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Behind the maiden win: McLaren’s Miami upgrades

Written by Tatsbhita Reva, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri

Credits: Giorgio Viera/AFP/Getty Images

Six years, 100 entries, and 15 podiums — that was how long it took for Lando Norris of McLaren to cross the chequered flag with his maiden win at the Miami Grand Prix.

Although the upgrades were initially planned to be released during the Imola Grand Prix, Norris managed to get a taste of the upgraded battle car earlier than expected. The news of the team’s anticipated enhancements did not appear to surprise Formula One fans, given the MCL38’s slow pace, and their past history in Miami. 

Aside from the slim thread of luck with the Safety Car, the upgraded McLaren exceeded expectations by outpacing the reigning Red Bull Racing, resulting in the British driver’s triumph. The win, however, did not rely solely on his impressive driving skills—the team of engineers behind the Woking-based outfit played a significant role. 

A persisting issue on the earlier version of the MCL38 

Before introducing the newly upgraded car, the MCL38 ploughed on a specific weakness. According to McLaren team boss Andrea Stella, that particular weakness of their contender this year is no secret: The lack of top speed. He claimed that the car performed poorly in long corners, and lacked Drag Reduction System (DRS) efficiency—hurting top speeds.

With that, the rationale behind the upgrades was revealed: Introducing an efficient downforce upgrade that did not increase drag. 

Credits: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

The MCL38 upgrades

The Miami Grand Prix proved how the upgrades were successful. The McLaren showed tremendous pace on all parts of the track — even in the slow corners and straights.

McLaren introduced ten upgraded aspects of their battle car in Miami. The car was equipped with a completely new front wing — working with brake ducts and front suspension to boost overall downforce, new front suspension geometry—supporting airflow off the front wing, revised front brake duct and winglet—improving airflow management off the front wing, side-pod inlets—adding the airflow adjustment with a reworked floor and bodywork to boost downforce and improve the feeding of air to the back of the car. 

Revised bodywork and engine cover upgraded were introduced to enhance aerodynamic efficiency in combination with redesigned side-pod inlets, upgraded cooling louvres suiting the change in the flow field in a specific area of the car.

A new rear suspension would be able to make use of the improved airflow and increasing load generation through rear brake ducts, revised rear brake ducts and winglets creating more downforce, and a new offloaded beam wing design to effectively trade the load between it and the rear wing. 

These MCL38 modifications resulted in an ideal balance of cleaner downforce amid the corners, allowing the team to acquire less drag on the straights.

“We had good top speed here, one of the reasons is that we — on purpose — decided to go for a relatively light rear wing. We could do that because we added downforce through the package, and this means that we needed to be less demanding from a rear wing point of view, which is never too efficient.” Stella stated.

“When you upgrade a car with floors and side-pods, it’s always more efficient than putting downforce on with a rear wing.” 

Stella explained how the car was set up to maximise low-speed performance fully, and the amount of time spent in the high-speed section was a purposeful setup decision: 

“The decent performance we had in low-speed is not necessarily because of the characteristics of the package, it’s also because of some conscious decisions as to how we set up the cars to make sure that we were as strong as possible in low-speed.” Stella concluded.

Norris was hopeful when asked about his expectations from the upgrades: “Hopefully a quicker car. I think it’s reasonable.”

“It definitely should be obvious for when I'm behind the wheel in terms of finding some good steps forward. But it's not necessarily directed at helping all of our weaker areas, which is something we're still aiming for and working very hard to try and improve,” said the British driver. 

“But anything that's going to try and make the car go quicker – especially when it's so tight – is going to help. So, we wouldn't have pushed so hard to try to bring it here on a sprint race unless we were hoping [it helps].”

It was a different story for Australia’s beloved Oscar Piastri. Piastri’s luck was not on his side, as he had to make a compromise and drive an older version of the MCL38 with just half of the components loaded. 

McLaren were unable to prepare all of the improvements for both cars in time, with Piastri having to compromise, but he still remained competitive. Piastri, on the other side of the garage, will receive the fully upgraded McLaren for the forthcoming Imola Grand Prix.

Credits: Lars Baron/Getty Images

The best is yet to come for McLaren

Norris’ maiden victory means no satisfaction for the Woking-based outfit. It is safe to expect that the papaya outfit is preparing more upgrades going into the 2024 season.

Given how in early April, Stella mentioned that the team would require at least ‘another 12 months of development’ before they could be able to deliver a car that is ‘strong in DRS and long corners.’

And with Adrian Newey bidding Red Bull Racing farewell, fans of the sport are speculating about his next big move. A probable move to McLaren? 

Linked heavily with drifting to Ferrari, fans are speculating his welcome to the Papaya team. On the other hand, McLaren’s chief executive Zak Brown teased through the podcast F1: Beyond the Grid that Newey might not be joining his team after he departed from Red Bull: “He’s obviously the most successful designer of all time. I’m very happy with the team that we have, and it’s fascinating that he’s left.

“I think he’ll continue in F1. I mean, he loves the sport. I think he’s definitely not done,” Brown mentioned. “A lot of people might not know he was at IndyCar. That’s where his relationship with Bobby Rahal, when he was running Jaguar, came from. So I think he likes IndyCar. So what I can comfortably say is he’s not done with motorsports. Where he pops up, who knows?”

There seems to be a lot in store for McLaren and its two drivers—and Norris’ maiden Grand Prix victory is just the beginning. And with further updates in store, would Red Bull Racing’s throne be threatened at the hands of McLaren?


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