McLaren’s plans for ‘super-tunnel’ revealed
A new windtunnel codenamed ‘Project Boreas’ could propel McLaren back to the front of the Formula 1 grid – if they get permission to build it
McLaren are quietly planning to build a new windtunnel featuring cutting-edge technology as part of their long-term plan to become winners again. F1 Racing understands that the windtunnel, which will form part of a larger development on land adjacent to the existing McLaren Technology Centre, could be co-funded by Honda, who are returning to the sport as McLaren’s engine partners next year.
But the development plans depend not only on whether Honda decide to invest, but also on gaining permission from local stakeholders to build on the chosen greenfield site – permission that may not be forthcoming.
In 2011, McLaren announced plans for an ambitious new 60,000m2 building, to be called the McLaren Applied Technology Centre, which would provide a home for McLaren’s rapidly expanding high-tech division – as well as educational outreach facilities for local schools and colleges. Outline planning permission was granted, but the project was put on ice when the local highways authority insisted on a number of tough conditions to mitigate traffic impact, including a strict limit on vehicle movements in to and out of the site. If these exceeded a ‘trigger point’ of 70 during peak hours, McLaren would have to fund a bus service running between Woking and Chertsey from 6.00am to 9.30pm daily for a minimum of 20 years.
F1 Racing understands that interim McLaren Racing CEO Jonathan Neale has been charged with thawing out the project and delivering the first phase, which will include the new windtunnel, within three years.
A lack of investment in windtunnel facilities has come home to roost for several Formula 1 teams in recent years since restrictions on aerodynamic research were introduced, first voluntarily as part of the Resource Restriction Agreement, now as an element of the FIA’s Sporting Regulations. Model size is capped at 60 per cent and hours of operation are also limited in addition to the number of runs that can be performed.
Advanced windtunnels offer features such as continuous motion systems, where the angle of the model can be changed during the run without stopping, and particle image velocimetry, where tiny bubbles of oil are released into the tunnel and tracked with a laser. These features yield much more data per run. For this reason, both Ferrari and McLaren are known to have used Toyota’s tunnel in Cologne in preference to their own because it features such technology.
The importance of the new tunnel has been made clear in the planning document McLaren’s consultants have lodged with the local council. It says: “The facility is critical to the on-going
development of the McLaren F1 racing team and it will mark a significant step change for McLaren and their capabilities within Woking.”
The plans reveal the scale and profile of the proposed windtunnel building, which lies at the western wing of what will ultimately become the McLaren Applied Technology Centre, along with a landscaping scheme that will mitigate its impact on the environment. It will be connected to the existing MTC by a foot tunnel under the A320, although McLaren boss Ron Dennis is understood to favour a mechanised transport solution that insiders have dubbed the ‘Ronorail’. The windtunnel’s energy consumption will be mitigated by solar panels on the roof and a regenerative braking system on the fan.
A team spokesman told F1 Racing: “In order to keep pace with current technology, we are constantly refining the needs of our business.
“McLaren is in the final stages of acquiring additional land, the purchase of which will be completed by the summer. The planning permission you refer to is the first stage in a series of phased future development plans.
“As with any large project planned far in advance, these plans will be subject to change and modification as we progress over the next two to three years. We continue to work with the local planning authority and all interested parties to ensure that our ongoing positive relationship with the local area continues.”
F1 Racing understands the windtunnel will be discussed by Honda’s board and a decision on whether to invest in it will be taken by July. If the project goes ahead, it could be operational by 2017. McLaren’s nearby road-car production facility took less than two years to build, despite one of the UK’s most severe winters on record.
Artist’s impression of McLaren's original 2011 site development proposal 1 McLaren Technology Centre 2 McLaren Production Centre 3 McLaren Applied Technology Centre
Problems for Button in Bahrain (left) were indicative of the investment McLaren urgently need to place in developing new windtunnel facilities