How McLaren stole the F1 upgrade spotlight in Singapore

McLaren had a comprehensive development package available for the Singapore Grand Prix as it upped the ante against main Formula 1 rival Alpine.

How McLaren stole the F1 upgrade spotlight in Singapore

The revisions built on the fundamental changes made to the layout of its sidepod and engine cover bodywork, plus the alterations made to the floor and diffuser earlier in the season.

However, the sheer scope of the development package and logistical challenges involved resulted in the parts only being fitted to one of its cars, with Lando Norris getting the nod for the Marina Bay weekend.

A second set of parts will be available in Japan, which will allow Daniel Ricciardo to enjoy what the team hopes to be a step forward in terms of performance.

The most dramatic change in this new package comes courtesy of the new inlet arrangement, with the team seemingly taking inspiration from Red Bull. However, it must also be seen as a continuation of the design changes it had already implemented on the MCL36 this season.

While others have converged on Red Bull’s overall sidepod solution, with a number of teams now sporting the downwash-style ramp solution, McLaren is the first to try an open top inlet arrangement similar to the one used on the RB18. 

Granted, it’s not an exact replica, nor should we expect it to be, especially as there’s still a great deal of difference in the overall sidepod layout, albeit with them being conceptually similar.

Perhaps more importantly, there’s a significant amount of difference in terms of layout under the hood, with differences not only in the internal packaging of the radiators, coolers and electronics housed within but also in the positioning of the side impact spars (SIS).

McLaren MCL36 & Red Bull RB18 internal sidepod and SIS detail

McLaren MCL36 & Red Bull RB18 internal sidepod and SIS detail

Photo by: Uncredited

As we can see in the side-by-side comparison, not only does McLaren have its lower SIS positioned higher than Red Bull, it opted for a more rearward position for the upper SIS, mounting it behind the cooling paraphernalia.

McLaren may look at repackaging the entire sidepod arrangement for next season. However in the interim, it hopes the changes made to the inlet and the section forward of the coke bottle line will provide an uplift in cooling and aerodynamic efficiency, with the cooling louvres also adapted to suit.

Another aspect of the sidepod design that’s been adapted for Singapore onwards is the forward undercut, with a deeper gulley beneath the inlet that takes into account the revised flow it’ll receive given the alterations made to the floor, bib and floor fences ahead of it.

McLaren MCL36 technical detail
McLaren MCL36 technical detail

McLaren was one of only two teams (the other being Alfa Romeo) to opt for a different solution for the floor where it connects to the side of the chassis at the start of the season. With its rival abandoning the idea early on, it was likely that the Woking-squad would ditch it too.

The outgoing solution saw a channel created along the car’s centreline that funnelled airflow from under the car’s centreline on to the top surface of the floor and around the sidepods.

The arrangement did result in the underfloor being robbed of some of the airflow that it might otherwise receive though, with the underfloor channels narrower on the MCL36 than some of its opposition.

As part of its overhaul, this entire design language has been eroded with the leading edge of the floor now set up to meet with the side of the chassis, while all of the fences have been optimised to take advantage of the new flow regime.

The innermost of the fences now sits above the floor in much the same way we’ve seen from Ferrari, while a vertical baffle now also sits further forward to divide the bib and underside of the chassis.

Hidden changes

McLaren MCL36 floor

McLaren MCL36 floor

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

While we can see the changes made by McLaren to the MCL36’s outer surfaces, it’s what lies beneath that will likely hold the biggest yield in terms of performance.

Unfortunately for us, this is a view we seldom have of F1 cars, save the mechanics giving us a view of the underfloor when working on the car or the car being lifted off the circuit by crane.

It’s clear that McLaren is being proactive in its design processes, with the team using the stepped boat tail solution also seen on the lead team’s designs [3].

However, it’s likely that the changes made to the floor’s exterior has also resulted in changes made to the underfloor too, we’ll just have to wait to see them.

McLaren also noted in its submission for the pre-event automobile display that it has a new diffuser at its disposal too.

However, this was considered a test item to better understand local flow behaviour at different ride heights and might never be used during the competitive portion of the race weekend.

McLaren MCL36 front brake duct inlet comparison

McLaren MCL36 front brake duct inlet comparison

Photo by: Uncredited

In a bid to help with controlling temperatures in Singapore, McLaren also made a change to the size and therefore shape of the inlet. 

The enlarged variant is what we’d consider more of a conventional shape, albeit clearly shaped with the intent of keeping the juncture where the upper wishbone and pull rod meet, exposed.

It shares this commonality with its regular design (inset), as it too leans away at the top to expose the suspension elements.

Alpine floor

Alpine A522 floor comparison

Alpine A522 floor comparison

Photo by: Alpine

Alpine didn’t have an update package on the scale of McLaren available in Singapore but it did at least have a new floor at the disposal of both drivers.

And, once again, while there are changes on the surface, it appears the more powerful modifications are hidden beneath. 

These alterations made to the underfloor include a new ridge design which will work in conjunction with the ‘ice skates’ that the team introduced a number of races ago.

Externally, the changes made on the floor’s edge were clear to see, with the previously upwardly tipped rear section of the mid section being flattened out. That section of the floor now features a full length metal strip on its edge too, while the floor section aft of it now also has a strip of metal to protect it as well.

The team is happy, not only with this update in isolation, but the promise it shows in allowing the team to continue with its development vision during the remainder of the season and into 2023, as noted by technical director Matt Harman.

“It [the floor] is very strong in this race, but it’s also opened up some opportunities and concepts on the car for us,” he said. “That’s not going to be our last upgrade of the year, we have some other small things to come. But, also, it’s a bit of a window into next year.”

Aston Martin AMR22 floor

Aston Martin AMR22 floor

Photo by: Uncredited

Aston Martin also made changes to the floor’s edge, with a solution seen elsewhere on the grid making its way on to the AMR22. 

As seen on the likes of the Ferrari F1-75 and Red Bull RB18, there’s now a cutout ahead of the rear tyre where a flap protrudes out from the underside of the floor.

The flap is likely connected to an ‘ice skate’ edge wing, as it has been on their rivals' arrangements.

The use of this flap, in conjunction with a raised section of floor just after the cutout, will help to develop desirable flow structures to help combat tyre squirt, a phenomenon caused by the rotation and deformation of the tyre and which left untamed can rob the diffuser of performance.

AlphaTauri AT03 nose detail

AlphaTauri AT03 nose detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

AlphaTauri introduced a new nose and front wing design for the Singapore Grand Prix, as the team ditched its more novel design for something more inline with what we see elsewhere up and down the grid.

The solution it used up until this point saw the nose tip sit lower than the mainplane, which connected to the side of the nose, leaving room for the airflow to make its way under the assembly (red arrow, inset).

The new design abandons this philosophy in favour of a full span mainplane that’s lower in the central portion than it is at its outer extremities. The nose then sits atop the mainplane as the team take advantage of being able to redesign this portion of the nose, without having to conduct a new crash test while doing so.

This is an approach that the entire grid has taken this season in order to reduce costs, with the nose made up of the internal crash structure and the numerous panels surrounding it, in order that changes could be made if performance gains could be found from a different approach. 

The vanity panel used at the tip of the AT03’s nose is clear to see in the illustration on both the new and old specifications and highlights how this is made possible.

It’s also interesting to note that AlphaTauri has switched to a NACA-style driver cooling duct with its new design and inlet position, rather than the oval variant that was present with the old nose tip design.

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