Improving aerodynamic efficiency on the MCL35M is one of the key focus areas for the team according to McLaren Racing Director Andrea Stella.
Throughout the 2021 Formula 1 season, the McLaren MCL35M has become known as the car that requires a ‘special driving style’. A style that Lando Norris seems to have picked up, while teammate Daniel Ricciardo continues to search for it.
The MCL35M has been a strong contender this year, propelling the Woking-based team up the Constructors’ Championship ladder to sit in equal third place with Ferrari, behind frontrunners Mercedes and Red Bull.
McLaren have continued to improve over the past three seasons, jumping up the standings and enjoying a few podium finishes along the way. Dramatic improvement to the all-round design of their cars including the chassis, gearbox and power unit and overall balance characteristics just to name a few, have ensured the team are back to being a competitive constructor.
But while the MCL35M does endure a few handling issues that continue to cause headaches for Ricciardo, the focus remains on improving the cars aerodynamics. Rather than trying to adjust the car to make life easier for the drivers.
“I think it’s no secret that our car is good in high-speed corners for example,” McLaren Racing Director Andrea Stella said. “It may not be the best car when you have to roll speed in the corner, as another example.
“So while we are trying to adjust some of the characteristics to make it a little bit more natural to drive, at the same time, the most important thing is to deliver aerodynamic efficiency.
“So the focus has always been on improving aerodynamic efficiency, even if we couldn’t necessarily improve these aspects in terms of balance and in terms of exploitation of the car.
“And, again, we are relatively happy with the improvement of aerodynamic efficiency that we’ve been able to achieve in the early races. And hopefully a little bit more will be coming in the next races.”
Ricciardo and McLaren are continuing to work on areas with the MCL35M that the Australian is struggling with. Inconsistencies in handling have hampered his efforts to get his head around the car. With decent performances at one track, followed by a subpar outing at the next.
Speaking of the challenges Ricciardo has faced, Stella knows the issues at hand and has worked them into both his training and coaching.
“He is a driver who likes to roll the speed in the corner, not necessarily attack the braking, as much as our car requires,” Stella continued. “And I think we understood very quickly, what the issue was in terms of exploiting all the speed.
“And understanding this is good, in a way we could model this aspect, which means then you know what to do in terms of working on the simulator, working in terms of coaching the driver to some aspects.
“And so this is in hand, and this is understood. But in F1 the progress that we see is not necessarily like a switch from race to race.”
Further delaying Ricciardo’s adjustment to the MCL35M is the lack of on track testing available to drivers and teams under the current format of F1. Gone are the days when drivers could spend hours behind the wheel, fine-tuning and working through difficulties or testing out new parts.
Having to adhere to strict regulations, testing is limited to just a few short days a year, other than practice sessions prior to Sunday’s race. Which Stella makes the point more often than not, have to be utilised to get the car ready for that particular circuit, and not a general testing session.
“One aspect, which I don’t hear enough about, is that in current F1, it is not easy to exercise,” Stella pointed out. “Winter testing was to a minimum in 2021, and on Friday, you have one hour less to practice.
“And still it’s a practice in preparation for a race, it’s not a practice in which you can do some systematic work, of adapting to a car, understanding all the subtleties that are required to operate at the incredibly high level at which F1 drivers operate nowadays.”