McLaren MP4-18 Mercedes
The McLaren MP4-18 is a car that was destined to race for McLaren in 2003, but was found to be too unreliable. It is a radically different concept compared to the McLaren MP4-17, thought out by Adrian Newey. McLaren had even attracted twin keel specialist Mike Coughlan to the team to support the major leap the team was about to take.
The car is the result of a dramatic push to package everything in the car more tightly while also reducing its overall weight to allow for more ballast movement. This tight packaging also initially created some annoyances with the team's mechanics who found the car much more difficult to work on compared to McLaren's other recent F1 cars.
Aerodynamically the design attempts to exploit this tight packaging by sporting a completely different layout. The nose for instance is narrow and long, dropping forward to the front wing and nearly touching it, allowing for extremely short front wing supports. Unique for cars at the time is also the front wing which extends ahead of the nose, preventing the shape of the nose to influence the initial flow onto the front wing.
The sidepods were also redesigned and the exhaust pipe endings are again positions inside the diffuser, a concept which potentially creates more downforce than Ferrari's scooped exhausts, as featured on the Ferrari F2002. However, having the exhaust blow into the diffusers makes rear downforce increase when the driver presses the throttle. This is what everybody wants to improve acceleration, but the problem is that rear downforce also suddenly drops when the driver starts to brake. The McLaren design team however found it interesting enough to try the concept one more time.
As soon as the car hit the track though, cooling and car balance proved to be major issues. After only the first test, McLaren were forced to modify the car with high exhausts, dumping the attempt to generate additional downforce by blowing exhaust gases into the diffuser. Although this change improved cooling, that issue was still not entirely solved, as also the new Mercedes engine proved to require a lot of cooling and was generally too fragile during the early tests.
The overheating problem however went further than just the engine, as the team developed a new Titanium-Composite gearbox. This is a gearbox casing with carbon fibre bonded together to titanium parts, a particularly difficult thing to do. While this made the gearbox lighter than that in the MP4-17, the bonding could not withstand the higher temperatures inside the car. At one of the final tests of the car (in August 2003), before deciding not to run it that year, the team's test driver Alex Wurz tested the car for 330km, only to find out later that day that the internal temperature of 120°C engaged de-lamination of the gearbox.
When team principal Ron Dennis finally decided to continue running the McLaren MP4-17D until the end of 2003, McLaren continued with the development of the MP4- 18 to create the McLaren MP4-19 for 2004.
Chassis: McLaren moulded carbon fibre/aluminium honeycomb composite incorporating front and side impact structures. Contains integral safety fuel cell
Designation: Mercedes-Benz FO 110P
Cars of 2003
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