McLaren have made a clear step forward in performance in the last two races and Ferrari have struggled to compete.
What has made McLaren so competitive all of a sudden? Like every other team they constantly develop their car through the season but three particular changes seem to have made a significant different: a new front wing, an unusual sidepod development, and a clever traction system that’s got everyone talking.
McLaren revised its front wing at Magny-Cours and again at Silverstone. With up to six different elements – four on the main plane, two on the ‘bridge’ – it is among the most complex.
At Magny-Cours the team added two vertical sections underneath the wing next to each endplate and flattened the profile of the endplates as well.
At Silverstone McLaren split the lower front part of the wing and changed how it connects to the nose. According to F1.com: “This new configuration increases downforce but more importantly diminishes the front end’s sensitivity to load variations, thus improving the stability of its aero balance.”
One of the more unusual looking developments of the past two races has been an asymmetric side pod layout. When viewed from the front you can clearly see Hamilton’s right-hand sidepod opens far wider than the one on his left.
He ran with this configuration during the German Grand Prix although Kovalainen did not. Kovalainen did test the layout on Friday, however. It was also used at Silverstone.
The sidepod with the smaller aperture can be used when the engine requires less cooling. It is more effective in directing the air flow around the car.
One of the most interesting and potentially controversial developments on the MP4/23 is a new system to improve traction. The steering wheel has an extra two paddles next to the gear shifts which allow the drivers to optimise the engine torque for each corner.
Mark Hughes in the Daily Telegraph explains how it works:
The lower two allow different engine torque settings to be chosen. Using two fingers at the same time allows the car always to have the most favourable engine torque setting for each gear, thus giving the driver a tool for limiting wheelspin out of slow corners without then suffering a reduction in power in the higher gears, where wheelspin is not an issue.
We saw earlier in the season McLaren in general and Lewis Hamilton in particular suffering with tyre wear. After the British Grand Prix Heikki Kovalainen admitted he had not done as well as Hamilton in managing his tyres. Was that because Hamilton had got up to speed on the new system more quickly?
The developments is interesting for all sorts of other reasons. Will rival teams copy it or try to protest it? (Most likely they’ll try the first and resort to the second if they can’t do it).
If it is protested, might the FIA decide it goes against the spirit of the rule banning traction control?
In German Grand Prix testing at the Hockenheimring the team tried a ‘shark fin’ extended rear engine cover as Red Bull, Williams, Renault and Force Infia have been using.
That may make an appearance at the Hungaroring along with other mechanical and aerodynamic revisions the team is expected to test at Jerez this week.
Ron Dennis expects the team to be strong at the Hungaroring:
I can’t see that we’ll be any less strong in Hungary. And the car will look a bit different there, so we’ll see.