Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis
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Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis

The updates helping McLaren fight for F1 wins

McLaren has made some impressive progress in Formula 1 this season, as it has ended its long victory and pole position droughts.

The updates helping McLaren fight for F1 wins

And while it accepts it cannot yet match Mercedes and Red Bull at every race track, its pace has been good enough to consolidate its place as the third best in F1 as it fights off the advances of Ferrari.

McLaren's push has been helped in part by the team's return to Mercedes power, a task that should not be taken lightly given the homologation and token system that was introduced for 2021.

With other teams able to make changes to their car for this season to improve performance elsewhere, McLaren was forced to spend its tokens on integrating the Mercedes power unit into a car originally designed to cater for the Renault power unit.

Nonetheless, despite requiring a unique driving style, the MCL35M appears to be a relatively benign car, much like its predecessor. This seemingly makes it easier to set up and be able to extract performance across a wide range of conditions than some of its rivals.

With that in mind, the team has been careful not to create too much of an imbalance when it has introduced updates.

So let's take a look at what has kept McLaren in the hunt for third place in the constructors' championship.

McLaren MCL35M diffuser detail

McLaren MCL35M diffuser detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

McLaren came up with a novel solution to recover lost downforce triggered by new F1 aero rules this year.

The change of regulations for 2021 required that the vertical strakes be 50mm shorter. But McLaren realised that by connecting the most central strakes to the diffuser's central transition, it could retain the lower format, albeit with some restrictions on their overall shape.

No -one else has taken up the idea but the MCL35M continues to feature the design, suggesting that even with them assimilating various other solutions seen elsewhere, this still works well.

McLaren MCL35M floor comparison

McLaren MCL35M floor comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

McLaren had been the first team to publicly test a variation on the new floor rules when it trialled a tapered floor edge at the Belgian GP in 2020.

Clearly happy with its optimisation of this, it began the season with a similar design, while the rest of the grid jumped on the Z-Shaped floor cut out solution.

Late adopters, McLaren became the eighth team to switch to the cut out when it installed its variant at the Spanish GP.

McLaren MCL35M floor deflectors detail

McLaren MCL35M floor deflectors detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

This was followed up at the Austrian GP as the team introduced a cluster of fins between the sidepod and edge of the floor in order to better manage the airflow's path toward the cut out and optimise the flow around the car's rear tyre.

Sandwiched between the floor updates, the team made a new rear wing design available too, featuring a horizontal louvred panel at the base of the rear wing endplate where ordinarily teams would have a row of vertical strakes.

While McLaren might have adapted it for use at the lower end of the endplate, it's a feature that already had a home in the overhanging section of the endplate above, albeit inverted.

McLaren MCL35M endplate

McLaren MCL35M endplate

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Interestingly it's a design concept that was introduced by Haas when the regulations first changed back in 2019. It has since found its way on to several cars as they look for ways to improve downforce and reduce drag.

McLaren has had several more changes throughout the season as it looks to keep a firm foothold in the championship, with chassis horns being added in France alongside a new sidepod and engine cover package that tightened the MCL35M's rear end even further.

This resulted in a smaller rear cooling outlet for when demands aren't high, allowing for some aerodynamic gains along the way.

When temperatures are higher there's also now the option for the team to use louvred cooling panels beside the driver to help keep things cool before having to switch to a larger rear outlet.

McLaren MCL35M bargeboards

McLaren MCL35M bargeboards

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The team also made changes to its bargeboard cluster for the Hungarian GP (old specification inset), with the upper boomerang becoming more of a prominent feature and the lowermost chicken wing taking up a secondary role.

In order to extract the most from the MCL35M, the team had developed a new front and rear wing arrangement for the Italian GP, both of which were put to good use when defending from the Red Bull and Mercedes cars during the race.

The front wing was all about the balancing effect of running a much lower downforce rear wing, with a section of the upper flap trimmed away as the team had likely run out of adjustment from its standard configuration.

McLaren MCL35M Monza front wing

McLaren MCL35M Monza front wing

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Ordinarily teams will change the incidence of the front wing flaps with the adjuster, but when they have them fully relaxed we'll often see them trim the uppermost flap to take more wing out.

The team introduced a rear wing that would be considered to be normal Monza fare, with a conventional shaped mainplane and top flap that takes up considerably less space within the permissible box region than some of its other offerings.

This aids top speed but also retains the DRS advantage. When it was in use, the rear wing's upper flap was also trimmed along the trailing edge.

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