Woking is a creative hotbed

Posted: February 5, 2011 in Design 101, Formula 1
Tags: , , , , ,

Just when it looked as though we’d have to throw the entire 2011 grid into the file marked ‘avert thine eyes, children’…

This is the new McLaren MP4/26, launched during a piece of street theatre in Berlin in which Vodafone competition winners carried pieces of the car into the performance area, where they were assembled by waiting McLaren mechanics.  Everything you’ve just read is true.

Take a moment to end the “think unsexy thoughts” conversation you’re having with yourself, then have a look at the most distinctive feature of the car:

The striking U-shaped sidepods, as with everything in F1, are designed with a function in mind.  As the car moves, the airflow closer to the centre of the car is cleaner and has more energy than the flow towards the outside of the car, where there are two front tyres leaving turbulent air in their wake.  By sculpting and crafting the sidepods in this way, McLaren’s aim is to channel as much of that better quality air as possible towards the rear wing – the more effectively they can get an undisturbed airflow to the wing, the more rear downforce the car will generate.  More downforce leads to less sliding, which makes for an easier car to drive while also improving rear tyre wear.

There’s a trade-off to be made, since teams would usually seek to have the cleaner airflow channeled into the sidepods to provide effective cooling for the radiators.  Here, McLaren have the air inlets mounted outboard and are having to use a tall, wide opening to ensure that enough of the turbulent air coming off the front tyres finds its way to the radiators.  Wider inlets mean increased drag but this shouldn’t have any great effect on the car’s top speed and with this year’s rules banning the trick diffusers used to generate greater rear downforce from the air passing under the car, gaining that downforce back using the rear wing is considered crucial.

History is littered with examples of cars whose unique looks utterly failed to bring about any obvious performance gains.  It’s not all that long since McLaren produced an example of their own, the deeply unimpressive MP4/10 of 1995.  The hopes of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton, two past world champions desperate to reclaim the crown, rest on the MP4/26 bucking the trend.

  1. […] MP4/26, sidepods 0 If you’ve been around for the last few weeks or have the ability to click this link, you’ll have seen McLaren’s new MP4/26.  If you’ve done some exploring and […]

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