McLaren’s 2021 car will be “akin to a new car” despite stable regulations and limited development permitted under the regulations, according to technical director James Key.
Teams will largely carry across their current car designs from 2020 to ’21 due to regulations introduced in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the delay of the planned introduction of a new car design, which will now happen in ’22.
The FIA has introduced a token development system to limit the amount of work teams can do on their current cars ahead of the new season, but with McLaren in the unique position that it’s changing from Renault to Mercedes power, it is having to spend the bulk of its tokens on making changes to accommodate the new power unit.
This will limit the aerodynamic changes it can make, as it needs to introduce a new chassis, cooling and gearbox, which Key says will be akin to introducing an almost entirely new car.
“The big change heading into next year, which is unique to us, is the new power unit. We can’t just carry over the chassis from 2020,” explained Key.
“We’ve had to do a lot of redesigning, especially when it comes to various systems on the car, such as cooling and electronics. Not only will the chassis be different, the gearbox will be too and, of course, the engine, so the MCL35M is akin to a new car for us.”
With their tokens ‘spent’ on accommodating the Mercedes power unit – which the team hopes will deliver an immediate step forward – they have had to introduce as many updates as possible this year to ensure they don’t get left behind by their rivals, which are able to focus development elsewhere.
“Having to spend 2021 development tokens on the Mercedes engine installation changed our approach when it came to developments this season,” he said.
“But the upshot of it is that we probably added a bit of performance in 2020 that we normally wouldn’t have and there’s scope to develop these areas further based on all the information we’ve gathered.”
Key is expecting a very busy ’21 season as teams look to develop their cars, whilst also resuming development on the ’22 cars, which will be a total reset in terms of regulations.
“2021 will be a busy year with a full season to complete, the MCL35M to develop and race, and new discoveries to make with our ‘22 contender as it evolves – we can’t wait for it to start!”