McLaren lead the way with innovations in 2010 with the F-duct, but they were late to debut their double diffuser and blown diffuser. In 2011 McLaren appear to be right on the tail of this year’s novelty the front exit exhaust.
So far in testing, the MP4-26 has been seen completing a diligent aero programme with the car appearing with two different format exhausts. One conventional set up which blows over the diffuser and another which appears to have a “U” bend in the system. This latter solution is believed to be a front exit exhaust as used by Renault (http://scarbsf1.wordpress.com/2011/02/01/renault-r31-front-exit-exhausts-fee-explained/).
But as yet there is no sighting of the actual exhaust outlet.
Last year teams started to blow the exhaust over or through the diffuser to produce more downforce. With the method of opening the front of the diffuser up and letting the fast moving exhaust blow inside the diffuser, being the most effective route for more aero grip. Rule changes for 2011 prevented teams opening the front of the diffuser up (aside from a 5cm outer section of floor). So teams are faced with either blowing less efficiently over the floor or finding a new way. Renault have exploited another way, by leading the exhaust forward and pointing it under the front of the floor. Blowing the exhaust at the leading edge of the floor effectively creates more flow under the floor, which in turn creates more downforce. This front exit is a good aero solution, but packaging the duct from the main exhaust to the front of the sidepod is difficult due to the space constraints within the sidepod and heat rejected from the exhaust duct itself.
With McLaren’s conventional exhaust the four pipes merge into the collector and the secondary exhaust pipe points backwards to blow flow over the ramped outer section of diffuser. This set up has been used on and off consistently through the test. It also appears to the baseline configuration. As a lot of the aero tests using pressure rakes, flow-viz and long runs, are being completed with the conventional exhaust.
However other tests have been completed where the sidepod is revised. The sidepod features a bulge at the rear of the coke bottle, the bulged section appearing to house a revised exhaust system. Looking from the rear where the normal exhaust outlet can be seen is instead a “U” bend of exhaust tubing. With this set up the exhaust exit cannot be seen. Although several photos of sensors and cabling around the sidepodsplitter have prompted some fans and media to propose they are exhausts. In my opinion no photo as yet exposed the real exhaust outlet. With both systems, the rear of the floor and diffuser are the same.
Knowing the “U” bend system exists, I’ve tried to find proof for a front exit. One bit of evidence is on the launch car, which was initially unveiled without bodywork. Clearly a lot on the car was missing, but the floor appears definitive enough and just below the normal exhaust collector was a crease in the floor. This niche moulded into the floor is in the same location as the bulge in the sidepod when the “U” bend is run. Looking at its shape, I’d suggest this is where the collector and secondary pipe sit when the “U” bend exhaust is fitted. We can roughly predict that the collector sits further outboard and a little lower. The secondary pipe then curves inboard and then forward under the branch of four primary pipes (see illustration). Of course from here we don’t know where the exhaust routes, so we can’t confirm if it does blow back under the floor.
Amongst the various aero rake tests McLaren have run, some tests features a huge array of pressure sensors in a rig mounted behind the diffuser. A later test had a simpler rig, which passes the floor ahead of the rear wheels. Initially this system ran with a conventional exhaust, and then later the rake was run with the “U” bend. I believe the rake was used to look at the pressure distribution under the floor. The two runs were used to map the different between the conventional exhaust and the improved flow of the front exit. So this suggests they are running some form of front exit.
So where is the exit? I’ve looked at every picture I can find of the MP4-26 and I have yet to see any evidence of the front exit. I do believe its there, hidden behind the bargeboards somewhere below the sidepod inlet, or routed inside the splitter and blowing backwards. Other journalists at the Jerez test have confirmed some form of exhaust exit appears to be in there, kept out of sight both by other bodywork and the huddle of mechanics around the front of the car with the portable blowers to keep things cool when it returns to the pits. Also I’ve heard that the switch for one system to another takes 2 hours, which has reduced the McLarens track time.
But until we see a photo of the exit we can only speculate.