McLaren – Formula 1 may be facing an unprecedented situation with teams carrying over their cars for a second season in 2021, but that does not mean everything is staying the same.
Indeed, a delve into the final signed off 2021 F1 regulations that have been published by the FIA show that there are a number of detailed revisions to next year’s rules that will throw up some fresh challenges.
Some of these changes – such as revisions to the floor design to cut back on downforce – have been known for some time, but there are some other fascinating tweaks that have emerged in detail.
Now that’s all said and done, it’s fair to say that the 2020 season has been a great one for McLaren. Sure, for a team that has won 182 races, 12 Drivers’ Championships and eight Constructors’ Championships, trailing only Ferrari, third place might not sound that great, yet it was the best result in many years – and, realistically, the best they could hope for, finishing behind Mercedes and Red Bull.
Still, McLaren has a lot to do before the 2021 season despite the rules only changing minimally. They’ll have Daniel Ricciardo coming in from Renault to join consistent performer Lando Norris, a new partnership with Gulf Oil and, probably most important of all, a Mercedes power unit replacing the Renault one. Things, then, are looking up for the Woking-based team, right?
Well, it depends. F1’s technical regulations were supposed to undergo a massive overhaul for next season, necessitating a totally new car design. With smoother aero, 18-inch wheels and the return of ground effect, the end goal of these new regulations are to make easier-to-follow cars, and as a result, closer racing. But, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, those changes were pushed back to 2022.
As a result, 2021 technical regulations include some slight aero changes, increased weight, a set number of engine modes (no qualifying, aka “party”, mode), eco-friendly materials, fuel restrictions and limitations on teams’ reverse engineering efforts (to avoid a repeat of the Racing Point-Mercedes issue). As a result, most teams have more or less opted to keep the basic concept of their car largely the same for 2021, with the exception of the tweaks mentioned above.
However, despite those limitations, changing the engine supplier means this year’s MCL35 has to be almost completely redesigned not only to accommodate the new power unit and its related systems, but also balance out the rest of the car from that swap. Technical director James Key says 2021’s MCL35M will be “akin to a new car” due to the changes necessitated by the Mercedes engine.
“We can’t just carry over the chassis from 2020. We’ve had to do a lot of redesigning, especially when it comes to various systems on the car, such as cooling and electronics. Not only will the chassis be different, the gearbox will be too and, of course, the engine,” Key explained.
What this all means is that while frontrunners like Mercedes and Red Bull Racing will need to hone this year’s designs, always in accordance to the new rules, McLaren will have much more work to do and its 2021 car will differ more than the 2020 one. On the other hand, having the best engine on the grid is a huge plus, so if the chassis and aero are on par, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t do as well this year – and, who knows, maybe challenge for podiums (or even, dare we say it, a win?) more consistently.
MCLAREN WORK ON 2022 CAR
Without a wheel even being turned for the 2021 Formula 1 season, McLaren’s focus will immediately switch to development of its ’22 car ahead of wholesale changes to the technical regulations.
F1 teams had already begun development on their ’22 cars as they were supposed to race next year, but following the pandemic it was agreed that delaying their introduction by a year was a sensible decision on cost grounds.
As part of that agreement, the FIA imposed a development freeze, meaning certain aspects of the ’22 cars couldn’t be worked, but that ban will lift in the New Year, allowing development programmes to resume, and McLaren isn’t wasting any time according to technical director James Key.
“We’ll be back in the wind tunnel immediately at the start of next year to continue work on the ’22 car – we’ve got plenty of developments to look at and lots of new concepts floating around too.
“There’s a real blank sheet of paper approach to the ’22 car – the chassis regulations are fundamentally different, and the wheels and tyres are changing too. We’ve been working on it for some time now.
“Every team was expecting to race these cars in ’21, so I think everyone had got to a pretty advanced stage before the aero development freeze kicked in this year. That hasn’t stopped mechanical design or simulation work taking place though. Our gearbox design, for example, is very mature now.”
Key believes the pause in development has enabled his team to take a step back and assess new concepts and ideas which he’s excited to get working on.
“The development freeze bought everyone a bit of thinking time. It allowed us to take a step back and really analyse the data and what we’ve done.
“It’s still early days though, there’s plenty more to learn about what the true potential of a ‘22 F1 car is and this learning process will continue for a while.
“It’s always a great challenge having significantly different technical regulations to work to. They represent a fresh start and provide new opportunities for design and development which, as engineers, is incredibly motivating. 2021 will be a busy year with a full season to complete, the MCL35M to develop and race, and new discoveries to make with our ‘22 contender as it evolves – we can’t wait for it to start!”
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THE NEXT RACE 2021
|Bahrain ||26 Mar|
|14:30 - 15:30||Free practice 1|
|18:00 - 19:00||Free practice 2|
|15:00 - 16:00||Free practice 3|
|18:00 - 19:00||Qualifying|
|18:00 - 20:00||Race|
|Bahrain||57 laps||308.238 km|