Why McLaren turned their nose up

F1 technology

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McLaren began 2012 with a lower and sleeker nose on their car than their rivals.

But following the Mugello test a revised version was introduced for the Spanish Grand Prix with a higher tip and a flatter profile. Why did they make the change?

One of the most striking changes of the 2012 regulations was the mandatory lowering of the nose. The nose section now must be no higher than 550mm above the reference plane, which is 75mm lower than before.

To maximise air flowing under the car most teams have resorted to the ugly ‘stepped’ nose. This design sees the top of the chassis and nose section hug the height boundaries imposed by the regulations. Because there is a discontinuity in this boundary it creates a ‘step’ atop the chassis. By doing this there is a greater volume of free space below the nose to manage the airflow which feeds into the floor.

The only team that didn’t buy into this ‘high nose’ philosophy was McLaren. For the last couple of years McLaren have elected to build a lower chassis in order to reduce the centre of gravity of the front of the car – a very important characteristic to improve mechanical grip. Hence the MP4/27 was the only car not to feature the otherwise ubiquitous stepped nose.

The low nose

The first drawing shows the nose and front wing of the launch-spec MP4-27. At this juncture the car still featured the ‘snow plough’, which fits under the nose and creates additional downforce and manages airflow around the sidepods. The snow plough was run extensively in 2011 and can be seen very clearly from the photograph below.

The low nose and snow plough means that it is harder to develop the surrounding area – for example under wing vanes must either be smaller or omitted as the underside of the nose is much closer to the FIA’s mandated exclusion zone where teams cannot place bodywork.

In addition it is more tricky to place the cameras in-board under the nose as that zone (especially with the snow plough) is even more cluttered.

The high nose

Although McLaren claimed that it hadn’t missed a trick with the high nose, the team began evaluating the concept in February. The new nose made its first appearance late on the final day of the Mugello test at the beginning of this month and was introduced at the Spanish Grand Prix.

The second illustration shows the latest high-nose and front-wing on the MP4-27. It is worth noting a few things.

The front wing pillars are noticeably wider and higher thus allowing a much larger volume of air to flow under the car. The wider pillars also allow the cameras to be positioned in-board directly under the centre of the car – from the drawing the in-board cameras create a quasi-flap behind the FIA mandated central wing section. This will increase aero efficiency and create a little downforce.

Although McLaren turfed out the snow plough (right) in February testing (it is unclear whether there was ever an intention to run it on the car) it is incredible how much additional space it frees up.

If you look at a front shot of the MP4/27 it almost appears as those the nose is now stepped – this is because the new nose now hugs the upper 550mm boundary defined by the FIA. This new set-up allows front-wing vanes to be positioned underneath the chassis to scavenge air under the nose and to stop dirty air from the tyres impeding this flow.

The final point to note on the new McLaren front wing assembly the added aerodynamic detail on the front edge and underside of the wing. The green circle shows an example of this detail. Teams are becoming ever more sophisticated in producing and targeting vortices for aerodynamic benefit.

This detail (circled above) is likely designed to create a series of vortices directed to the lower-inside part of the tyre. Again this will help prevent turbulent air from the rubber interfering with the airflow downstream.

Is a stepped nose next?

McLaren will likely retain the ‘high nose’ concept for the remainder of the season. They have committed to it now for two races and the team clearly believe the new design has more development potential.

An interesting question is whether come 2013 the MP4-28 will feature a stepped nose. This is likely to depend on whether the FIA change the regulations.

The technical rules are set to lower noses a further 300mm in 2014. The compromise rules for this year were chosen to allow teams to continue to run their 2011 chassis if they chose.

The FIA therefore has some room to manoeuvre and may tweak the rules next year to remove the unsightly stepped noses from the sport. If that doesn’t happen I would expect McLaren to evolve their current design and join the rest of the grid in having a stepped nose of their own.

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Illustrations ?? John Beamer for F1 Fanatic, images © Mclaren/Hoch Zwei, F1 Fanatic

55 comments on “Why McLaren turned their nose up”

  1. The technical rules are set to lower noses a further 300mm in 2014

    Wow! Coud we be going back to something similar to this then? Very retro.


      1. No, no, no!

      2. Heh…

      3. thats not an aerodynamic design! thats a ladder for shorter drivers to get in! :P

        1. COTD! LMAO!

    1. that 1995 ferrari is one of all time favourites (and alesi is my all time favourite driver). shame it didn’t do better really though it should have won (with Alesi) and come second (Berger) at monza which would have been the best thing ever.

    2. they will looks somewhat like this image that I made to the maximum height

    3. i think the brawn gp 001 car had a low nose.. it looked pretty good imo

      1. Agreed. The BGP001 was a good looking car

  2. Nice article

  3. Lewis was very quick in Spain, particularly on Saturday. Montreal certainly will give us a clear picture of their progress because I find it hard to make a proper assessment from their showing in Monaco.

    1. I think the Mclaren tends to favour the circuits with high speed corners, but not so much the low speed corner and traction zone circuits. (at least this is what I’ve picked up from team and driver comments, but the proof from their pace at recent circuits would seem to suggest that this is the case), hence their strong pace in spain and comparative lack of front running pace in monaco..So given Montreal is all about low speed corners and traction I wouldn’t of thought Mclaren will be favourites…….this characteristic may go someway to explaining their poor race pace in camparison to qualy pace. As in the race, with the heavy burden of a tank full of fuel one would assume this tends the required perfomance attributes more towards having mechanical grip as with more weight comes more inertia and makes the cars harder to accelerate and less agile, reducing the amount of speed taken through corners and therefore reducing the aerodynamic effect with less air passing over the car..thereby being a less favourable situation for a car with good high speed areo….This is just a stab in the dark though, maybe I’m just a little out of my depth here when it comes to understanding the technical side of things..

      1. @lemon – this may well be the case, but running a lower chassis would sacrifice downforce to increase traction, so it should work the other way round (in theory anyway)

      2. However, it isn’t as extreme as Monaco, so they might do better than there. Particularly if they actually have their first race without silly errors.

    2. My best guess would be to watch out for Mercedes at Monteal.. With their strong pace in Monaco, this proves they have the mechancal grip for the corners of montreal, and what with the amount of straight track in Montreal, their double drs should give them a decent advantage in lap time…I’d probably put money on an all mercerdes front row and even a 1-2..

      1. This. Mercedes looks set for a 1-2.

      2. I would imagine that that is right, but that the temperature will again be a very important factor.

    3. If Lewis can’t win in Canada – I think those who bet on Lewis to be 2012 WDC will start writing off their bets. This is arguably his best track – he’s either won, or crashed trying. Mind you usually when he’s DNFed there he was usually looking very strong (pace-wise)

  4. Another excellent article from John. Thanks.

  5. The FIA therefore has some room to manoeuvre and may tweak the rules next year to remove the unsightly stepped noses from the sport.

    Charlie Whiting has said he was surprised at the number of teams that chose a stepped nose. The FIA knew it was going to be a possible solution when they wrote the 2012 regulations, but they were taken aback by how many teams chose it and by just how extreme the nose steps are. At the Australian Grand Prix, Whiting said that he wants to get rid of stepped noses for 2013.

  6. I got a remark on this: They did raise the nose, but without altering the chassis (which they obviously could; Mercedes did alter the chassis for Monaco, albeit only for the sidepods). Therefore they kept the front bulkhead as it was, so they still have that advantage of a lower CoG. I am not convinced they would go for a stepped nose next year if they have that possibility. I think they still will go for this intermediate solution with a compromise between CoG and volume of air.
    Also very important to note: The McLaren has less rake then for example the Red Bull. If you compare pictures of the McLaren with the new nose and the Red Bull, you’ll notice the noses are roughly equally high! This is b/c of the rake, which angles the Red Bull down at the front. The more rake, the less air can travel underneath the nose. So that’s an important part of it too.

    1. The new McLaren nose (the front bit ahead of the front tyres) are already at maximum height, as I believe is the Red Bull’s. They’re of equal height when static.

      1. static, and at the same levels of rake, that should say.

  7. The final point to note on the new McLaren front wing assembly the added aerodynamic detail on the front edge and underside of the wing.

    McLaren had this last year, I think they changed it to the single mainplain version before Korea or Suzuka

    1. Correct. Last year in Korea they changed the main plane from that version to a more flat one. The new version increased peak downforce at the front at the cost of directing airflow and probably drag. This year alot of downforce was removed at the back of the car, meaning they had too much downforce at the front, so they removed the snowplough and reintroduced the old main plane.

    2. Yes – they keep changing this. As I best recall the detail this year is quite different to what it was last year ….

  8. If the noses will become lower, and the area around the cockpit remains at the same height, then the step in the nose will increase. As the cockpit level will not be lowered, I”m very curious how they put this dissonance in the regulations. The only option seems to be that the step in the nose need to have a fixed – regulated – downward slope.

    1. They have a step because they are running the top line of the front of the chassis along the maximum height limits set in the regulations. Its this limit in the regulations that has a a step from the transition of the cockpit sidewall and the nose of the car thus the cars have a step too.

    2. Not necessarily; they can lower the front bulkhead to the level of the nose. As the front bulkhead has regulated dimensions, it would be useless to create stepped noses in the case the maximum height is no heigher then the nose.

  9. Lower nose car also featured front wing vanes, in-board camera and no snow plough by time season started in Australia and since. (well even before that during last days of testing in spain)

    1. Sure – but the space between the nose and the chassis is much less therefore harder to get airflow under the nose hence outboard cameras made more sense. The vanes were shorter and therefore less effective at scavenging the air under the nose. The higher nose means one can be more aggressive in managing the airflow

  10. I’ve always been puzzled by the purpose of the snow plough. Does it (a) create downforce by itself or (b) does it better direct the airflow towards the leading edge of the floor, thereby increasing downforce?

    1. Both, but it is a trade off: the snowplough increases air efficiency to the back, but also reduces air volume passing under the car to the back. It does create downforce at the front though.

      1. @turbof1
        That could explain why last year they had immense front end grip, evident especially in Japan and Hungary, but they also ran incredibly steep rear wings, possibly to counteract the loss of air going under the car where Red Bull was exactly the opposite.

        1. And it also goes to explain why this year its not optimal with the car, as with the decreased rear downforce (loss of EBD), it would make for a too far forward aero balance, I guess @mads, @turbof1

      2. So presumably Mclaren have now decided that they’ll be able to produce more downforce more efficiently without the snowplough, i.e by simply allowing a greater volume of air to pass under the chassis.

        1. They also use turning vanes now to redirect airflow.

        2. I remember someone at McLaren saying the reason for removing the ‘snow plough’ was for the sake of balance, since there was too much downforce at the front because of the reduced downforce at the rear, compared to 2011.

          1. @broxter That would make sense. I learnt something new there!

    2. As used on 1950’s FJ Holden it deflected (allegedly) flying bugs away from the windscreen.(: D)

  11. Fascinating article, John.
    Is the on-board camera manadatory?

    1. Yes it is – teams can choose where to place it

  12. Do all cars have cameras? I always wonder this because they don’t always show on board footage especially after an incident.

    1. Because we as the fans like onboard shots! ;)

    2. @theoddkiwi @timkatz
      The rules say, they must have three cameras onboard. Every car must have a camera above the rollhoop (you always see its pictures after qualy), and two other at any of the 8-10 spots that FIA defines.

  13. @keithcollantine noses are being lowered to prevent a car from being launched into the air when it hits anthr car from behind. But if it is lowered too much, the rear of the car in the front will come over the nose and hit the driver’s head, right? Thts anthr safety issue

    1. I believe the main issue is cars running noses at the same level of cockpits, in t-bone accidents a car’s nose could hit directly drivers head.

  14. I’m sad they changed what was the best-looking nose of all, but as long as it helps them go faster, which is something I can’t tell from the last two races, they rightly changed it.

  15. For the last couple of years McLaren have elected to build a lower chassis in order to reduce the centre of gravity of the front of the car – a very important characteristic to improve mechanical grip.

    Well, Monaco showed, that Mclaren MP4-27 doesn’t have best mechanical grip.

    1. Maybe – the MP4-27 had good traction in the last section in Spain. The unpredictable tyre behaviour this year makes assertions about mechanical grip hard to get a really good read on.

  16. Why cant all the cars, feature the nose of the 2009 Brawn gp car for 2013/14. The Brawn’s nose was low, was effective. https://www.racefans.net/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/butt_braw_silv_2009-470×313.jpg

    1. Well not sure that is quite right. Brawn had nailed the double diffuser first and foremost. One can argue the low nose was a hindrance really given the recent trend to high noses and the fact that in the second half of the Red Bull was quicker

  17. The new nose does look…weird. There’s no body to it. It looks more like a beak than the other cars on the grid! Or maybe that’s just because I’m not used to it yet. Probably.

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