First look: How the 2021 McLaren-Mercedes compares with MCL35

McLaren’s MCL35M became the first 2021 Formula 1 car to hit the track on Tuesday when Lando Norris began a filming day at a wet Silverstone.

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While the car, which is designed around a Mercedes engine rather than the Renault used last year, looks fairly similar to last year's model, there are some intriguing differences that can be seen close up.

It arrives on the back of a relatively successful season for McLaren, finishing in third place in the constructors’ standings.

The car has had to undergo a raft of changes as the team made the switch to the Mercedes-AMG M12 Performance power unit, all while having to stay within the homologation and token system imposed by the FIA that limits changes from last year’s design.  

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M

Photo by: McLaren

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A change in power unit means a total rethink in terms of its installation, which not only appears to have had an impact on the car's overall wheelbase but also the architectural choices taken by the team when it comes to cooling. Let’s compare the two cars from above (old MCL35 on the left, new MCL35M on the right)…

McLaren MCL35
McLaren MCL35M

It has clearly been a priority for the team, as being able to slim down the bodywork around the cooling components will pay back yet further when we consider how the new rules have taken away a large portion of the floor ahead of the rear tyre.

The floor seen on the MCL35M features the new tapered cutout ahead of the rear tyre, while also employing a small flapped section to help influence the wake generated by the tyre behind. The solution here seems simplistic and it’s an area of the car that’s sure to be exposed to plenty of new ideas throughout the season, especially as it yields an opportunity to increase the potency of the diffuser too.

I suspect we will see McLaren make changes here fairly early on – after all, McLaren was the first team to be seen testing a 2021 specification floor, when it conducted tests at the Belgian GP.

Let’s take a look at some individual details around that new power unit…

McLaren MCL35M side pods and air box detail

McLaren MCL35M side pods and air box detail

Photo by: McLaren

Conceptually the sidepods are similar to its predecessor but the MCL35M’s bodywork is tucked in much tighter, with significant contouring to the upper forward portion of the sidepod, which leads to a more pronounced curvature as the bodywork falls over the radiators housed within.

This is made even more apparent by the inclusion of a large louvred panel alongside the halo, which has also had its fairing modified to inflict a different aerodynamic effect.

The transit of airflow around the car’s midriff will also be modified owing to the tighter sculpting that’s most noticeable at the point where the suspension pullrod meets the bodywork (bottom left inset in the image above), as McLaren has applied a blister at this point to accommodate where the floor and sidepods meet. 

McLaren MCL35
McLaren MCL35M

The roll hoop and airbox have also been revised and repackaged with the new power unit and cooling demands in mind, as the team has employed a triangular twin-spar arrangement similar to Mercedes and reduced the size of the lower inlet.

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These studio photos always tell a different story when compared with the real-life counterpart, so let’s turn our attention towards the image where Ricciardo and Norris posed with the car that they both drove at Silverstone on Tuesday…

Daniel Ricciardo, Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M

Daniel Ricciardo, Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M

Photo by: McLaren

For a diminutive fella, Norris has done a fine job of being strategically placed in order to obfuscate the key area around the sidepods! It’s clear that although the studio images have a deflector array akin to the one used in the early part of 2020, the MCL35M features the venetian blind-style horizontal slats that were used toward the end of last year's campaign.

There are further changes to the bargeboard cluster too, but all of this aerodynamic furniture is likely to change before the season even gets underway.

McLaren MCL35
McLaren MCL35M

As we can see above, the same can be said for the front wing, nose and floor too. All of these items are more or less what we have seen from the team last season, whether it be in terms of racing for the front wing and nose, or testing in the case of the floor. 

McLaren MCL35M rear wing detail

McLaren MCL35M rear wing detail

Photo by: McLaren

Another area of interest is the rear wing endplates. McLaren has taken cues from its competitors, assimilating both the louvred hanging-strake design first seen on the Haas and altering the upper leading edge of the endplate, which Alpha Tauri first introduced.

Both of these help the aerodynamicists to challenge the regulatory changes made in 2019 that removed the louvres from the upper front quarter of the endplate and help to mitigate the drag that the wing generates.

McLaren MCL35
McLaren MCL35M
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