McLaren have adopted ideas from other teams with the cooling set up for their MP4-26. With the return of KERS, having to package all the hardware and its cooling requirements is a challenge. McLaren want to reduce the volume within the sidepods for aero benefit, so anything the team can do to resite cooling to other areas of the car will be an advantage. Thus the team have developed a car with three inlets around the roll hoop.
Typically all the cars coolers are fitted within the sidepod and fed by air from the sidepods inlet. An F1 car needs to cool the engines water and oil, as well as the gearbox oil and the hydraulic fluid. KERS places an additional load as the MGU and batteries each need to be cooled (via oil and water). With the 2010 move to no refuelling, the fuel tank had to be increased in size. The bigger fuel tanks robbed the sidepod of space and the recent emphasis on airflow to the diffuser\rear wing also creates a demand for smaller sidepods. Over recent years teams have fed the gearbox and hydraulics coolers above the gearbox and fed via different methods from the roll hoop. Typically this is either a dedicated inlet (as per the Williams FW32, Force India VJM03) or by splitting the main inlet snorkel above the drivers head (Ferrari F60-F10).
McLarens 2011 solution is to provide a dedicated feed for each of the different cooling requirements. The engines main coolers reside within the sidepod, fed by the “L” shaped inlets. These vent partly through the rear of the sidepod and partly through the bulge in the tail of the upper engine cover. Equally the engines induction system if fed by the snorkel formed by the roll hoop, which leads into the airbox above the engine.
Then McLaren feed the gearbox cooler with an inlet moulded behind the roll hoop, this leads down to the cooler behind the airbox and vents via a dedicated tube out the back of the car.
Lastly the KERS system is mounted beneath the fuel tank as one component. The entire KERS is cooled by a dedicated cooler mounted behind the roll hoop and under the airbox snorkel. This gets fed from air passing just above the drivers helmet and under the snorkel. From straight ahead the coolers aluminium matrix can be seen through the hole. Heat rejected from the KERS cooler then vents out the back of the engine cover.
With all of these inlets McLarens reduced sidepod shape, has lead to some compromises. Which is has been to adversely affect the airflow approaching the centre of the top rear wing. Equally inlets create drag and McLaren have two additional inlets to account for. I doubt the cooling set up is a major differentiator between teams. But the different approaches do create some welcome variances in appearance between the cars.
Those little inlets inside the main ones are for cooling the electronics and hydraulics within the sidepods. Most teams have inlets positioned just inside the main sidepod inlet.