McLaren says the sheer number of new parts designed for its 2021 MCL35M following the team’s switch to Mercedes power means the papaya squad is fielding “essentially a new car” this season.
F1 teams have been compelled by the regulations to carry over their 2020 chassis for this season, with only slight modifications allowed by the compliance to the rules.
However, McLaren’s decision to swap its Renault engine for a Mercedes power unit has led to a few production challenges, not to mention the constraints imposed by the current COVID-19 environment, as McLaren F1 production director Piers Thynne explained in a Q&A published on McLaren’s website.
“Whereas every other team will carry over most of its car from last year into this year, our switch to the Mercedes power unit means that’s not the case for us,” says Thynne.
“It’s driven a huge amount of change and, essentially, we’ve been building a new car. The number of new parts on the MCL35M is about the same as when we built the MCL35.
“The back of the chassis and gearbox bell housing around the engine have changed significantly to adapt to the new power unit.
“Changing power unit greatly alters the architecture of the car and the way everything is packaged, so the entire cooling layout and all the pipework – be that for fluid or air – has changed, along with all electrical harnessing and control boxes.
“Covid-19 has had a massive influence on what we’ve done in the last six to eight months and how we’ve gone about doing it,” adds Thynne.
“The amount of remote working we do has risen massively and that’s meant plenty of video calls.
“For those members of the production team that work from the McLaren Technology Centre we run split shifts, be that early/late or day/night, so that if we have a covid-19 outbreak the whole production team wouldn’t be forced out of action.
“Staying covid-safe is a huge challenge but everyone in the team has embraced the protocols and knows that they’re there to keep us all healthy.”
Producing an F1 car, even one based on a previous year’s chassis, always involves a tight schedule. But Thynne says that a trouble-free period of production is not necessarily a good sign.
“We are on plan with a lot of things,” says our McLaren man. “There are some challenges in certain areas at the moment – but that’s F1.
“If you’re not encountering any problems, then you’re probably not being aggressive enough.
“If everything is easy and straightforward it tends to mean you’re giving performance away because you’re not pushing the boundaries.
“The real challenge isn’t necessarily producing the launch car, it’s how you evolve from it by upgrading it as quickly as possible.
“The key is to not spend time and resource on anything that isn’t needed. If you make too many launch-spec parts, you’ve wasted capacity that could have been used to produce an upgrade to the latest specification.”
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The introduction this year in F1 of a mandatory $145m budget cap has also required a fair amount of adaptation by teams. And Thynne believes some outfit’s may have better managed the change than others.
“F1 has always been about working under a set of constraints, whether it’s technical constraints, time constraints or cost constraints,” he says.
“Having said that, the nature of the new cost constraints is quite different to what we’ve experienced before.
“It will require a slight change in approach because there’s a real trade-off between cost and performance. Yes, you’ve got to meet the cost cap, but you’ve got to do it without losing performance.