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

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.

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

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  1. Internet said on 21st July 2008, 21:00

    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. Dan M said on 21st July 2008, 21:07

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

  3. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 21st July 2008, 21:28

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

  4. Wesley said on 21st July 2008, 21:49

    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. Sush said on 21st July 2008, 21:57

    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. Sush said on 21st July 2008, 21:58

    i mean left hand side, sorry.

  7. Polak said on 21st July 2008, 22:07

    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. donwatters said on 21st July 2008, 22:08

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

  9. Sush said on 21st July 2008, 22:12

    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. Internet said on 21st July 2008, 22:34

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

  12. Jose said on 21st July 2008, 22:47

    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. Polak said on 21st July 2008, 22:47

    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. verasaki said on 21st July 2008, 22:50

    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!

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