New Formula 1 season is big for McLaren Honda. After two very difficult seasons in which they finished sixth (2016.) and ninth (2015.), team has to start delivering better results – new rules for chassis design and aerodynamics offer them a chance to catch up with the leading teams, as well as absence of controversial token system which slowed Honda progress. Is this a crucial year for the ambitions of this legendary team or just another season of unfulfilled expectations?
For McLaren, new season brings great changes – Ron Dennis is replaced with marketing specialist Zak Brown while Jenson Button retired to give the opportunity to promising GP2 champion from 2015, Stoffel Vandoorne who successfully replaced him in Bahrain last year .
The changes do not stop there because McLaren decided to change the traditional MP4-X name while the new car, MCL32, finally has some orange colour on it.
Honda prepared a completely new power unit for 2017. which is 90% new compared to last year as they reportedly copied Mercedes’ split turbo concept that champions use since 2014.
Japanese manufacturer also introduced the pre-chamber ignition that Mercedes used since 2014., Ferrari since 2015. and Renault since 2016.
Yusuke Hasegawa said that the new power unit is lighter and has a lower center of gravity which should help chassis, but the key question is how much will they reduce the gap to Mercedes which again made serious step forward according to Force India technical director Andy Green.
Nose and front wing
The nose (1) is similar to last year’s short nose, but pylons (2) are brand new and use maximum permissible length behind the nose. Each pylon has three vertical slits that help to direct the air from the outside of the pylons to the inside, under the nose. Airflow then travels to the long, curved vertical vanes (11) hanging from the chassis, between the front wheels.
Nose pylons are attached to a central, 500 mm wide neutral section (3) which contains the ballast opening while the lowermost edge of the front wing forms three channels. Outer channel (8), above which there are two horizontal strakes which push the airflow over the front wheels, creates strong vortices along the front wing outer edges and the inner two channels (4) form expanding tunnel with upper elements of the front wing that help direct airflow around the front wheels.
It is interesting that the McLaren decided to keep the mentioned tunnels on the edge of the lowest elements, despite testing almost flat leading edge of their front wing in late 2016. The test version had nearly flat profile, as we have seen on 2017. Sauber C36.
Cascade element (6) consists of three horizontal elements of which the bottom one is curved and merges into two vertical fins that also direct the airflow towards the outside of the front wheels. Also, at the top of the cascade is similar vertical element.
Brake cooling (13) consists of several elements – curved surface very close to the wheel, two vertical intakes and aerodynamic elements protruding from the lower part. McLaren, as well as many other teams, split brake cooling system in more channels to separately cool the discs and brake calipers.
Wing on the outer edges has seven elements, and the upper elements (7) have very thin endings that resemble the ends of birds’ wings, where Y-250 vortex begins at the edges of the central front wing section.
Behind the nose pylons there is an S-duct system entry (9), which exits on the top surface of the monocoque while the inner part of the endplate holds the horizontal strake bent upwards (10) to help direct airflow over the front wheels.
Area behind the front wheels
McLaren presents complex and innovative solutions in this area, just like Mercedes and Ferrari, which begins 430 mm behind the front wheel center line.
The main bargeboard (1) starts 430 mm behind the front wheels centreline and has vertical cuts in two places and merges in horizontal vane (2) close to the chassis which directs the air toward the sidepod intakes.
At the edge of the main bargeboard (1) there is a long, blade like horizontal element (3) which creates powerful vortex that travels along the edge of the floor and helps isolate the airflow beneath the car from external turbulence.
From the bird’s eye view we see that McLaren put two longitudinal horizontal blades (4) behind the main bargeboard which also shape the airflow towards the underfloor.
At the top of the monocoque there is an S-duct system exit that helps airflow in the area to stay better attached to the surface of the car in a place where it otherwise separate (on the slope where the nose goes up to a chassis height).
Front suspension is a push-rod configuration with a double wishbone setup while the attachment point for the push-rod (6) is very high for better geometry. The suspension is adjusted to cope with higher cornering and braking forces in 2017. and heavier wheels that are 25% wider. Rear leg of lower wishbone is connected at a higher point on the chassis (at last year’s MP4-31 it was attached at almost the same height as the front leg).
Sidepods and engine cover
New MCL32 has interesting sidepods with small radiator openings and very small airbox above the driver’s head, despite more power that should produce the new Honda power unit with larger turbine and compressor which are split, just like Mercedes’.
The sidepods (1) follow the radiator contours and rapidly descend and taper towards the rear. Sidepod vane (2) is curved and its lower part is placed forward and connected to the lower part of the main bargeboard (1). SIdepod vanes (2) are connected to sidepod shoulder via smaller horizontal wing (3).
Mirrors (7) are attached to single supports while the mirror housing is aerodynamically shaped and tapers towards the rear.
Sidepod intakes (4) are quite small, vertically split and contain a semicircular intake divided into three parts that catches air for cooling some of the specific components located in this area.
Also, in the figure below, you can see that there is a thin vertical slit on the edge of the monocoque and a small vertical rectangular hole at the bottom. Despite small cooling sidepod intakes, Honda managed to design a very narrow airbox above the driver’s head (6) which speaks well of the requirements for cooling the new Honda power unit and / or innovative accommodation and cooling components (narrow gaps on the monocoque edge and the lower edge of the sidepod openings).
Below the airbox (6) is another intake, probably to cool the gearbox or ERS components, with a vertical bracket in front that supports the entire roll structure.
On top of the sidepods McLaren placed horizontal airflow conditioners (5) which shape the airflow along the sidepods and rear end. Next to them is small vertical vane that generates vortices along the sidepod edges.
Rear wing and rear end
Rear wing (1) still has two elements, which rules demand since 2004., and this year it’s 150 mm lower and 150 mm wider. McLaren, like most teams, decided to keep one rear wing pylon (2) attached to the DRS mechanism connected to the main plane and which wraps around the main exhaust pipe.
The upper edge of the rear wing endplates has conventional horizontal slits (3) to reduce turbulence at the edge of the wing while the lower part of the endplate is very open at the place where the rules dictate width reduction. At that point McLaren has lowered the upper, wider part and sliced it with four vertical slits (4).
The rear suspension is a pull rod configuration, but front wishbones (5) angle is not so extreme as last year when they were attached more forward.
The floor in front of the rear wheels (6) is very simple and McLaren will certainly try different solutions and configurations in this area, especially since we are used to seeing them on last year’s MP4-31.
Engine cover has shark fin (7) which longitudinally separates the engine cover at the height of 950 mm and extending almost to the rear wing. The advantage of the fin is more stable airflow to the 150 mm lower rear wing, but car can be more sensitive to crosswinds. Shark fin is inclined because the whole car has noticeable amount of rake (front end down, rear end up) that teams use to generate more downforce from the underfloor, with the whole underbody acting as a big diffuser.
McLaren has not yet tested the T-wing at the top of the shark fin that have so far tried four teams (Mercedes, Ferrari, Williams and Haas), but due to problems with the Honda engine it’s still not at the center of McLaren’s attention at the start of pre-season testing.
New McLaren Honda MCL32 has some individual solutions that can help them to progress from last year’s sixth place in the constructors’ championship. But only when Honda is able to run their new engine reliably, McLaren will be able to focus on developing the chassis and only then we’ll see the potential of the visually promising MCL32.