Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis

How McLaren has followed Red Bull's Ferrari copy


For all of its talk about the start of a new era, McLaren's MCL33 arrived in Melbourne in an aerodynamic trim very much akin to its predecessor.

However, having clearly had a chassis that appeared so strong in the corners, it was little surprise that the team opted for evolution over revolution.

The lack of big change at the team had also been impacted by a difficult pre-season testing programme, which meant the focus switched to curing cooling issues rather than fast-tracking updates.

The Australian GP came and went, and apart from a few optimisations to the floor ahead of the rear tyre, plus tweaks to the diffuser, not much was different on the car from testing.

But with Australia having given it a platform to move forward, last weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix offered us a first glimpse of McLaren's new development and the concept path it is looking at taking in 2018.

Wing tweaks

McLaren MCL33 front wing detail
McLaren MCL33 front wing detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The front wing used by both drivers in Bahrain featured revised supports near the tips, as the designers looked to reduce the flutter generated at high speed as this can negatively impact aerodynamic performance downstream.

Getting this area of the car right is critical for optimising the Y250 vortex upon which the performance of various aerodynamic structure depends.

Red Bull path

But other changes that were spotted hinted that McLaren could well be plotting a route down the same path that Red Bull went last year as it played catch up with its RB13.

It has been noticeable that in the area of the bargeboards, sidepods, deflectors and even the leading edge of the floor, McLaren has appeared lean in its developments compared to other teams.

If we compare McLaren's development trajectory with Red Bull for example, as they share the closest chassis kinship and now operate the same power unit, the Woking-based team is certainly a few steps behind.

Last year, Adrian Newey's redeployment at Red Bull saw the team revise an area of the car that he's had difficulty with maximising in the past – and it became a key focus of the team's development push.

Numerous iterations of its sidepod and bargeboards led the team towards a point where the RB13 actually became a challenger for Mercedes and Ferrari.

This was a multi-stepped programme, with Red Bull progressively improving the area ahead of the sidepods, with numerous bargeboard iterations being raced between Australia and Great Britain (right insets). It was Hungary, however, that was considered the biggest step forward for this area.

Reb Bull Racing RB13 sidepod bargeboard comparsion
Reb Bull Racing RB13 sidepod bargeboard comparsion

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

As part of a significant update the team introduced for the Hungaroring, new sidepod bodywork (red arrow), not only improved cooling capabilities but also resolved some aerodynamic inefficiencies it had been carrying.

In a similar vein it utilised a solution first seen on the Mercedes with three strakes placed on the floor's leading edge (blue arrow) in order to reduce the turbulence created by the front tyre. This solution has now been found on numerous teams up and down the grid.

Red Bull RB13 and Ferrari SF70H bargeboards comparison
Red Bull RB13 and Ferrari SF70H bargeboards comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

In Singapore, Red Bull introduced a design of sidepod deflector that was almost identical to Ferrari (image above) – and prompted Sebastian Vettel to suggest the team had copied his own outfit.

McLaren MCL33 deflector comparsion
McLaren MCL33 deflector comparsion

Photo by: Mark Sutton


Now, coincidentally or not, the new sidepod deflector that ran on only Alonso's car bore an uncanny resemblance to the very idea that Ferrari started and Red Bull copied.

This could point to McLaren pushing down an identical development path that Red Bull went through last season – where it eventually unlocked some great potential but it took a while to get there.

It is no wonder then that Fernando Alonso is not talking about a miraculous quick turnaround for McLaren but instead of a crucial two months to get things in order.

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Series Formula 1
Article type Analysis
Topic Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis