In the wake of a truly screwed up 2020 season, global economic depression, and shrinking budgets, Formula One has frozen its regulations for the 2021 season. The original plan had included a brand new set of regulations for 2021, but that was kicked back to 2022 after teams couldn’t find the money to develop a new chassis in the midst of a pandemic. So, for the most part teams will be using the same chassis carried over from the 2020 season.
There are minor regulations changes for 2021, including a reduction in overall downforce from the smoothing of the car’s floor, a reduction in elements of the rear diffuser, and rear brake duct winglets. All of those elements can be swapped out without completely redesigning the chassis, but McLaren is starting over with a clean sheet for this weird single-season.
Why would McLaren invest in a new chassis for this season when it did so well—finishing the season in 3rd in the constructors championship—with its MCL35 chassis last year? The simple answer is that McLaren is making the transition from Renault to Mercedes power.
“Whereas every other team will carry over most of its car from last year into this year, our switch to the Mercedes power unit means that’s not the case for us,” McLaren’s F1 production director Piers Thynne said. “It’s driven a huge amount of change and, essentially, we’ve been building a new car. The number of new parts on the MCL35M is about the same as when we built the MCL35.
The back of the chassis and gearbox bell housing around the engine have changed significantly to adapt to the new power unit. Changing power unit greatly alters the architecture of the car and the way everything is packaged, so the entire cooling layout and all the pipework — be that for fluid or air — has changed, along with all electrical harnessing and control boxes.”
The homologation of the chassis is always a huge, huge milestone. It’s an uneasy and anxious time for lots of people in the team. It reminds me of when my wife gave birth to twins – the only difference is that we have to go through homologation every year! Although, we’re the only team that had to do it for this year’s car because every other team has carried its 2020 chassis over to 2021. We didn’t have this luxury due to the changes made to the chassis to accommodate the switch to the Mercedes power unit.
There were some challenges, as is the case every year, but good teamwork between manufacturing and design meant the chassis was homologated on time in December. The process didn’t really differ but, because of COVID-19 restrictions, the FIA couldn’t physically be there to witness the crash test. Instead, we had to set up cameras and live links, so they could see all the instrumentation and closely follow every step of the process.”
There are some significant elements of carryover as we enter the cost cap. The FIA created a list of Transitional Carry Over (TCO) components that are outside of this year’s cost cap. These are parts that can be used in 2021 if they were run on last year’s car. We’ve pushed these TCO regulations to the absolute maximum to allow us to carry over as much as possible, such as gearbox internals and some suspension components, and therefore not have to use a portion of our 2021 budget on their design and production.”
Where every other team on the grid is carrying over its chassis and engine combination from 2020, McLaren has a lot of work to do to develop this new engine and chassis. Will the team be able to improve over its 2020 performance with a clearly better engine, or will they be behind the 8 ball on developing a new carbon tub?