McLaren-Renault will become McLaren-Mercedes in the 2021 Formula 1 season: the team from Woking has chosen to return to German engines after the two breaks with Honda and Renault.
Initially, McLaren was supposed to make this big leap for the new F1 regulations – but this was postponed by a year, from 2021 to 2022, because of the coronavirus.
Yet Woking decided to stick with its decision to switch to Mercedes V6s in 2021, when logic might have dictated that it should have waited until the new regulations were in place. This year’s McLaren will be called MCL35M, with the “M” in reference to Mercedes to distinguish it from last year’s MCL35, powered by the French V6.
Is this choice wise? Certainly, we can expect a reinforcement of additional power in the orange car. But several reasons also suggest that McLaren may have chosen the worst year to change engines…
Indeed, with a new engine, McLaren first had to thoroughly rethink a car that was nevertheless performing well for 2021.
“We can’t keep the 2020 chassis. We had to redesign several systems in the car like the cooling and the electronics. Not only will the chassis be different, but the gearbox will be different, and of course the engine will be different. So the MCL35M will be like a new car for us,” said team technical director James Key a few weeks ago.
Changing the engine also has problematic consequences in a period of restricted aerodynamic development (with a token system). Indeed, McLaren had to spend all of its two tokens to adapt its car to the Mercedes engine, whereas other teams were able to concentrate on a more thorough adaptation to the 2021 modifications (limitation of the efficiency of the flat bottom in particular).
So McLaren is likely to start the 2021 season a little behind, as the other teams will be able to build on a solid foundation. But the team from Woking will also have a greater potential for progression.
However, here again, the problem is that in 2021, McLaren will have little time to develop its MCL35M. Indeed, the priority should be immediately to turn towards 2022, date of the new regulation.
Thus McLaren finds itself in a complex situation: the potential of the 2021 car will be very great, but it will be complicated to take advantage of it, since, in order not to sacrifice the medium term, the resources should turn to 2022.
The development of two cars at the same time will be all the more difficult because McLaren will be limited in its development capacities. Indeed, McLaren, by finishing 3rd in the constructors’ ranking in 2020, has at the same time attracted limitations in development time (wind tunnel and CFD).
New rules introduced by the FIA limit the development time of the best teams in relation to the lowest ranked. McLaren will have 2.5% less development time than Racing Point, 5% less than Renault and 7.5% less than Ferrari.
A year before the new regulations, it is therefore another piece of bad news that McLaren will have to face.
At the same time, the introduction of official budget caps in 2021 will somewhat limit the team’s ability to invest, even though the new wind tunnel is in full swing.
James Key was however optimistic and enthusiastic about next year’s challenge:
“It will be a busy year, we will have to develop the MCL35M, race it, and there will be new discoveries to make with our 2022 car as it evolves, we can’t wait to get started! »
But as Key acknowledges, McLaren has created a ‘busy’ year for itself… even though next year the teams will need to free up development time more than ever!
Nothing is set in stone, of course, and Woking’s structural progress may also reassure fans of the orange team; but fundamentally, shouldn’t McLaren have waited another year before switching to the German cavalry?