McLaren-Honda is one of the most evocative names in the world of motorsport, and last season’s results were difficult to watch for fans of this historic partnership. The team placed second-to-last in the World Constructor’s Championship, and the Honda engine was seen as the major weakness: Fernando Alonso famously derided it as ‘a GP2 engine’ and ‘embarrassing’ at the Japanese Grand Prix (Honda’s home race at Honda’s home track). According to their bosses, both McLaren and Honda have been working non-stop to improve, and the result of this is the MP4-31.
The car itself isn’t that much of a departure from last year’s design. The tip of the nose has been further refined, as it was throughout last season, with a small ‘thumb-tip’ allowing a good amount of airflow to energise the underside. The most striking attribute of the front is the sharp join between the monocoque and nose, taking full advantage of the pullrod suspension geometry to get the nose as low as possible as quickly as possible.
The rear end of the car is extremely well-packaged, with a slightly wider back to improve cooling and house the revised Honda power unit. The sidepods undercut by a huge amount, maximising the airflow potential into the diffuser. Additionally, the serrated areas in front of the wheels on the floor will ensure some of the air that heads towards the wheels is diverted, reducing the drag force from the wheels.
While the chassis itself has been improved, the engine is the area where McLaren must see most improvement if they are to progress up the grid. Their problems stemmed from the Honda power unit using a smaller turbo compressor, which made the Motor Generator Unit – Heat (MGU-H) inefficient. As a result, the hybrid power that this was supposed to collect was in short supply, and by the time the car reached halfway down the longest straight on a circuit, this energy was no longer available, leaving the car over 150 horsepower down on their rivals at some points.
Over the winter, Honda have been working on the compressor to eradicate these problems, and early rumours suggested they’ve managed to extract a peak of over 200 more horsepower out of the power unit, which would put them on a par with the Mercedes engine. In addition, cooling problems plagued the car throughout 2015, so this is an area both McLaren and Honda will have focussed on.
After a difficult 2015, the McLaren MP4-31 represents a fresh start, and if the team can get some reliable running during pre-season testing, then it isn’t too hard to see McLaren-Honda back towards the front of the grid.
All Pictures © McLaren Honda