the rest of the car will respond and the rear of the car can actually influence how the front wing works.
If you look at how far the rear pullrod comes forward before it disappears into the side pod, it just shows how far forward the rear suspension units are.
This is all to minimise the cross section of the gearbox and, in turn, increase the size of the Coke bottle area to allow more airflow through this area. Improvements in this area will also help with the diffuser and rear wing aerodynamic performance.
As for the rear wing, the endplates definitely have plenty of turning vanes on the lower edges of both the wider up part and the narrower lower part.
Interestingly, the vanes on the lower narrower part of the endplate are turning the airflow out into the void behind the rear tyre. This will also help reduce the lift that will be created on the top of the tyre as airflow accelerates over the tyre.
It has all the right pieces in all the right places but I just expected a little more in the level of sophistication
The vanes on the upper wider part are turning airflow in towards the centre of the ca. As long as this is not affecting the airflow on the lower surface of the wing, these will generate a drag reduction.
The small curved sections on the outer surface of the wing endplate are there to mimic the airflow direction of the wing inside the endplates. Having this surface flow turning in a similar direction to what the wing profile induces will reduce the vortex that we see on a damp day coming off that top out corner of the wing.
This vortex is very draggy as it is being pulled along by the car and serving no downstream purpose, so minimising it is a reasonable drag reduction.
We can’t see much on the diffuser, but again as the regulations are not changing in that area it will only be small detail changes. These can have major effects on performance but be invisible to the naked eye.
Last year was one of recovery for McLaren, which has had a tough time in the hybrid era. The difficulties of the Honda years and the struggles once it switched to Renault power forced the team to take a close look at itself.
McLaren did this very well and beating Renault to fourth in the constructors’ championship showed the changes it needed were executed succcessfully. But closing the gap to the top three is not easy.
The arrival of Andreas Seidl as team principal and James Key as technical director last year has strengthened the team, and 2020 will be when we really start to see their influence. Both are vastly experienced. Key started with me at Jordan in the 1990s and Seidl showed he was an outstanding team boss with the Porsche LMP1 programme.
Motorsport management is the same no matter what category you are in It’s critical to reduce or eliminate errors, use budgets no matter how big efficiently, plan for the future and most importantly drive motivation through the company.
All that said, it’s the car performance that will make life easier. Both of these guys have said they believe McLaren needs to take a few more risks with its concept direction to allow it the development opportunities that will be required to close down that gap between the big three and the midfield and eventually join that lead pack. Despite being a privateer team thanks to taking customer engines – Renault now, Mercedes next year – it has the budget and facilities to be in the mix long-term.
Please don’t get me wrong when I say I am a little disappointed with the car. It has all the right pieces in all the right places but I just expected a little more in the level of sophistication.
With about four weeks to the first race I’m sure we will see lots of the of bolt-on goodies appearing. And McLaren might just need them if it is going to hold on to fourth in the constructors’ championship.