Uncovered: The mighty McLaren MCL38 upgrades threatening to dethrone Red Bull’s RB20

Uros Radovanovic
Lando Norris cheered on by his McLaren team

Lando Norris won the Miami Grand Prix in the upgraded McLaren

After 110 races, six years in Formula 1, and an impressive 15 podium finishes in his career prior, Lando Norris finally became a race winner.

Although Norris had quite a bit of luck with the Safety Car during the race, this victory definitely wouldn’t have been possible without numerous upgrades prepared by McLaren.

The upgrades catapulted McLaren closer to the F1 summit

Led by a brilliant team of engineers, McLaren is now much closer to Red Bull than we might have expected.

Let’s take a closer look at all the changes to the MCL38 and how they managed to bring that extra fraction of a second and help Lando secure his first career win.

McLaren brought a completely redesigned front wing, sidepods, engine cover, front suspension, front and rear brace ducts, and most importantly, a redesigned underfloor to Miami.

These upgrades were planned for the race in Imola; however, Lando Norris got the opportunity to drive the new version of the car earlier than anticipated. On the other side of the garage, Piastri drove the old version of the car with a believed 50% of the upgrades available.

The most striking change is undoubtedly the new sidepod inlet and engine cover geometry. In the image below, you can see that the sidepod inlet is now narrower and wider, while the upper edge is much longer and more pronounced.

Although the airflow into the inlets remained almost the same, this change allowed for redesigned hip shapes that are now shallower and wider. This way, the change in local air pressure under the sidepod area is much greater, which will increase the energy of the airflow.

What we often don’t pay enough attention to is the fact that when you change sidepod inlets, you automatically have to change the entire layout of radiators located in the sidepods that cool the car.

This consumes a lot of time and effort for teams, and if you fail to successfully handle this part of the job, you won’t achieve the desired results.

Simultaneously, the undercut section is more spacious and allows for a much larger airflow that later “feeds” the beam wing and diffuser. This is one of the most sensitive parts of the car for aerodynamicists.

The way in which the aforementioned airflow and the one coming from under the car will merge is crucial for the car’s performance. If engineers manage to make this contact smooth and maximise the velocity of the airflow, the airflow under the car will automatically move more easily and quickly.

Faster airflow under the car means less pressure and more downforce, which is of course desired.

The best part is that by doing this, you’ll also help the overall drag of the car; in other words, you won’t increase it, and with one stroke, you’ll solve two problems.

During the race in Miami, we noticed how McLaren was fast on all parts of the track, both in slow corners and on straights. Another confirmation that the engineers in the team did an excellent job.

McLaren also changed the geometry of the car’s underfloor, which we consider to be probably the most important change even though we can’t see it.

F1 aerodynamic components need to be designed to work uniquely and assist each other; only in this way is it possible to be competitive – and that’s exactly what McLaren’s engineers managed to do.

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In addition to these main changes, there are also minor upgrades that follow the overall philosophy of the car’s underfloor.

In the image above, you can see a different front wing with a new bottom flap profile to further increase the load on this part. Also, the front wing somehow dictates how the aerodynamics behind it will unfold, so changes to the front wing are inevitable.

The edges of the car have become even more pronounced and improved, again, to better preserve the airflow underneath them and improve the downforce.

Finally, there is the front suspension, which nicely fits into the overall upgrades and adapts so as not to spoil the aerodynamics of the car behind it.

The result of the new car could not have been better. After so much waiting, Lando achieved a well-deserved victory that brought McLaren back into the game with the top teams.

There is also some evidence that Max’s car suffered significant damage after a minor incident, enough to affect its performance, and that’s why Norris built a significant lead.

However, the fact is that none of this would have been possible without the aforementioned upgrades.

Let’s also not forget Ferrari, which will also present a new version of their car in front of the home crowd at Imola. We are in for a very exciting period of the F1 season.

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