The ‘real game of millimetres’ that could make McLaren a winner or loser

Michelle Foster
Oscar Piastri leads McLaren team-mate Lando Norris in the grand prix. Saudi Arabia March 2023

McLaren driver Oscar Piastri leads his team-mate Lando Norris in the grand prix. Saudi Arabia March 2023

Andrea Stella has pinned his hopes for this season on McLaren’s aerodynamicists winning what he calls a “real game of millimetres” when it comes to developing the MCL60.

McLaren’s form at the beginning of this season has been underwhelming, prompting the team’s former technical director James Key to admit they’d failed to foresee the impact this year’s floor regulation tweaks would have on the car’s performance.

Now it’s a case of regrouping with McLaren needing to recover the downforce they lost.

New team boss Stella, who took over from the Sauber-bound Andreas Seidl in the off-season, says progress – or a decline – will be based on “millimetres”.

“With this generation of cars, a lot of what contributes to performance isn’t visible, it’s underneath the car,” he said as per Motorsport.com.

“It’s very different from the previous generation of cars. If you look under the car now, you can see channels that play an important role.

“You have to get the basic concepts right, which we didn’t do early in the season.

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“But it’s also a play with millimetres here and there. They make the difference in how stable the vertebrae are when they’re moving. And they’re also crucial for porpoising.

“Now for the right airflow it’s important to understand what high-level concepts to focus on in development.

“And then it’s a real game of millimetres, with lots of runs in lots of areas of the car and the underbody by people in the aerodynamics room.”

The Italian went on to explain that with this new generation of cars everything is connected with every part of the car working in conjunction with the rest of it, from floor to sidepods to wings.

“Everything is connected in three dimensions. It’s difficult to find a detail that works on its own,” said Stella.

“With the previous generation of cars it was much easier because the floors were modular and you could just take the front part and rework it in the factory.”

“It’s difficult with this car. It doesn’t work that easily aerodynamically. So it’s a bit more of a challenge in terms of development speed.”

But while that means if a team gets on part wrong then the rest of the car won’t perform as it should, Stella reckons one thing these new cars do is give better feedback in the wind tunnel than the previous generation.

“I think this generation of cars is better correlated overall, at least at McLaren,” he said. “The limits of the wind tunnel on the previous generation of cars were very restrictive, not only for logistics but also for the aerodynamic correlation itself.

“With these cars, a lot happens on the ground, where the overall correlation is better, for whatever reason.

“With the previous generation, there were a lot of vortices flying in the open air and generated from the side, for example by the bargeboards. Hence this area has always been a little more difficult for the front wing.”

“But the current front wing works further off the ground. That makes it easier. Even with the underbody, the correlation works better for some reason. Overall, I think it has more to do with the generation of cars.”

McLaren are currently fifth in the Constructors’ Championship, tied with Alpine on 14 points but ahead of the Enstone team by virtue of Lando Norris’ P6 in Australia.