McLaren Formula 1: Is the Radical Rear Wing Responsible for the Team’s Lead?

The 2021 F1 season has been pretty interesting from a fan standpoint, but it is also a transitional season before the big changes coming in 2022. What has the McLaren Formula 1 team been doing to take on teams like Mercedes-AMG Petronas and Red Bull? Apparently modifying the wing.

The McLaren Formula 1 “unorthodox rear wing”

Is the unorthodox rear wing on the McLaren Formula 1 car helping?
McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo driving the Formula 1 car | Ozan Kose/AFP via Getty Images

As it stands right now, the McLaren Formula 1 team’s changes seem to be paying off. The top five drivers are Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton, Sergio Pérez, Lando Norris, and Valtteri Bottas. The second McLaren driver is Daniel Ricciardo, and he’s in eighth place. For the 2021 Constructor Standings, the top five teams are Red Bull Racing, Mercedes, McLaren, Ferrari, and AlphaTauri.

Lando Norris currently has 101 points, just behind Pérez with 104. Though Red Bull is in the lead, McLaren is certainly still at the top of the midfield. What exactly is the secret formula? Formula One says it has to do with the “unorthodox rear wing.”

Changes for the McLaren Formula 1 MCL35M car

McLaren Formula 1 wing
The new wing (L) and the old wing (R) with slots changed from vertical to horizontal | Formula One

After the wins at the Austrian Grand Prix, it seems that the McLaren rear wing was favorable with the DRS zones on the track. The wing has a small main plane coupled with a large flap, that helped the cars qualify higher than anticipated (in the case of Norris). But ever since the races in France, McLaren has been making small tweaks to the cars that have had big improvements.

Added to the wing was a new endplate. The endplate on the bottom of the rear wing ran horizontal instead of the usual vertical setup. These slots are meant to optimize the airblow between the car’s diffuser and rear wing. This manipulates the air pressure to help further create downforce. “How fast the air can be induced to exit the diffuser (sometimes referred to as the expansion rate) determines how much downforce the underbody produces.”

However, the maximized output this creates can have negative impacts elsewhere. The flow on the underside of the wing is drawn to the center from the air leaving the diffuser. The horizontal slots allow for an easier merging of the air flows, drawing the air that is exiting out a bit wider.

All of the changes have had major improvements

https://twitter.com/McLarenF1/status/1414544632982159364

McLaren obviously saw something in the data that suggested this change would have a positive impact, and it did. The McLaren Formula 1 car also has a diffuser piece that is fairly unique to this team. There are strakes that help form the walls of the central tunnel. In other team’s cars, this tunnel is wider. And after all of that, this change might be connected to the new Z-floor shape on the vehicle.

At the Spanish Grand Prix, McLaren introduced a more tapered design to the floor. It also added a cluster of fins along the wide section to help redirect the airflow. This would also help reinforce the flow that the design was already creating.

While many teams seem to scramble to follow in the tire tracks of whatever Mercedes is doing that week, McLaren is confident enough to go a different direct. The McLaren Formula 1 MCL35M car is hanging with the big dogs now, and the British Grand Prix is going to be quite a test to prove these changes.

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