For Mclaren, the 2023 season had started in a very unusual way. Even before pre-season, the team admitted that many development objectives set over the winter had not been achieved. Therefore, the ‘real’ 2023 car would only arrive in Baku.
Andrea Stella deserves credit for his clarity and honesty, as well as his important management ability of the group. Meanwhile, Zak Brown deserves credit for having placed trust in Stella and the new technical group formed after the departure of James Key.
McLaren was looking to strengthen its technical team early in the year, culminating in the arrival of two Senior ex-Ferrri engineers – including David Sanchez. The team were already looking to acquire key figures after the exit of Mattia Binotto, also successfully signing veteran Rob Marshall from Red Bull.
All this took place in conjunction with structural improvements, such as the new wind tunnel, operational since last summer and used for the development of the 2024 car.
In the meantime, on the track, McLaren has gone from the penultimate team in Bahrain to being second-fastest for some races now. If it is not usual to see such a significant leap in performance during a season, in reality, the comeback has begun and was enabled by correct choices made last year, with the Woking team making a leap comparable to Aston Martin’s winter one and recovering almost two seconds in a calendar year.
MCL60 revolutionized in aerodynamics while maintaining the excellent 2022 choices with the frame and mechanics
The real season of the Woking team began in Baku after a very difficult start due to a car that was only a slight evolution of the MCL36. Significant efforts were made in response to the regulatory changes introduced last August by the Federation to reduce aerodynamic bouncing.
This was not a game changer, but the first of many development packages which introduced the new car concept of the MCL60, i.e. a different way of how the English car generated aerodynamic and mechanical grip.
At Woking, they were very good at immediately understanding which macro concepts had greater potential than others and which ones allowed for long-term development.
This started at the beginning of last season, opting for mechanics very similar to that of Red Bull.
“Normally, it is aerodynamics that guides the mechanics. But in this case, we had to do the opposite,” said James Key during the summer of 2022.
The technicians of the English team understood the importance of the front suspension, the only important element between the front wing and the central/rear part of the car.
Last year, the turning vanes and bargeboards influenced the flow towards the bottom of the car.
“We chose the pull-rod at the front for the better aerodynamic properties compared to the push-rod,” the English engineer announced.
The same was true for the rear suspension, designed more for aerodynamic than mechanical reasons, which allowed further performance to be unlocked in the rear part of the MCL60.
“With the new regulations, it was essential to try to understand which architecture to use.
“I focused on that and then the front and rear suspension because they’re the kind of key elements that you want to try to get right from the start, if possible. If you get the bodywork wrong, within reason, you can change it during a season.
“But if you get the basic architecture wrong, you have to maintain it for at least one season.” Adrian Newey made it known in the last few hours on the Beyond The Grid Podcast.
Here, the excellent chassis and mechanical choices of the past season are the basis of the technical comeback of the MCL60, as it left open important possibilities in terms of development, unlike the ‘unique’ and limiting long-term projects of Ferrari and Mercedes.
In fact, McLaren was immediately able to focus on the evolution of aerodynamics, such as the belly area, which already last season used the now well-known downwash effect to make the diffuser work better.
This season, the concept has been taken to the extreme, widening the sidepods and increasing the undercut to extract the maximum potential from the floor.
Specifically, this component in the Baku specification was the first real change from a conceptual point of view. However, it is the package brought to Austria which unlocked the greatest gains, thanks to a more significant undercut.
It also allowed the English team to verify that the new concept showed the excellent potential seen in the factory on track.
Work on improving aerodynamic efficiency has begun but will not be finished this season
The approach of Andrea Stella’s technicians was decisive and progressive. The MCL60 has always proven to be a car with aerodynamic downforce, but without ever excelling in a specific technical area and with a difficult compromise in terms of ground clearance / operating window.
The turning point came from the Austrian GP and Silverstone. The setup window widened, and the MCL60 began to significantly approach the levels of the RB19 in high-speed corners, overtaking the other leading cars in this field, such as Ferrari, Mercedes and Aston Martin.
At the same time, performance at medium speeds has improved, while performance at low speeds has improved, efficiency remained the most important issue.
In Woking, they worked to improve these two problems, knowing that the second could not be totally resolved this season, especially in optimizing the lowest load packages, where the compromise between load and resistance has never been satisfactory.
However, thanks to the introduction of the latest technical innovations between Holland and Singapore, the efficiency of the medium-high load package improved.
At Suzuka, McLaren took to the track with a level of rear load similar to Red Bull and Mercedes, lower than Ferrari, yet were second only to the RB19 in the very fast first-sector S section.
In Japan, the car expressed excellent cornering speed, top speed and car handling.
Progress has also been made in slow speed, shown in Singapore and confirmed in Suzuka, with a ‘new’ compromise which did not limit the English car at high speeds.
This sub-optimal compromise happened to Mercedes with their Silverstone updates, intended to improve the behaviour of the W14 in low-speed corners. It is clear that the MCL60 concept, inspired by Red Bull, has more potential in this regard.
Not surprisingly, Ferrari and Mercedes are looking at this for their 2024 cars.
McLaren will instead spend a winter searching for full efficiency at all load levels because if this year the main opportunity was to work above all on improving the specifications of the rear wings, the overall impact of the aerodynamic resistance “actually comes from the entire car,” stated Andrea Stella.
“Let’s look at Red Bull, for example. They did a great job because they have a car with low aerodynamic resistance, regardless of the rear wing.” concluded the Italian engineer.
Translation: Jaden Diaz-Ndisang