McLaren’s latest F1 challenger shows how different the approaches taken by the teams could be.
Mclaren is the latest F1 team to reveal its challenger for the 2022 season. The MCL36 sports a new orange and blue livery inspired by the one-off Gulf livery seen at last year’s Monaco GP. It will hit the track for the first time during pre-season testing at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on February 23-25.
- Norris’ contract with McLaren extended until 2025
- Technical director says McLaren has hidden “a few bits and pieces”
McLaren MCL36: what’s new?
The MCL36 represents McLaren’s effort to capitalise on the most significant regulation changes F1 has seen in three decades. The changes are designed to encourage closer racing, with increased ground-effect that is intended to substitute for a reduction in wing-generated downforce – the turbulence of which has made overtaking problematic in recent years.
A larger wheel and tyre package is the other major development, and has led to predictions from some that the new cars could exhibit more edgy limit-handling than last years’ crop, with the comparatively lower downforce levels also lengthening braking zones and creating overtaking opportunities. One must also note that the new over-wheel winglets and wheel covers, are standardised in the regulations.
McLaren’s latest challenger already shows how divergent the approaches taken by Formula 1’s 10 teams could be. While Aston Martin’s AMR22 uses pushrod front suspension, undercut sidepods and dramatic louvres, the MCL36 uses pullrods and has a more subtle and elegant profile through its Coke-bottle midriff.
“It’s been some time since ground-effect had a predominant role in Formula 1,” said James Key, McLaren Racing’s technical director, “but it provides a great potential to create closer and more exciting racing with these new regulations.”
As has been the case with all F1 2022 reveals so far, Key does say the design will evolve considerably before the first race at Bahrain. “We’ve hidden a few bits and pieces,” Key told journalists, “but this is the car which is going to Barcelona.” McLaren’s straight-up approach is in contrast to Red Bull, who revealed the RB18 only as a liveried version of the official show car.
Norris and Ricciardo on the MCL36
With McLaren in its second year of an engine deal signed in 2019, the MCL36 will be Mercedes-powered, as was the MCL35M. After plenty of time in the simulator, both drivers in McLaren’s star line-up unsurprisingly sounded keen to find out what the MCL36 handles like in real life. Both Lando Norris (fresh from signing a new four-year contract with McLaren) and Daniel Ricciardo feel that opportunities are there to be taken.
When asked if he was nervous the new car might not suit his driving style, Norris replied, “Yeah, potentially, but that’s [the same] for everyone”. He then astutely highlighted the fact that, while rising through the ranks from the Ginetta Junior Championship in 2014 to F2 in 2017, he’d had to adapt to an all-new car every single season and that this hadn’t particularly hurt his prospects.
Norris also said that all drivers will need to get accustomed to not only the feel of their new driving environment, but also the look of it. At some city circuits, he says, even the tops of barriers will be obscured by the height of the large new tyres, and this may necessitate the use of flags or markers.
By Ricciardo’s own admission, 2021 was a season where he struggled to establish the kind of relationship with his McLaren that would allow him to unleash the world-class speed he’s capable of, and 2022 represents something of a reset. This, despite the fact that at Monza last year, the Australian took McLaren’s first win since 2012.
“Hopefully, you can see me driving free as a bird in 2022,” he said. Asked whether he was concerned about the potentially brutal driving environment that a ground-effect F1 car might represent, he said he didn’t mind wrestling with racing cars, but hoped the MCL36’s handling was “nice fun” rather than “ugly fun”.
Zak Brown, chief executive of McLaren Racing, finished off by stating his satisfaction with the commitment of the team. Both himself and Norris have signed long-term contracts, as has team principal Andreas Seidl. McLaren Racing is also running campaigns in IndyCar and Extreme E, and so seems in a strong position across the board, going into 2022.