Spanish GP: What’s new on the F1 2018 cars after raft of upgrades?

After a difficult start to the season, McLaren revealed what they claimed to be their ‘real’ 2018 challenger at the Spanish GP with major changes including a striking new nose design.

The triple duct nose features three ‘nostrils’ with two slats on the side, while it was also described as a “caped nose” by Sky F1’s Ted Kravitz. It’s a hybrid, combining ideas from Mercedes, Sauber and Force India.

“On the front what they’re trying to do is more or less the same as the Sauber,” added Ted. “And it’s actually following the Force India idea of taking air from either side of the nose and just working it underneath the front of the nose.

Sky F1’s Ted Kravitz and Anthony Davidson review the changes to the cars in 2018 so far.

“What is helping McLaren are the slats on the side, similar to the Mercedes.”

There’s also a new scoop bargeboard to go with that nose. The early results on the stopwatch? Inconclusive, with Fernando Alonso’s sixth-fastest Practice One position not mirrored by the team in P2 times, although the Spaniard set his 12th-fastest effort on the slowest medium compound. Saturday’s qualifying hour, a session McLaren have yet to reach Q3 in four attempts this season, will present a more accurate read on the success of the MCL33’s nose job.

Ferrari have been bringing upgrades throughout the season but introduced radical new wing mirrors on the halo in Barcelona – as permitted by the regulations post-China – including aerodynamic winglets.

Moving the wing mirrors up has freed up an area for improved airflow into the sidepod, and negates the effect the halo can have on aerodynamic gains. The double mirror has caught the eye of FIA officials, however, and Ted explained: “There’s some doubt over their legality and what mirrors are allowed to be.”

But is the unique design simply another example of Ferrari’s recent pre-eminence in F1’s development stakes? “We came up in the last couple of years that people tended to copy,” Sebastian Vettel told Sky Sports News. “Most of the cars now follow our trend of the sidepods and some of the bargeboard designs. It’s confirmation we are heading the right way.”

“A reasonable update” is how a coy Christian Horner described the revisions to the Red Bull RB14 introduced for Barcelona, playing down suggestions that the changes were set to be so widespread that it would effectively constitute a ‘new’ car. But there’s a sense that not everything has been seen quite yet, although the Friday-spec car still featured plenty of detail changes with Horner saying that particular development focus had been placed around the bargeboards.

“Red Bull are borrowing a little trick with Mercedes with these little sawtooth claws, almost like an aggressive snow plough, at the front of the floor,” says Ted. “All part of making the floor work harder, powering the floor to make the high rake concept of the Red Bull really effective.”

Horner says Red Bull expect “a couple of tenths” worth of lap-time improvement out of the package but, if a true title challenge alongside Mercedes and Ferrari is to be realised, that will realistically need to be a net two tenths in excess of whatever improvement their two rivals themselves make. Friday’s impressive race pace bodes well in that regard.

Mercedes‘ success has generally been built on maintaining a consistent development rate through the season, rather than pinpointing big packages for specific races, so there is certainly no wholesale revision of the W09 for the opening European round.

But there are still important refinements, not necessarily obvious to the untrained eye, which the world champions hope will shift the balance of power back in their favour having fallen behind Ferrari on pace at recent races. According to Ted Kravitz, “they’re adding downforce in every area” with fresh additions to the front suspension among the judicious tweaks for Barcelona. But will they be enough?

“Sometimes what looks funky isn’t the biggest contributor in terms of downforce,” noted Toto Wolff.

Underling the changing nature of F1’s ‘development war’, Renault actually brought a bigger package of updates to Baku than they have Barcelona, although the RS18 still features some specific changes for this weekend. Aerodynamic tweaks, including new front-wing endplates, are in addition to a fuel update from partners BP, designed to boost engine performance.

Force India have been steadily working their way back up through the midfield after a tough start to the year and, on the back of their podium return in Baku, the VJM11 features fresh updates in Spain. Changes to the front and rear wing will be designed to boost downforce on one of F1’s most demanding circuits.

There’s certainly no shortage of new parts for Williams in Barcelona is part of a package the team have described as being “reasonably significant”. But the desperate hope on Friday night will be that its performance, and impact on car handling, is nowhere yet understood rather than the package simply underwhelming given the team’s cars propped up the timesheet in both opening sessions.

Robert Kubica, who drove the FW41 for the first time since testing in Practice One, ran the majority of the upgrades but admitted his “shock” at the car’s poor handling. A long Spanish GP awaits the already-struggling team unless they find a breakthrough for Saturday.

Will Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes make it back-to-back victories at the Circuit de Catalunya? Watch the Spanish GP exclusively live on Sky Sports F1 from May 11-13. Get Sky Sports F1.