McLaren’s technical innovations have put the MP4/23 ahead of the pack

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

The McLarem-Mercedes MP4/23 has become the car to beat
The McLarem-Mercedes MP4/23 has become the car to beat

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.

Front wing

Close-up of detail on the McLaren front wing
Close-up of detail on the McLaren front wing

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 “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.”


Heikki Kovalainen tested the asymmetrical sidepods on the McLaren at Hockenheim but did not race them
Heikki Kovalainen tested the asymmetrical sidepods on the McLaren at Hockenheim but did not race them

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.

Traction shift

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?

What’s next?

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.

83 comments on “McLaren’s technical innovations have put the MP4/23 ahead of the pack”

  1. That traction thing has me worried. Just have to wait and see if anyone complains.

    McLaren has that really distinct rear wing. Thing of beauty.

  2. I love these technical posts, I think it would be great if you could focus on the intricacies of each car.

  3. Thanks Dan! I’ll try to do more in the future…

  4. Hamilton and his McMerc were in a class of their own in the past couple of races,looks like he has come to terms with the new set up better than Heikki.

  5. side pod intakes like that reduce drag

    its not only the side pods that are asymmetrical, but the barge boards, the right hand side barge boards on both MP4/23’s are corrugated at the bottom.

  6. i mean left hand side, sorry.

  7. the traction system sounds like manual TC. First look at data from practice and then program the buttons according to gear.

    I’d like to know exactly how much the driver has to deal with during a race in terms of settings.

  8. The traction thing has me worried as well. What’s to stop Max from declaring it illegal and stripping McLaren of points?

  9. to those of you worried by the Torque Control, its just segragation at the drivers finger tips. but yeah, its a huge advantage.

    Essentially its an E Diff controlled by finger tips.

  10. Keith,

    I agree with Dan about the technical stuffs: is great to read those posts!

    By the way Wesley brings out something to think about: Lewis seems to be improving his technical approach on car set up. In 2007 we didn´t see McLaren dominating and trouncing the field as they did on the last two races.

    All that fuss about Fernando inputs in 2007 seems to be forgotten right now while R 28 are fading in the middle of the field race by race with the same Fernando inputs.

    What team develops better his car? I don’t have any doubt about that and reading that Fernando has used Nelson´s set up yesterday, I think that “Fernando, El engeniero” hype is much damaged right now.

    About Ferrari, Livio Orrichio, another Brazilian insider, made a “strange” (for me) statement today, considering that Ferrari has a lack of technical structure comparatively with McLaren. Livio quoted Luca Baldisseri who said that Ferrari has only one wind tunnel in Maranello. This tunnel is shared between the 2009 car project and the F2008 development.

    About the four paddles I read somewhere (I will try to find where a read that because a really cant remember) that another four teams uses the same concept. So if this is true, McLaren (and other teams) is clean.

  11. @Becken: Actually I’ve read that Ferrari have started using Dallara’s wind tunnel for their 2009 work.

  12. Hi all!
    I won’t try to hide my spanish origin (only 28Km from Oviedo, really) and being an Alonso fan. Great webpage, by the way, that is what brough me here. And congratulations to a Hamilton that starts looking error-free again and was always quick.
    Becken, where did you read that Fernando used Nelson’s setup? I would like to read it for myself. I can well imagine (we have seen that before) Fernando getting the setup all wrong himself, but copying the setup of a teammate who as stuck in Q1 looks ilogical… and unfernandesque!
    About the assymetrical sidepods, an assymetrical car should have a natural tendency to rotate to one side rather than go stright. I believe Nascars and Indycars are setup like that for oval circuits. Can it be that making a car that naturally turns in the direction in the toughest corner (thus making that corner more straight relative to the natural tendency of the car) allows extra setup space for all other corners?

  13. Sush: in my understanding a differential only controls the power between left and right. this controls engine management and thus the output of power and not which wheel it goes to.

    Thanks for the tech news. Post up as much detail as you can find :)

  14. amen to more of this. and not just the front runners,please. good one. i actually have to wait until after work to read it.

  15. Hola, José

    Well, this came from Nelson´s mouth on the post race. He actually said:

    “The car was getting better and better and our set-up was working very well. Fernando even used a bit of our set-up as I think they went the wrong way a bit.”

    The link:

    Let´s see if Fernando will deny that. I assure you he will not!

    INTERNET: Good info. I will check out! Thanks!

  16. To the guys who like reading articles about technical developments, you will find a lot of these at

    especially under “Development Blog” and “Technical Articles”. There are a lot of discussions in the forums as well.

  17. Also I’ve heard about the 4 paddle steering wheel before, but only in the context of the driver being able to upshift/downshift using the same hand while his other hand is preoccupied. So top left -> gear down, bottom left -> gear up, top right -> gear up, bottom right -> gear down.

  18. Internet – yeah I’ve heard that before as well, in case a driver has to take their hand off the wheel to use the radio / remove a tear-off / have a discreet scratch etc…

  19. Fergus Gallas
    22nd July 2008, 0:04

    Congrats on this technical post.
    I do agree with Polak, this really looks like manual TC.

  20. Peter Boyle
    22nd July 2008, 1:52

    Huge difference between this and “TC”.

    With a modified map, it will still happily spin the wheels, throw the back end, etc.. if you floor it.

    A better analogy is that they can tame their 750 BHP
    monster into a 400 BHP super-hot hatch in 1st, 600BHP in second, and 750 in the higher gears. (ok, I’m making
    up the numbers, and I should be talking torque and not
    the more familiar and iconic BHP — but I think the
    gist is correct). Driver still needs to take full control of the throttle – this just makes it easier in low gears.

    I gather that with TC they would sit with the
    pedal fully depressed (how appropriate!) out of every corner and let the car control its own throttle.

    I changing maps is allowed, the rules were an ill-thought out hash intended to make map
    changes sufficiently inconvenient that they
    would be infrequent.

    Macca has followed the letter of the rule, but not the
    spirit. Serves FIA right for yet another bloody stupid
    rule. If they want map changes to be infrequent, legislate *that* and not pointless details of the implementation of map changes.


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