McLaren: More upgrades necessary to reduce MCL36’s drag

Jaden Diaz
3 May, 2023

McLaren exits Baku with Lando Norris’ ninth-place finish, a result which satisfies the Woking-based team: “The result is positive if we consider that only the top teams finished ahead of us,” explained the British driver – well aware of the Woking squad’s limitations.

“At the moment, it is difficult to score many more points unless the eight cars ahead of us crash as they did in Australia,” Norris surmised.

“Even if we had a great weekend, we only finished in ninth position, 80 seconds behind Checo”.

McLaren happy with their updates, but the likes of Alpine are yet to throw their true potential

With Lando Norris’ 9th place finish, McLaren consolidates its position in the Constructors standings with 17 points.

McLaren is still ahead of Alpine, Haas and Alfa Romeo, who are currently their closest challengers in F1’s midfield 2023. Waiting for a possible recovery of AlphaTauri and Williams, who showed signs of recovery in Baku.

The MCL36 arrived in Baku with their long-awaited first update package, which Lando Norris described as “the car with which we should have started the world championship”.

Featuring a heavily revised new floor, in addition to a lower downforce wing and a beam wing with a different geometry. What transpired in Baku satisfied the Woking team technicians.

However, team principal Andrea Stella was cautious about making any drastic conclusions:

“We will see in the next few races to what extent the improvement seen is only specific to the track and, above all, how much we have really improved compared to some of our opponents.”

There is a strong suspicion within McLaren that some of their closest rivals did not get the most out of their packages in Baku, especially the Alpines.

The hydraulic problems in Gasly’s car (alongside Ocon’s gearbox issues) did not allow the French team to take to the track with an adequate set-up for the Azerbaijan circuit.

After a bad qualifying, the decision was taken to change Ocon’s set-up, also because they feared that the road surface would wear out too much, with possible sanctions after the usual post-race checks.

The new beam wing reduced drag, but the MCL60 still generates too much

In winter, the MCL60 did not reach its target in terms of drag for a given aerodynamic load generated. McLaren has made no secret of this, admitting their shortcomings in the team’s launch.

With the package introduced in Baku, the process of improving one of the most important problems of the orange car began:

With the new beam wing, we have made good progress in terms of drag reduction. Something that was also helped by the modifications in the upper part of the rear wing.”

The beam wing specification had two objectives: to make the airflow above the diffuser faster and to increase the suction in the lower part.

This should be a consequent increase in the aerodynamic load and, above all, to feed less the low-pressure area below the rear wing to increase its efficiency while reducing drag on the straights.

AzerbaijanGP, Baku - McLaren MCL60 rear wing & beam wing

However, the problem is much bigger than what a simple beam wing can address:

“We can still reduce drag and be quicker on the straights, but it’s a question of the overall efficiency of the car that we still lack.

“If you look at Alpine, they chose a very low-loading rear wing, but it didn’t solve their race pace problems because you’re faster on the straights but slower in the corners.

“Only Red Bull can afford to use an unloaded rear wing and still go fast through the corners,” Andrea Stella made known post-race.

This a problem that is present on practically the entire aerodynamic map with any rear wing specification:

“We have a lot of work to do to improve the top speed of the car,” concluded the Italian engineer. 

Lando Norris was far more blunt:

“It’s still almost impossible for us to overtake,”  he explained at the end of the race.  In reality, the problem of overtaking is something more general this season. 

The reduction of 100m of the main DRS area has certainly not helped, but it is precisely the difficulty of these ‘new’ 2023 machines that is worrying. And the long-awaited regulatory changes to counter aerodynamic hopping are also involved.

Author:  Piergiuseppe Donadoni

Translation: Jaden Diaz-Ndisang

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