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McLaren MP4-25 Launched at Vodafone Headquarters

The McLaren MP4-25

The McLaren-Mercedes Formula 1 team formally launched its 2010 challenger, the MP4-25, at Vodafone’s UK headquarters in Newbury today.  Although Mercedes is no longer an equity partner in the team, the new car sports the predominantly silver livery that has been a fixture on McLarens since 1997.  Prior to that year, of course, McLarens were adorned in the traditional red and white Marlboro motif for more than 20 years.

As will surely be the case with all new F1 cars this year, the new McLaren has a visibly longer wheelbase than last year’s model, to accommodate a larger fuel tank.  As refueling has been banned for 2010, cars must begin each race with enough fuel to last an entire race.  Click here to see a profile comparison between the 2009 and 2010 McLarens.

The most noticeable feature on the new car, however, is the large dorsal fin that sweeps up and back towards the rear wing.  Several F1 teams used dorsal fins last year, including Toyota, Renault, Toro Rosso and Red Bull, with mixed overall success.  Red Bull, however, was reckoned to be the strongest car by the end of 2009, and thus it’s no surprise that some of the most distinctive features on Adrian Newey’s RB5 are being copied by other teams this year.  Both the new McLaren and the new Ferrari, for example, have noses this year that are reminiscent of the RB5’s.

A less noticeable development, but perhaps a more critical one, has been made on the McLaren’s rear diffuser.  Last year, McLaren, like most of the teams on the grid, were caught flat-footed in their interpretation of the new regulations for 2009.  They, like most teams, took a conservative, lower-downforce approach to their diffusers.  Three teams, however (Brawn, Williams and Toyota) took a more aggressive approach, using the so-called “double diffusers,” which gave their cars an estimated 30% downforce advantage.  McLaren have clearly decided not to make the same mistake twice.

As reported in Autosport, team principal Martin Whitmarsh said, “Every year of F1 racing throws up a unique set of regulation challenges, and 2010 is no exception. We have designed a car that exploits the double diffuser concept.”

Engineering director Paddy Lowe echoed this sentiment, by saying, “This is the first car in which we have had a clean sheet of paper to really exploit the interpretation [of diffusers] that was developed last year for a design of floors. “You will see we have produced a fairly extreme incarnation of that but we won’t be alone in that. We believe you will see some pretty extreme solutions on our competitors’ cars as well.”

Time will tell what sort of approach McLaren’s rival teams have taken in their diffuser development, but one suspects that most of the teams will have learned their lesson from last year, after having watched the Brawns be virtually untouchable for the first half of the 2009 season. Ironically, however much the double diffuser concept evolves this year, it will be of little use to the teams next season, as the trick diffusers will very likely be outlawed for 2011.

As a side note, McLaren’s primary drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, were on hand for the launch, dressed in full racing gear.  Jenson Button, who last year changed his helmet colors to match the white and lime-green color scheme of the Brawns, has this year returned to the more familiar red, white and blue motif that echoes the color scheme of the British national flag.

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