The MCL33 – the first car in McLaren’s 52-year history to be powered by Renault engines, following the team’s switch from Honda – adopts the papaya and blue colour scheme that the team's founder Bruce McLaren first introduced to F1 50 years ago, and which was revived during Alonso’s Indy 500 attempt last year.
According to the Woking team, the MCL33 is ‘a logical development’ of last year’s car, which has been ‘developed and refined’ with the benefit of a year’s experience of the current regulations.
Much of the work on the new car has understandably gone into optimising the packaging of the new Renault power unit, and the incorporation of the new halo device.
“The MCL33 represents a fresh chapter for McLaren – one that clearly embraces our evocative history while also serving to guide our future,” said Shaikh Mohammed bin Essa Al Khalifa, Executive Chairman and Executive Committee Principal, McLaren Group.
“We may have faced a tricky last few years, but this team has demonstrated time and time again that it emerges stronger from each and every challenge.
“And, for 2018, it’s not merely the colour of the car that marks the change: there’s a determination and commitment that exists within everyone who works at McLaren, and we’re fighting stronger than ever to return to the front.”
2018 marks Fernando Alonso’s fourth successive season with McLaren, and whilst the two-time world champion is eager to get going, he’s keeping a level head about expectations.
“I’m really looking forward to getting behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car for the first time in three months,” said the Spaniard.
“Looking at our new car, I feel incredibly excited – but also apprehensive. I know just how important this car is to the team, and I just hope that it delivers in the way we all want it to.
“If we’re able to develop the key strengths of last year’s chassis and marry it to an improved Renault power unit, then I think we’ll be able to take a step forwards. The car certainly looks very neat and well thought-out, and I think the new colour looks really great; really eye-catching.
“I just want to get behind the wheel now!”
“From my perspective, I really hope we can start the season with a stable platform that we’re able to develop quickly and easily,” added Stoffel Vandoorne. “It would be great to have a smooth few weeks of winter testing, and to go to Australia feeling confident about the year ahead.”
Evolution not revolution
“With last year’s car, we had to commit to certain decisions about architecture based on what we knew at the time,” explained Tim Goss, McLaren’s Chief Technical Officer – Chassis.
“With a year of track learning behind us, we’ve used that understanding to adjust some architectural decisions. That means we’ve been able to revise all the sorts of things you bake into the chassis at the start of the year.”
“We’re definitely continuing along the same trajectory. For launch, the car will look evolutionary, and we will continue enhancing the MCL33 through testing and the race season."
In terms of development, Goss explained that the design team had focused on refining the package; making it neater, simpler and more elegant.
“That’s always been an area of focus for us,” says Goss. “But, this year, we went beyond to get a neat and tidy packaging solution. And that just gives the aerodynamicists more scope to play with the bodywork.”
The challenge of changing power units
Accommodating the new Renault power unit presented McLaren with significant challenges, with the French-built engine manufactured around a significantly different philosophy to its Honda predecessor.
“That change has been a big deal,” explained Goss. “Even though the regulations state that the front and rear engine mounts need to be the same for every manufacturer, the layout of the engine, its architecture, is very different from before.
“There are two families of engine out there; the Mercedes and Honda concept, with the compressor at the front of the engine, turbine at the back, MGU-H sat in the vee; and the Ferrari and Renault approach, where the turbo-charger is at the back of the engine, and the MGU-H sits forwards into the vee.
“Each of those approaches has its pros and cons, but I’m actually quite a big fan of the Renault approach. Making the switch had a big impact on the installation of the engine. The advantage of the Renault layout means that we can push the engine forwards, but then you have the compressor at the back of the engine, so you’ve got to get the outlet pipes forward without impacting the packaging.
“We had to redesign the back of the chassis, the gearbox bell-housing area, the rear suspension, and the cooling layout. That was two weeks of intense effort to get right. But it was something we were somewhat prepared for, because we knew it might happen, and it’s amazing what people can do in such a short space of time when the chips are down and you’ve got a really clear mission.
“So now we’ve got a really tidy packaging solution; the gearbox and rear suspension designers did an unbelievable job to redesign everything.”
The challenge ahead
Whilst understandably proud of the considerable effort that went into the MCL33, Racing Director Eric Boullier said he was under no illusions about the challenge the team face to climb the pecking order in 2018, having finished ninth in the constructors’ standings last year.
“The design, engineering and aerodynamic departments have done an incredible job delivering a new car with a new power unit in an extremely short timeframe,” said the Frenchman.
“We never took the easy route or looked to shortcut a process or a solution; and the result is a car that is neat and well-resolved.
“That said, we are under no illusions that it will be difficult to splinter the hegemony at the front; and that the midfield will be full of well-funded, experienced outfits with plenty to prove.
“We are humble about the challenge ahead, but feel we’ve prepared well, have a solid package that we can build upon and exploit as the season progresses, and have two excellent drivers who will make the difference in races.
“At McLaren, we are all racers – pure and simple. We’re going to come out pushing, and we’re going to be racing as hard as ever.”
“The McLaren team was created by a brave pioneer, and has had bravery at its core ever since,” added Zak Brown, Executive Director, McLaren Technology Group.
“Whether it’s been with brave drivers, brave leaders or brave fortune, this team has always fought back.
“And we definitely view 2018 as the year when McLaren will move closer to the front, fighting teams and drivers as we improve our fortunes.”
The MCL33 made its track debut during a filming day in Spain on Friday before beginning eight days of pre-season testing in Barcelona next Monday.