Vodafone McLaren Mercedes MP4-22

January 25, 2007 by Jeremy McMullen

Complete with cultural and improvisational dancing, an extensive fireworks display, and a late night parade up and down Valencia's streets it wouldn't have been hard to believe royalty were present. Yet for the people of Spain, they were out to catch a glimpse of their king and champion with his new steed. And if pomp and circumstance translated into success McLaren would all but have the whole thing locked up.

Sparing no expense, Valencia welcomed its champion and his new team. It was estimated that around 150,000 people crowded along the streets to catch a glimpse of their hero. Fernando Alonso, with fellow Spaniard Pedro de le Rosa, flanked the new MP4-22 with fellow drivers Lewis Hamilton and Gary Paffet. Olympic style opening ceremonies, however, don't win championships and McLaren are coming off a year without a victory. This is the first time Team McLaren has failed to win a race during a season in a decade. Yet, the king, the reigning king, has confidence the MP4-22 will continue his term at the top, as well as, bringing McLaren back to the constructor's pinnacle.

Though considered the class of the field at the start of the season last year, the MP4-21 never achieved the results it was seemingly destined. Much has been made that the differing styles of Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya played a large part in the failure. To put the problem into an analogy, it was similar to a dog with two masters and both of the masters wanting different things from the dog. The car was unable to be developed if the team wanted to please both drivers. With Fernando Alonso and the young Lewis Hamilton as McLaren's drivers line-up, the Woking, England based team believes it now has the drivers, and the car to help the whole team reach its potential.

When looking at the new MP4-22, aesthetically, it boasts of one significant change that connects it with Ferrari. Adorning the sidepods of the McLaren is the now familiar Vodafone logo. Vodafone representatives decided to leave Ferrari after having been with the Maranello team for the past few years. But besides the obvious aesthetic differences, the MP4-22 carries with it some further changes and revisions over its MP4-21 brethren.

Some of the more obvious changes on the -22 include an extended engine cowling and an increased pitch angle from the cowling down toward the rear wing. The sidepods also bear changes over the MP4-21. Last year, the -21 has a pair of more rounded, bulb-like, sidepods with slightly more contoured radiator inlets (slightly more drastically shaped than this year's MP4-22). This year's -22 sports slightly larger radiator openings and a slightly less shrink-wrapped body style around the sidepods. Were it not for these couple of changes and the other tweaks it would be practically impossible to differentiate between the 21 and the new MP4-22. But of course, if the design well and truly works, from an aerodynamics standpoint, why change it at all except for minor adjustments? Minor adjustments, therefore, constitute the major differences between last year's car and this year's.

Team Vodafone McLaren Mercedes used new Computational Fluid Dynamics simulations software to refine this year's challenger, and a more technical, detailed, analysis of the MP4-22 reveals refinements the simulations led to. The changes include minor modifications to the front wing, the cooling ducts for the brakes, chimneys and T-wings, rear flicks, and rear wing.

The front wing sports longer end plates and a smoother flowing trailing edge over last year's design. The -22 retains the zero-keel design setup. However, the -22 has redesigned and better contoured chimneys for cooling. The T-wing remains practically the same except it has been repositioned for this year's design. The MP4-22 retains the tight shrink-wrapped cowling that helps pass air around the rear of the car, as well as, the mid-span wing profile that was included on the MP4-21. However, this year's model incorporates slots in the rear wing and other minor modifications to the design of its rear 'flicks'. These gill-like slits, in the rear wing, help to reduce the turbulence around the end plates, while the redesigned rear flicks help pass the air around the car under themselves while improving airflow efficiency as it flows past the body and toward the rear wheels. In addition, the MP4-22 incorporates a longer wheelbase than last year's model. Some of the biggest improvements the MP4-22 features, however, are in the areas of driver's safety, features that neither Alonso nor Hamilton wants to test for themselves.

One change that will undoubtedly impact the -22's performance is the Bridgestone tires that now adorn the corners of the car. Michelin is out; all teams are running Bridgestone this year. Whether McLaren will be able adjust quickly against teams like Ferrari who have run on Bridgestone tires in the past will mean the difference between success and being so close. Of course, with all that has been done on the new MP4-22 to make it a better car, the greatest performance gain for the team might just come down to the number 'one' on the nose and the championship winning driver behind the wheel. McLaren has inherited a king for its new steed. The world will have to wait and see if this combination proves to be too much for everyone else.

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    In only a little while, the world will be able to see whether the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team, and in particular its MP4-22, is worth such pageantry as that shown in Spain, or whether it is exactly that—all show. Fernando Alonso's presence may just renew the confidence of this proud organization, and thus, bring championship celebrations back to the McLaren troops. And if these are indicators of things to come, then perhaps the celebrations in Valencia were a prelude to the re-coronation ceremony of McLaren atop the Formula One world.
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