Uncovering McLaren’s upgrades: The secrets behind the Austrian Grand Prix surge

Uros Radovanovic
McLaren driver Lando Norris joins a queue of cars leaving the pit lane in Austria.

McLaren driver Lando Norris sits in the pit lane.

McLaren are back! Well, maybe. Lando Norris’ P4 finish at the Austrian Grand Prix, their best result since Qatar 2022, came at the same time a B-spec MCL60 was introduced to the F1 world.

But what have McLaren changed on their car, exactly? And why was it so successful at the Red Bull Ring over the course of the race weekend?

Let’s dive into the technical details of McLaren’s new update and explore the latest concept chosen by their engineering team.

McLaren go down the waterslide

One of the most striking changes is the new design of the sidepods, halo, car floor, and engine cover. If you take a look at the MCL60, you’ll immediately notice the massive difference between the old and new versions, particularly in the geometry of the sidepods.

The new bodywork resembles Aston Martin’s approach, featuring wider sidepods with deep and pronounced waterslides. This design philosophy has gained popularity among teams like Ferrari and Mercedes recently, and for a good reason.

When designing an F1 car, the main goal of the engineers is to establish the aerodynamic components in such a way that they push the “dirty” air created by rotating tyres as far as possible from the car. At the same time, you want your aero elements to get as much clean air as possible for them to function at their best.

Namely, the sidepods and sidewalls push the dirty air from the front tires as far away from the car as possible due to the wide bend, so that it does not affect the operation of the rear aero elements. The role of the waterslides is to direct clean air to the diffuser and the beam wing, so that they generate as much downforce as possible.

Another great advantage of these channels is that they work well even in curves. Very often, we forget that the direction of the air coming to the car changes in curves, which can greatly affect the aerodynamic efficiency.

The teams discovered that it is precisely in these situations that waterslides are very useful because they manage to efficiently direct the air towards the rear of the car. This feature contributes to even greater cornering stability of the car, enabling faster lap times.

Follow the undercut trend

Additionally, teams try to direct even more clean air with the help of undercuts, the space under the car’s sidepods. Generally, this is the trend now; most teams are moving in that direction and trying to find the most optimal design. It can be noticed that these undercuts on the McLaren are smaller and not as deep as those on the Aston Martin or Red Bull.

It is important to note that for the efficient functioning of the undercuts, the side floor elements under them are crucial because they help keep clean air attached to the car. The mentioned elements work on the principle of increasing the pressure in certain zones, which always leads to an increase in drag. It is very likely that in this case, McLaren engineers have found the optimum that best suits this configuration.

Another striking change in the new version of the car is the extended lower lip on the intake. This feature increases the amount of air that passes under the sidepods and directs it.

If this shape looks familiar to you from somewhere, you are not mistaken. This is exactly the look of the intake that Red Bull introduced for the first time during last year, after which the other teams started to copy and implement it on their cars.

The change in the appearance of the rear-view mirror on the MCL60 is also a new detail. The new design looks much simpler, while the mirror supports are also slightly different.

Mercedes also recently decided on this design, but the truth is that these changes will not drastically change the performance of the car.

We cannot see the most important element

What definitely affects the results the most is the new design of the car’s floor. Unfortunately, since these elements are hidden from the cameras, we can’t analyze them and see how different their appearance is.

What we can assume is that Perez’s accident in Monaco certainly gave them a lot of information about the concept that is proven to be the best at the moment.

With the new regulations introduced ahead of the F1 2022 season, cars use the floor as the main source of downforce. Precisely because of this, teams spend most of their time and money on the development of this very complex, but at the same time efficient, way of creating the necessary downforce levels needed to thrive.

Red Bull was certainly the most successful in this task, something we recently put under our technical microscope.

McLaren combine new ideas with already proven concept

Another interesting detail on the new McLaren is the support cable, which literally passes through the back of the bodywork. Although this solution is not the most elegant, they saved a few precious grams on the car. Another reason for such an unusual design is the change in the rear suspension, which is now very similar to that of Red Bull, as you can see from the picture below.

The new concept of the suspension allows significantly larger openings, which is very important with the change of sidepods. Moreover, these two systems work together to provide maximum diffuser and beam wing efficiency.

And there is still more to come…

Only Lando Norris had access to the new upgrades in Austria, while his team-mate Oscar Piastri was still driving the old spec – and that can probably go a long way to explaining their noticeable difference in performance throughout the weekend, even if the Red Bull Ring always seems to bring out the best in the British driver.

Norris’ P4 finish at the Austrian Grand Prix represents a new platform for McLaren to build on and, with even more upgrades on the way to Silverstone and Hungary, we could be looking at a very different team to one that has really started the season on the back foot.

Watch this space.

Read next: Austrian Grand Prix conclusions: Red Bull’s Perez problem, dreaded track limits and more