The MCL35M of 2021 will be remembered for many things. Brightest in that firmament will be Daniel Ricciardo’s victory at Monza, our first F1 win since 2012, but the car represents more than that. As F1 embarked on a last hurrah for a set of aerodynamic rules that have been in place for almost 40 years, it ensured we went into the future in some style – and had a lot of fun along the way.
Much of the story of the MCL35M is contained in the name. The MCL35 raced with considerable success in 2020 but, mired in lockdowns and the early pre-vaccine days of the Covid pandemic, F1 collectively decided to freeze car development for 2021, requiring teams to run – with certain caveats and allowances – their 2020 cars, frozen in spec from the Belgian Grand Prix onwards, such to better limit the strains on budget and interaction engendered by the new operating regime. In our case, this was complicated by a long-planned switch to the Mercedes-AMG M12 E Performance power unit – which puts the ‘M’ in ’35M.
That power unit was first fired up at the MTC on 27 January, followed on 15 February by a live-streamed launch, after which, the car was whisked-off to Silverstone for a damp shakedown. That in turn, was followed by three days of testing in Bahrain ahead of the season curtain-raiser. And while Sakhir was warmer than Northamptonshire, the sandstorm obscuring the track made the reworked Papaya and blue a little difficult to make out on day one.
Each team had an allowance of tokens to spend on limited development – while the regulations introduced floor cut-outs designed to reduce downforce. F1 was sticking with tyre construction first introduced in 2019, and the steady march of progress had placed more and more load on these, which had to be addressed. It wasn’t blatantly obvious where our tokens were spent but the car that went on track was a little narrower in the sidepods than its predecessor, with tweaks to the cooling package also visible.
The MCL35M worked well from the start, Lando Norris was joined by new signing Daniel in the cockpit, and the pair had double-points finishes at each of the first four races, with Lando bagging a podium at Imola second time out. He added another podium at Monaco – where the car raced in a one-off Gulf livery that continues to wow, and a third in Austria, where he also gave the car a first front-row start, lining up P2. It was, however, in the second half of the season that the MCL35M really shone.
The 1-2 finish in the Italian Grand Prix was no fluke. The car had been quick all weekend, Daniel lined-up on the front row and took the lead at the first corner. While the race had more than its fair share of psychodrama, it all happened a long way behind Daniel, who also bagged fastest lap.
Having taken our first victory since the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix at Monza, the next time out in Sochi, Lando gave us a first pole position since that same Brazilian Grand Prix. He also came agonisingly close to his own first F1 victory, leading the race comfortably until a squall in the closing stages ruined his otherwise immaculate weekend. He did, however, manage to get over his disappointment and score in every race until the end of the season, helping the team to fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship.
With the biggest aerodynamic reboot in the history of F1 coming in for 2022, the MCL35M was the last of its kind – but unlike many of its predecessors, it wasn’t destined for a museum plinth or display on the Boulevard. The MCL35M was given a new lease of life as part of our 2022 Driver Development Programme, allowing Pato O'Ward, Alex Palou and Oscar Piastri, amongst others, to all gain mileage behind the wheel of F1 machinery. Not a bad retirement!