Following last year's much publicised season of woe, McLaren-Honda heads into 2016 determined to prove the commitments it made to follow a different engineering path will reap some dividends this year.

Though McLaren describes it as 'innovative', the MP4-31 itself appears to be very much a continuation project from the MP4-30 with a few necessary refinements here and there. The nose for example follows the same concept as the short nosed MP4-30 but on the new car is a lot more sculpted.

As expected, the 'size zero' packaging approach remains in evidence, with Yasuhisa Arai describing this year's iteration as a more 'sophisticated' format.

"We keep the philosophy and concept of the size zero package and we improve on it next year to have a more sophisticated size zero" Arai explained. "We cannot make the power unit any smaller, it's very difficult because we're almost at zero! But we use that particular design, a very specific and aggressive design, and we should keep that."

The reasoning behind McLaren and Honda's much discussed 'size zero' concept is about designing a compromised power unit which is extremely small, and perhaps having a lower performance level than it would do if it were somewhat larger. However, this lower performance level is offset by promised aerodynamic gains making the car faster overall. Ferrari attempted this in 2014 and ended up with an overweight and underpowered engine with no notable aerodynamic gains as a result. It dropped the concept and the power unit performance improved hugely as a result.

As a result, the Honda power unit does have a number of very interesting features from an engineering perspective, though some ultimately contributed to McLaren's lack of pace in 2015. The undersized turbine is well known, but as Honda attempted to keep the engine as compact as possible, it ended not being able to recover as much energy as it needed to from the MGU-H.

Pictures of the power unit showed a turbine 50 per cent the size of that used by Mercedes in 2015, but for 2016 the Honda features a larger turbine.

The variable inlet system is very compact on the Honda power unit resulting in a very small plenum, and that allows the bodywork to all be much tighter too. It is an arrangement which may not give the best ultimate horsepower or efficiency but it is extremely small.

Overall the size zero concept and its impact on the power unit caused Honda a huge amount of problems in 2015, but some of them were expected. "We believe that our compact power unit layout will prove to be very competitive in time; however we knew from the start that it would cause problems with heat rejection" Arai admitted part way through the 2015 season. However the pressure on Honda to make everything as small and tight as possible caused many reliability issues too, and they were never fully resolved.

If McLaren and Honda cannot make the size zero concept work in 2016, I would be surprised if it continues with it in 2017.

At the same time, though we can certainly expect an improvement in terms of power for 2016, do not anticipate the 200+ hp performance boost figures being bandied about in January. Indeed, if you look at the Phase 4 Honda power unit used at the end of 2015, it had 840-860bhp peak so add 200 or more to that and you have a huge WEC style figure.

As for the chassis, beyond the size zero concept the McLaren MP4-31 is in general a quite conventional design with a pushrod front suspension and a pull rod rear. It has a single piece composite gearbox with the suspension (bars/dampers etc), hydraulics and turbine all mounted in the bellhousing. From the look of the sidepods the cooling concept has carried over almost entirely from the MP4-30. The airbox is a slightly new design, most likely the product of some expert CFD work in Woking or Sakura, while the only other major notable feature is the rear wing support which passes through the exhaust rather than go round it as it did on the MP4-30 - this is simply because the twin wastegate pipes are in the way.

Overall I will be fascinated to see how this car performs on track in Barcelona and at Melbourne, if it fails to prove its concept it will also be very interesting to see how both McLaren and Honda react.

Max Yamabiko

Max Yamabiko will bring you a closer look at the technical side of F1 and motorsport in 2016, from the latest developments and solutions employed to keep you ahead of the game

 

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