Fastest car of 2012 made even better: Technical analysis of new McLaren
Posted By: James Allen  |  31 Jan 2013   |  3:45 pm GMT  |  127 comments

McLaren launched its new 2013 challenger today, an evolution of the 2012 model, which was the fastest car for significant parts of the season, including the beginning and end.

On the face of it, the new MP4/28 looks similar to the 2012 car, but there are several very significant changes and it takes what was good car and makes it, in all probability, even faster. They have made changes which give them a lot of scope for development as the year goes on.

It is a strong gauntlet thrown down by the Woking team to its rivals Red Bull and Ferrari in particular.

They have wisely left unchanged many areas, where there were only small gains to be had; instead they’ve focussed on several key areas where they have already found gains and will find more as the year goes on. This car is all about maximising the air passing under the car and around the side pods down to the rear of the floor and the diffuser, which is where the most downforce is to be gained.

The main changes are the front suspension, the higher front section and the sidepods. But there is a lot more besides. Here is our analysis.

From the front

The front wing is the same as last November, before the US Grand Prix. This is for launch only and will not be for the first race.

The first area of interest is the front brake ducts, which are quite different. Last year the ducts had few vane ad-ons. This year they are more angled to the front wing. This is going to be a real area of development given the change they have made to a pull rod front suspension, of the kind used by Ferrari last year.

This is a fundamental decision and one which they are committed to for the year. The reason why they have switched is because they wanted to raise the front section of the chassis, to improve the air flow under the car and between the chassis and the wheels. However when you do that you raise the centre of gravity, which is a bad thing. You counteract that by using pull rod suspension, which pulls the centre of gravity down again.

Under the nose, the 2012 car had a set of turning vanes, which directed the air down to the diffuser and were quite powerful. They are not on the launch model. It’s likely they will add for testing and race, but if they don’t it means that they are very confident about the connection between the front and the rear.

With the front suspension change, they have had a complete rethink and it opens up areas of aero development outboard and in interaction under the nose.

It’s a long distance from front wing to rear of floor and you need to control that flow.

It’s hard to see it, but the raised nose has a vanity panel, hiding the stepped nose we saw on the Lotus

Big changes to side pods

The shape of the side pods and the side vanes has changed. The vertical vanes more simplistic, they used to have two, now there is only one.

Outboard of the side pod, the detailing is extreme and you can see it runs the length of floor, undercut and very sculpted; this is a very extreme treatment.

What McLaren is trying to do with this area is to create a skirt of air. Air passing through here will create strong vortex shapes and rotational flow to provide a seal of air, crucially so that everything under the floor stays there at all times and does the maximum job at diffuser, which is where the real downforce gains are to be had.

This area of the car has met with gasps of approval from engineers. It’s really nice work.

Coanda exhausts
Last year there was a lot of work done on the exhausts to get them to channel gas pressure down to the diffuser. Here the channel looks similar to 2012, but the floor behind it is a dummy for the launch, it’s surely not what they’ll use in test and race. It is very simplistic.

Given the complexity of the rest of the detailing, such as the side pods, this looks like a dummy panel and it will be interesting to see what they do here in testing and at the first race.

The Rear wing is from last year, which makes sense; there is more to come in this area. Likewise, the roll hoop intake is same, there is not much to be gained here, so they have left it and focussed on where the gains can be had.

Likely development areas
This will be a development race with the other front running care to win the title. McLaren should start strongly with this car. But they will clearly be working hard to bring more performance in particular to the front brake ducts, the air flow under and around the car, the rear floor and the front wing.

The launch model has nose pillars back under front wing, which is interesting. Front balance is always an issue with this generation of F1 cars. McLaren were pushing for front balance in the final races of 2012, often adding flaps and other devices to achieve balance. Here they have addressed that.

McLaren do not have a passive double DRS device on the car (as pioneered by Lotus past season) and although they are investigating it in simulation, they have no immediate plans to bring one onto the car. There is speculation that the Ferrari will have one when it launches tomorrow.

A lot of this work was done in the Toyota wind tunnel, which they have had to share with Ferrari – so the correlation will be the same as Ferrari’s correlation. It is a very good tunnel. McLaren has been subletting its own tunnel to Marussia and is believe to be building a new one. But it will be interesting to compare this McLaren with the Ferrari launched tomorrow, as uniquely they were designed in the same tunnel

[Additional technical input: Mark Gillan}

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Looks like a big risk to me, they were developing the 2012 car right up until the last race and it was a very good car and now they have decided to completely redesign the car.


Help me out here – how is the C of G lowered by pull rods? The roll axis I can see, but the mass s where it is, whether the springs are pushed or pulled? Or are the springs themselves lower on the bulkhead?


Take a look at this; should make it clearer:


Which tells me that exactly as I surmised, the springs and dampers are lower!

However, that page mentions the “front suspension C of G”. I’m sure it’s a slip of the keyboard, when they mean the “front of the cars C of G”…


Well spotted. It’s both.

If you consider the springs and dampers as part of the suspension, then using a pull rod system makes the suspension’s mass as a whole lower, thus reducing the CG of the suspension, thus reducing the CG of the front end.


Wow, they have been far more aggressive than I thought.

Their exhaust setup was the trickiest to get working but most effective last year so their rivals have gone safer paths while they have kept their great working setup.

The rest of the car surely must be even better than last year which will make the car fastest once they dial it in properly.

Reliability could be a fly in the ointment this year but they have a big weak point in the drivers compared to Ferrari and Red Bull.

Jenson cannot bring it home every race, he needs everything too perfect which you can’t get at every track.

Even in his championship year he fluffed it at a lot of races I have no doubt Vet, Alo, Ham, would have got more out of if they were in the Brawn. I like him but if everyone else is on the ball, everything would have to go perfect for him otherwise he’s not going to make it.

I might put some money on Sergio to win the title, he is an unknown quantity, he has never had the backing of a top team and this could be when any niggles vanish.

One thing I have hardly seen mentioned, which is in the drivers favour, is that they are both renowned for being soft on their tyres and I thought at the time it may have been why McLaren chose Sergio. Surely they have an advantage with car characteristic possibilities other teams cannot explore due to the effect of tyre wear these two drivers can negate.

I’m very much looking forward to how everyone gets on in the first fly aways.



the photo you have of the new McLaren, i hope the lens used has distorted the proportions of the nose because it was a wide lens otherwise is very butt ugly….:)


there’s no real world benefit to be had with the pull rod front end.

also surprised to see the driveshafts enclosed. i thought that was not allowed in the regulations?


I can’t see how are people are saying it looks exactly the same as last year with that higher nose and high set openings in the side pods and different suspension. Ok the livery is the same but it’s not like going to your local dealer and saying “I will have that rocket red one” is it ???

For me the biggest challenge for Mclaren will be how well the drivers and engineers adapt that front pull rod suspension because that higher nose with different suspension must surely be different to what both Jenson and Cheko drove last year and we all know how Ferrari struggled with front -rear balance earlier 2012. Once Ferrari managed that we could see the accuracy of both Ferrari drivers turn in in the latter part of the season.

Jonathan Neale said it was all about the development pace and how well they could tune the car throughout the season. I think all the teams will start like last year with the stronger ones finding the extra 1 second by half way and then saying goodbye to the rest- Mclaren will probably be one those .


very good article james, i hope your next article includes what button and peres think of their new car and what their game plan may be this season. from what you have presented us, there are significant changes to the car and there has also been a significant change to the mclaren personnel. i can only guess that their game plan may also have been significantly changed aimed solely at winning this years drivers championship with the added bonus of the constructors. from whitmarsh revealing that he asked hamilton what mclaren could have done for hamilton to choose to stay only for hamilton to say nothing, meaning mclaren did everything they could have done…only for ron dennis to say, a few weeks later, they could have kept hamilton if they wanted to. on extrapolating, ron would have the last and widest grim if button won the championship in 2013. i guess all efforts will be piled on button to win it this year. reasons being that they’ve started using words like ‘perez has a lot to learn’ and ‘button is the most experienced driver.’


Good design concept, lots of dummy parts for now.

Testing will reveal all.

If this car comes out fast from race one and if Macca continue their aggressive development then I dont see why this can’t be a title winning car.

Lets wait for Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes.

Question now – Does Button and Perez have the raw speed to make the best of that car?

Can’t wait for the first race!


As usual, McLaren have produced a beautiful car that is almost certainly going to be fast.

Lovely engineering… Pity about the drivers though. One is a smooth politician (and little else); while the other only seemed fast at a time the teams hadn’t understood the tyres (but Sauba had), his real level has since come to light.


Hi James, good technical analysis, do you feel that Mclaren could develop the car further (maybe testing will show more). As a comparison to last year where Mclaren had been struggling during the middle phase’s.

With the stepped body, it looks neat how Mclaren managed to use the Vanity cover to good affect, and I too believe there will be a turning vanes that will be enclosed further like in Ferrari F2012. Now I cant wait to see the rest of the F1 challengers, starting off with Ferrari.


Everyone is running dummies. Mclaren will undeniably will be the fastest car in 2013, for their domination of Final three races (Hamilton’s domination of Abu Dhabi) is a reflection of just how dominant the car was. Since, 2013 is the year of evolution it is rational to conclude that Mclaren will be the most dominant team of 2013.

Having said that, the only weakness this team has is their driver lineup. They are missing a hero.

Lotus has its hero in Kimi

Red bull has its hero in Vettel

Ferrari has its hero in Alonso

Mercedes has its hero in Hamilton.

Mclaren has its hero in ???

The car needs to at least half a second quicker per lap to compensate the driver deficit. Anything lower than that would make the Mclaren gobbled up by the competition especially, Kimi, Vettel, Alonso and Hamilton who can do things in a half a second slower car which the current Mclaren drivers can only dream of.


I’m not so sure Kimi can tbh.

Some very seasoned F1 journalists and observers have suggested that he lacks a 1/10 or 2 from when he was at his peak. They also claimed that many people thought Lotus would have won quite a bit more if Alonso or Hamilton had been in the car.

Vettel? He had a 1/2 second a lap slower car between Bahrain and Singapore. Valencia aside, when that car was supreme, what did he achieve with it? Is it still a statistic that Vettel has not won from lower than 3rd on the grid?

To my mind, only Alonso and Hamilton have shown that ability.


“Is it still a statistic that Vettel has not won from lower than 3rd on the grid?

To my mind, only Alonso and Hamilton have shown that ability.”

And Hamilton hasn’t won from lower than 4th on the grid.


He was there. Always.

Everybody lables his performance in the first half of 2012 as poor, saying he struggled with the car.

Well, he did appear to struggle with the car. Despite this, he still matched his team mate (arguably bettered him in the races). And was always there.

Not exactly poor in my book. Nor does it show a lack of ability to drive a miss-handling car.


Yes, there is an element wonder of if Kimi pushed hard enough for wins in first part of the year, and yes Hamilton and Alonso would’ve won more races in E20 in the first part of the year. But then again, neither of them were returning to F1 after two years of absence with a point to prove and the world media and entire F1 fraternity scrutinising his return not to mention the his own team The Lotus.

But, I did manage to find a pattern to his approach in 2012. According to me and if paid attention to would be noticed that he designated the first half of 2012 to consolidate his position in F1 and also to familiarise himself to different tires and cars without having a bad race in process, which he did commendably, and having achieved that he designated the second half of the year for his full blown assault with his signature white-knuckled spine-chilling drives with overtakes that were nothing short from being simply phenomenal.

So, in short the first half was for the F1 fraternity and all his critics and the second half was for him, his team and his fans.

There is ofcourse an element of truth to the fact that he may have lost 1/10th since his peak, yet the moves he pulled off without DRS during the second half of the season on a consistent basis was the baseline that though he may or may not have had lost a tenth here and a tenth there and yet he was phenomenally the most exciting driver of 2012. The only drives that can come remotely parallel to them are the Vetel drives in Abu Dhabi and Brazil, Hamilton’s Austin drive, Alonso’s Valencia drive.

So I think all in all he does qualify as a hero and responsible to bring superstardom back into F1, without him everybody were like goodie-two-shoes, he came with a rebel element won fans over worldwide.

I rather support a podium of Kimi than a win from anyone else.


Do Mclaren try to hard to build the fastest car?

I say this because more often then not in the last 15 years Mclaren have had the fastest cars. Yet won no constructor titles, While Ferrari always seam to have the most reiliable and have won 8 titles in that time. I wonder if Mclaren try to hard to be the fastest and run at 100% then things break. And Ferrari run at 95% and keep going. Mclaren have had the faster car in 99/03/05/07/08/12 granted they was thrown out of the championsip in 07 but thats at least 6 years of the top of my head. Also Williams had a couple of fast cars in that time and they faild with reliabilaty.


McLaren did NOT have the fastest car in 2003, not by any stretch. 05 we had a Mercedes hand grenade as an engine, that cost us the title in 03 as well. 07 and 12 should have easily been both titles wrapped up for McLaren. 08 we had a 1 man team, hard to win a constructors title against a team with 2 top tier drivers vs Lewis with Heikki as his number 2.

Ferrari lucked into the title in 07 and since then have been 3rd team at best. Fernando was close in 2010 because the Red Bull was unreliable and last year he drove superb but again, other drivers misfortunes helped him a lot. Lewis should have run away with the title last year. McLaren’s reliability cos them 2nd place in the Constructors last year, Ferrari have been mediocre for years. Ferrari hasn’t been the same team since 2004, and McLaren hasn’t been the same since 2005, McLaren seem to have lost their balls since Ron has stepped down. I think Martin is a bit soft, thats all.


So having a ludicrously dominant car in the latter half of 2006 (just compare the 248F1’s Q2 pace against that of the Renault R26 and others), then 3 front running cars in the next four years (F2007, F2008 and F10. All second best at worst) is being ‘mediocre’?

The F2005 wasn’t bad either, just the tyre regulations that season were highly detrimental to the Bridgestone tyres Ferrari used.

In fact the only ‘mediocre’ car they have produced since their dominant 2004 season was the 2009 F60.

RE: Mclaren… Besides the winless 2006, they have been a front runner every year since 2005 (only in the second half of 2009 though).

Some perspective please…



1) Mclaren cheated with their 2007 contender. They were found guilty in court.

2) Ferrari may not be the dominant juggernaut they were in 2004, but 2005 was the ridiculous 1 tyre per race duration rule that handicapped them against all the Michelin teams.

They nearly won the 2006 Championship.

2007 they took both titles and won the WCC in 2008 and nearly won the WDC too.

If you had said since 2009, I’d agree with you entirely, but I think the people that are being employed by Fry now and the rebuilding of the infrastructure that Aldo Costa let fall years behind the times will make a difference.

Regarding Alonso and last year, he suffered a pretty damaging bit of misfortune when Grosjean decided to vault him at Spa.


When I saw the car and read the reports I was positive for the Mcl team. However i have now heard the post launch interviews and believe Mcl are doing the rounds again. Nothing has really changed. JB says all the right things but seriously unless he has changed his driving style he won,t quallify high enough. Checo is already trying to hard to impress and I can see him tripping himself up. Talking about beating every Tom , Dick and Harry will not help his cause. Whitmarsh is simply not good enough.Yes he seems like a nice enough bloke but I question if he has the killer instinct needed to win the WCC at this level??!! All in all same old Mcl, I would love to see LH,FA and Vetel going head to head for the whole season.With LH winning!!!!!!!


Here’s hoping for JB’s second title. People wright him off all too easily but all he needs is to repeat his 2011 performances and he’ll be a contender.


2011? Sure, he came second…122 points behind Vettel


In a car that wasn’t anywhere near as good as the Red Bull.


In a car just about as good as the Red Bull, faster in some instances.

Vettel was simply un-touchable in 2011, and seemed to make best use of the blow diffuser.


Jenson will be much much stronger this year, tyre change will work to his advantage, and having the edge on Sergio at the start of the year will also work to his advantage, if McLaren are fast out of the blocks and Jenson can qualify like he did in the first 7 races of 2009 when the car was to his liking, we will have a great year!


But will the tyre change work to his advantage? That’s what everybody expected from him since Pejelly came into the sport, but most of his struggles last year revolved around tyres.


When exactly did he get the edge on Sergio??

I don’t think you can rely on a massively dominant car like 2009…. there are no loopholes to exploit.


Pops read your first response earlier in the comments and concluded you and I are the only ones with any savvy.

Despite all the pretend aero designers gibberish the front side profile looks zackery like last years car. No modesty panel was needed then, isn’t now.

Nothing there, we should all move on.


What about the whole stepped-nose business?


with all the changes to the 2013 concept is it really an evolution or a whole new design as mclaren are saying?


Bit of both by the looks of it.


Sorry James, off topic question. Are you going to Italy for Ferrari´s presentation tomorrow? I asked because Andrew Benson said he is going.


No. I’m doing Force India at Silverstone

I have someone out in Maranello though


You sent someone to Maranello and chose Force India instead…? I think this is the biggest shock of 2013 done and dusted!


Thanks. I hope Force India surprises everybody with the new driver besides the new car and Di Resta


Not like the old days of unveiling a new car, teams are fast enough to not only copy ideas but also improve them. So it ‘cards to chest’.

Lotus and Mclaren both look like their respective 2012 cars. Mclaren have historically always turned up to the 1st race with a diffident looking car so I guess the real launch of the new cars will be at the 1st testing in Melbourne.


Honestly, speed is nothing if you can’t finish and McLaren has shown an extraordinary skill at shooting themselves in the foot. This will probably be another Red Bull year.


Beautiful car and the one to beat this season, I think.

It’s a pity Lewis won’t be driving it, he really would have liked it.

And what of Jenson and Sergio… one is to young and I don’t believe has the skill to be champion, the other… well, if he manages to group everyone behind him, he might be the contender for WDC crown.


The stepped noses were not due to aero gain, but simply due to the requirement for the teams to lower the nose (ie nose *cone* height) to prevent up-and over accidents like Schumacher/Liuzzi and Webber/Kovy.

Some teams for their own reasons wanted to retain the height of the tub (front bulkhead?), so the FIA allowed this resulting in the need for a step. Some teams have tried to get aero gain from it, but it is a secondary function of the situation.

I suppose a vanity plate is basically superfluous, so I would expect most teams not to run it to save weight unless there is an aero/drag advantage form running it.

McLaren didn’t run maximum permissable front bulkhead/chassis height last year, but seem to have now relented to get the maximum air under the car. So in their case it really is “vanity”!


No mentioning about the rear of the car. Diffuser seemed almost missing from the car – also one simplistic dummy part on it.


That’s because they use a dummy floor for the launch. That isn’t the same floor they will use in jerez. Instead of putting a blanking plate on the diffuser which they have done since 2010, they decided to just have the diffuser without the strakes. That floor looks like one from early last year, minus the diffuser strakes.

Come Tuesday, that car will look very different.


Well as usual it is a good looking car with some fundamental changes. It remains to be seen if it is also fast relative to the competition, but full marks for effort. As the tyres have gone even more aggresive this year I expect their will be a further learning curve to be ascended as teams wrestle with understanding how to get the best balance for the prevailing conditions. I look forward to qualifying in Melbourne

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