Formula 1

F1 Thursdays: How exactly does the McLaren F1 team plan to stay ahead of Ferrari?

Let's dive deep into the technical decisions the Woking team has to make in order to work and perform better than the guys at Modena..

The McLaren F1 Team arrives at Monaco with a special, amazing, what-not, one-off livery. They also arrive in Monaco standing third in the Constructors’ Championship with their MCL35M, in the very capable hands of Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo. Not to mention, several poles, race victories, and even championships later, Norris has signed a two-year contract extension with the team because both the parties see a future together. Congratulations to Lando and McLaren!

As I was saying, McLaren has the third-best qualifying car. This year, the team has improved by a massive margin, to say the least. In the four races so far this season, the qualifying average has been 0.5 seconds off the fastest, whereas last year, it was 1.1 seconds. What is even more threatening for Ferrari is the presence of two drivers that really shake it up. While Norris has been constantly proving that young age can also bring consistency, Daniel Ricciardo is an artist who’s best art was made on the canvas of Monaco GP.

It is very tightly matched between McLaren and fourth-placed Ferrari – the team is only ahead by the tiniest of the margins. To be honest, the advantage is so tiny that it can favor either of the two teams according to the demands of the track. And let’s not forget that Ferrari also has two drivers who have been giving the McLaren boys some sweat to shed.

However, the performance so far this year shows that McLaren can generate greater aerodynamic load in high-speed corners and has better straight-line speed but, Ferrari has the upper hand when it comes to slower-speed corners, which, directly translates that the upcoming Monaco race would be the ideal scenario for the team to finish ahead of McLaren. In fact, Charles Leclerc’s observation suggested that they were fast in the final sector of the Catalunya circuit which is the trickiest part. So, that paints a hopeful picture for monaco.

I was never good at geometry, but I will still try to explain what I am going to explain, in the easiest manner I can. Bear with me. Last time out in Spain, McLaren had fitted their car with a hugely significant upgrade as it joined the ‘Z-floor club’, and also got a revised front wing design. In a Z-type floor, a section is cut away from the edges of the floor to form a Z, thus creating a whirlpool of air to form a seal for the underfloor, allowing it to create more downforce. Because the more seal there is underneath, the more downforce it creates for the corners and hence, the car can dart in the corners carrying higher speeds.

This is beneficial as it can impact how aggressively a driver can load the front axle, which, at a track like Monaco, comes as a boon, because it may help in rectifying the team’s lesser agility into the slow-speed corners. Not only this, but it would also be intriguing to witness whether McLaren retains the revised front wing at Monaco designed to reduce the pitch sensitivity of its car (the phenomenon deals with the amount of balance, a car changes, according to its pitch or dive).

Pitch sensitivity to a certain level is good, but excess of it is bad. Put simply, in case it helps in changing the car’s direction into the slow-speed corners by making the front wing work harder when the car dives under braking, it’s all good. If that respective front load increases too quickly for the rear to cope up with, it’s not good news at all. Pitch sensitivity directly affects the downforce. The higher the ride height, the lesser the downforce at the front wing leading to imbalance. So, the car needs to reduce the rear downforce as well by increasing the height of the rear wing in order to balance the car.

It is rather reported that the new front wing will not be able to generate such a sudden increase in front grip under diving conditions, whereas the previous configuration might just help the MCL35M, especially now that the Z-floor has given it a much-stronger rear end. Although again, the final decision is McLaren’s to take. We can just wait until tomorrow to see what the team has decided on. Don’t forget to catch the live action happening at Monaco which starts tomorrow, or today if you may.

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Chirag Khanna

I can look at the headlights of a car and can tell which car it is. I am an automobile and motorsports (specializes in F1) geek, for starters. For the main-course, I write.

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