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The McLaren-Honda Deficit, Explained by Heusinkveld Engineering

It was in 2015 when McLaren and Honda joined forces again to build a car for competing in the coming F1 seasons. However, while the team had two championship winning drivers on board, one of which has now retired, things did not really go as expected. A lot of work was put into the cars to improve performance, but the “GP2 engine”, as Alonso puts it, just could not live up to its expectations. In the first three races this year, both drivers, namely Stoffel Vandoorne and Fernando Alonso, only finished one race each – that is only two out of six possible finishes. The cars are being plagued by various technical failures and a lot of rumours are going around.

Niels Heusinkveld, Lead Technical Developer at Heusinkveld Engineering, who is also involved in Reiza Studio’s development of Automobilista, noticed this as well and has put out a video on his YouTube channel, estimating McLaren-Honda’s deficit, using (racing) physics.

You can view the video above. In case you do not want to watch the whole video, although it is highly recommended to do so, here is a brief summary.

McLaren’s deficit according to Heusinkveld Engineering

First of all, it is stated in the video that the information provided is not 100% accurate and only theoretical assumptions are being made with no guarantee of being correct. As the title says, this is for fun.

Where is the McLaren-Honda losing time?

Mostly on the straights. That is why Niels Heusinkveld uses the speed trap results in the last three races of both the Mclaren-Honda and the Mercedes to calculate a rough average gap of 16 km/h.

What is responsible for top speed?  

Drag and power, mostly. These are at the least the main factors that separate F1 cars from each other.

How drag and power affect speed exactly, is detailed in the video.


Niels Heusinkveld’s explanations of drag and speed, result in the following formula.

Power = Drag x Speed^3

If you replace “Speed” with the speed trap results and guess a drag coefficient, as Niels did in the video, you can get an estimate of how much horsepower (after unit conversion) are needed to achieve the given speed.

For the Mercedes, 930 horsepower are needed to achieve 330 km/h.

Nils split up the McLaren-Honda’s performance in three cases: Worst case (significantly less drag than the Mercedes), medium case (a little less drag than the Mercedes), best case (same drag as the Mercedes). Less drag gives you more top speed, therefore, if the MCL32 is still slower than the Mercedes with less drag, its performance deficit is even bigger. Hence, assuming that both cars have the same drag, is in favour of McLaren-Honda (best case). Still, in the best case, the McLaren-Honda engine is short of 129 horsepower, which is a lot.

Although this will not solve McLaren-Honda’s problems, it is a nice illustration of what you can come up with, using relatively simple physics.

Great video Mr. Heusinkveld, more please!

EDIT: Episode 2 is already available.

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About the Author

Paul Heidekruger

Bringing you the latest news in the #SimRacing world!