McLaren took the covers off their 2012 machinery today, the long anticipated MP4-27. The car carries their hopes of winning their first Constructors World Championship since 1998.
At first look, the car looks more like an evolution of the MP4-25 that was used during the 2010 campaign than last year’s car. It has a shorter wheelbase and gone are some of the striking features of last year’s car. McLaren also have a history of presenting fairly “bog standard” show cars in their car launches, and it’s no different in 2012. I expect several things to “grow” in the car, as they go about their pre-season testing. Nevertheless, several conclusions can be drawn.
First, the packaging at the rear is very slim. The mechanical arrangement (gearbox, drive shafts, etc) is situated a little bit lower than MP4-26, but it’s not as low as the arrangement of Williams FW33 with the extreme angles adopted for their drive shafts (you can see the comparison below). The cooling outlet is now unique (unless some more spring out during testing), it’s much smaller in comparison to last year and is situated directly above the diffuser. The diffuser itself is blanked, so we will get to see it for the first time in testing only. Also gone are the L-shaped sidepod cooling inlets – we have a more conventional arrangement now. Interestingly, there is an additional cooling inlet inside the sidepod inlets, which will probably be dedicated for KERS cooling. The sidepods themselves are heavily undercut and sculpted.
The most interesting feature of the new McLaren is the exhaust outlets location. Situated at this position, so far out from the car’s centerline (the exhaust outlets protrude from the back of the sidepods like cracked bones in a footballer’s foot), it points to the conclusion that McLaren will be exhaust-blowing their rear brake ducts. I therefore expect some heavily finned ducts to appear for the first pre-season tests – stay tuned for that. It will be interesting to read what the drivers have to say about that. Popular wisdom has it that, although the downforce produced directly at the wheels is more efficient, it is expected to affect the handling of the car in off-the-throttle mode. Considering that extreme engine mapping to blow the exhausts is no longer allowed by the FIA, the jury is out on whether the drivers can live with it or not. A tail-happy car in high speeds will definitely suit Lewis but not Jenson. The car is expected to be planted to the ground in corner exits, which is another plus for Lewis, because Jenson is slightly better than Lewis in getting the power down, so that’s another advantage that Jenson will have to give up.
The nose is much smoother than Caterham’s solution, and nothing indicates that the engineers were forced to extreme measures to deal with the 625 mm Vs 550 mm rule. Apparently McLaren feel there’s more to be gained from streamlined bodywork at the front and who are we to argue with their windtunnel calculations.
All in all, this appears to be a concept bordering in the conservative, with a few interesting ideas thrown in. We will have to wait of course for their first tests to make a final judgement, seeing as a lot of features on the car have been either blanked or not presented at all. The history of F1 is riddled with winning cars that have been evolved from less successful predecessors – Red Bull being a prime example of that. McLaren seem to have decided that their basic concept is not that bad and all it needs is some innovation in key areas.
The jury is out…