Normally the middle of February would see Formula 1 teams shipping out to Barcelona for the first preseason tests. This year, however, testing is restricted to one three-day session at the Bahrain International Circuit in March thereby delaying this year’s launch schedule. In fact, only McLaren, AlphaTauri and Alfa Romeo had revealed their cars by the time Motor Sport went to press. Nonetheless these offered important clues as to how teams would be tackling the final year of the current regulations before all new cars are revealed for the 2022 season.
McLaren was first out of the blocks with its MCL35M and the Woking outfit was in an unusual position among its fellow chassis manufacturers. Thanks to a switch from Renault to Mercedes power (which used all of its development tokens), it received dispensation to alter its chassis design beyond the constraints of homologation rules agreed in 2020. As technical director James Key notes, “Fundamentally, the architecture of the car is different, but the homologated areas are as similar as possible. It added an extra dimension, which probably led to a suboptimal approach compared to if you are absolutely free, but I don’t think it was that much of a compromise.”
Looking at the layout of the car, with the caveat that launch specs are never what arrives at testing, there are some obvious changes. The packaging of the sidepods is impressively tight. In plan view they tuck in towards the centre of the car sooner than the 2020 car. One of McLaren’s videos also appears to show a large cooler sited on top of the power unit, hinting that the team has moved toward placing more cooling capacity on the centreline of the car, rather than in the sidepods.