Launch Analysis: McLaren Mercedes MP4-27

As the first real launch of a 2012 F1 car, McLaren have unveiled their MP4-27. In McLaren parlance this was the cars “technical launch” and was carried out at their Technical Centre in Woking, UK.

2011
McLaren had one of the fastest cars in 2011, on its day the MP4-26 was faster than the Red Bull. So the basic approach of the new car did not need to veer too far from direction McLaren had been following. Last year the season was blighted by poor form in pre season testing. Most of the winter tests were interrupted by exhaust problems, as the now near mythical “octopus” exhaust broke after a few laps out on track. This exhaust turned out to be far simpler than the rumours suggested. The exhausts ran sideways across the floor to exit in a longitudinal slit ahead of the rear wheels. This being a complex way to achieve the same sort of fluid skirt that Red Bull achieved with their outer blowing exhaust layout. Once McLaren had followed Red Bulls lead with the exhaust, they were able to catch up. McLaren perhaps even surpassed Red Bull with the exhaust blown diffuser, as the Mercedes Hot Blown engine mappings were superior to the Renault cold blown solutions. Despite the rules trying cap the hot blown benefits as early the Canadian GP, the Silverstone GP weekend showed how much McLaren were lost relative to Red Bull when the restrictions really bit hard.

Philosophy
With a strong car at the end of 2011, the team have learnt about the damage a slow start to the year makes to their championship chances. This year evolution is required, McLaren do not need to find large chunks of time, but do need a car that will perform well at the opening races. Thus we see the refinement of old concepts and little in the way of radical development.
Thus the new car bred from the recent line of McLarens, the family resemblance goes further than the colour scheme. With a low nose and sweeping lines over rounded sidepods are now trademarks of the Woking design team. With the second year of the fixed weight distribution and Pirelli tyres, little needed to be done to the cars basic layout. Running much the same chassis, fuel tank size and gearbox, so the wheelbase is similar to the previous car.
Although the 2012 Pirelli front tyres are a new shape tyre, Paul Hembury from the tyre supplier confirmed to me that the change in the new profile is “not visible to the eye”. So only small optimisations of the front end aero are needed to cope with the change.

The nose-down, tail-up 'Rake' of the car is evident, with as much as 10cm of rear ride height

The studio photos of the car in side profile show off the amount of rake the car is designed to run. This is also a carry over from 2011, as the car could often be seen with a clear 10cm of ride height at the rear axle line. Although managing rake will be harder this year as the greater rear height introduces more leakage into the diffuser from the sides. As yet the teams solution to seal the diffuser are hidden by a simple floor fitted to the launch, although these are removable panels and more complex designs will soon be seen.

With so much to carry over in philosophy and design, what has changed for 2012?

MP4-27 in detail
The stand out points on the MP4-27 are the nose, sidepods and exhaust position.

Firstly the front wing is near identical to the late 2011 wing, so we can expect its general design to carry over, as will the snow plough vane below the nosecone. But the height of the nose at first appears to be at odds with the 2012 rules on a maximum 55cm height for the front of the nose.

Looking closer at McLarens chassis in side profile its clear the family history of low noses has helped here. The dashboard bulkhead is may be just 3cm higher than the cockpit padding (which is 55cm high), the chassis top then curves downwards towards the front wheels. By the point of the front (A-A) bulkhead the top is lower than 55cm, may be as low as 5cm below the maximum height. When compared to the maximum heights (the dotted line on the drawing), its clear this is a very low nose overall.

The snow plough vane under the nose might be part of the secret to a low nose

This creates less space under the raised nose, but the teams snow plough device under the nose works aggressively as a turning vane, so perhaps the team don’t need the higher chassis to get the correct airflow to the sidepods leading edge. McLaren also find the lower nose provides the classic vehicle dynamics benefits of a low CofG and a less extreme front suspension geometry. This trade off works for McLaren and goes to prove not everything in F1 has to be a compromise in search of aero advantage.

Unique drillings between the rim and spokes of the wheel aid brake cooling, the ring fairing is missing on the launch car.

Although details around the front end will change, the wheels are typically a design chosen to last for the whole season. This year the McLaren Enkei wheels sport a novel set of drillings to aid brake cooling. The usual spokes formed into the wheel between the hub and the rim, stop short and a radial set of holes are made near the rim. Although not present of the launch car, there will be a dish shaped fairing added to small pegs formed into the wheel to aid the airflow out of the wheel.

The high rectangular inlet and large undercut set the car apart from the "U" pods of the 2011

In 2011 McLaren were not afraid to try a radical sidepod set up, This was the “U” shaped sidepod, with the angled inlet shape creating channel in the upper section of sidepod (About the MP4-26 “U” shaped sidepods).  This year the team have adopted more typical sidepod format, with highwide sidepod inlets and steep undercut beneath. I got to ask Tim Goss about this:

ScarbsF1: Can you tell us about why the concept’s changed, why you don’t feel that was a benefit this year?
Tim Goss: Last year’s U-shaped side-pod worked very well with what we were trying to achieve last year with the exhaust layout, it was all intended at creating more down wash to the rear end, and it performed particularly well last year. This year at a fairly early stage we set about a different approach to both the external and the internal aerodynamics of the car, and then once the exhaust regulations started to become a little bit clearer then it was quite obvious to us that the U-shaped side-pod no longer fitted in with both the internal aerodynamics and some of the external aerodynamics that we pursued early on. So it works, it worked very well last year, but it’s actually just not suited to what we’re trying to achieve this year.”

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Not extreme like the "U" pod, but the sidepod tops do incline slightly

In frontal profile the high and wide cooling inlet is obvious.  The team have been able to incline the sidepod tops slightly, this isnt quite a “U”pod shape, but is quite distinctive.  At the rear the team have kept the sidepods narrow and slimmed the coke bottle shape in tightly to make the sidepod join the gearbox fairing creating a continuous line of bodywork to the very tail of the car.

the heated air from the radiators passes up over the engine and out of the central tail funnel

As well as the external airflow considerations, McLaren looked the sidepods internal airflow, they wanted a cooling exit on the cars centreline. This would have been compromised with the “U” sidepod, so the more conventional shape was selected. The cooling arrangement is similar to Red Bulls philosophy, the radiators direct their heated airflow upwards and around the engine, this then exits in a tail funnel. The launch car had quite a modest central outlet, but we can expect to see far larger versions used at hot races.

the front upper section of sidepod is switchable for version with cooling outlets

Aiding the tail funnel there are also cooling panels on the upper leading edge of the sidepod, either side of the cockpit padding and various panels arund the rear of the coke bottle shape. Different panels will be used depending the cooling andor drag demands of the of the track.

Last years more complex roll hoop cooling inlets have been simplified into one below the engine inlet

Other cooling functions are covered by the inlet below the roll hoop. Last years double inlet set up has gone and now a single duct is used. This probably cools both the gearbox and KERS.

Viewed through the rear wing the exhaust bulge is obvious

The other notable aspect of the sidepods are the exhaust bulges. These stick out prominently on the flank of each sidepod. They don’t serve an aerodynamic function themselves, but simply fair-in the final 10cm of exhaust pipe. This final section of exhaust is now strictly controlled by the regulations. Its position must sit within specific area, it must point upwards between 10 – 30 degrees and can point sideways plus or minus ten degrees. McLaren have fixed the exhaust in the lowest most rearwards position possible, the tail pipe then pointing steeply upwards and inwards. From the limited view it would appear to direct the exhaust plume towards the outer span of the rear wing.

This would make a blown rear wing (BRW), the added flow from the exhaust aiding the wing in creating downforce at lower speeds. The exhaust position and fairing also suggests an alternative exhaust tailpipe could be used. Paddy Lowe confirmed that different solutions would be tried in testing. From overhead its clear to see the exhaust could be angled differently to blow over the rear brake ducts fairings to create downforce directly at the wheel.


The gearbox case design is not the shrunken design we saw with Williams in 2011 , the differential is low but not unduly so. The top of the case sitting neatly under the tail funnel. Pull rod suspension remains at the rear of the car, while conventional pushrod is on the front end. Lowe commented that the Lotus brake antidive system was not specifically looked at, but was part ”of a family of solutions” that has been looked at in the past. The engineers feeling that the Lotus system was illegal and hence had not been explored further. They declined to comment of the possibility of an interlinked suspension system.
Behind the gearcase, the rear impact structure is mounted midway between the beam wing and floor, fully exposing both the beam wing and allowing airflow into the central boat tail shape of the diffuser. As the diffuser was covered up, its not clear if there are features to drive airflow into the starter motor hole. A new feature on the beam wing is an upswept centre section, the extra angle of attack in the middle 15cm of the wing having a slot to help keep the airflow attached. The upper rear wing is a new design albeit similar the short chord DRS flap wing, we saw introduced at Suzuka last year. The DRS pod is still mounted atop the rear main plane and its hydraulics fed to it through the rear wing endplates. The flaps junction with the endplates follows recent McLaren practice with a complex set of vents aimed at reducing drag inducing wing tip vortices.
Not much else in terms of structures or mechanical parts were evident at the launch. Lowe did confirm to me that the Mercedes AMG KERS remained packaged under the fuel tank in one assembly. Also adding that there would not be an significant weight loss to the system.  As a significant reduction in weight was made between the 2009 and 2011 season, via the consolidation of the Batteries and Power Electronics into one unit.

Mp3 of the MP4-27 Engine fire up via McLaren

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