In some ways March 6, 1981 was a typical day at Silverstone: it rained. In other ways it was an historic occasion.
On that date the McLaren MP4-1 was unveiled at the famous British track. The designation was taken from Marlboro, then major sponsors, and Project Four, the company run by a former Brabham mechanic called Ron Dennis.
This was the first fruit of the new McLaren International partnership that brought together Dennis and technical wizard John Barnard. It was also Formula 1’s first carbon fibre monocoque.
On January 31 McLaren launched the latest in that extraordinary line of cars, the MP4-28. Its appearance was preceded by a cavalcade of cars from the marque’s glorious history, marking 50 years since New Zealander Bruce McLaren created it.
Is MP4-28 the car to win McLaren’s first Constructors’ World Championship of the 21st century?
Naturally MP4-28 comes with a McLaren carbon fibre composite monocoque; much of the bodywork – engine cover, sidepods, floor, nose, front and rear wings – is also in carbon fibre composite.
The engine is a Mercedes-Benz FO 108F 2.4-litre V8, eight valves per cylinder, revving to 18,000 rpm.
The gearbox is also in McLaren-moulded carbon fibre composite with seven forward gears plus reverse; gear selection is McLaren seamless shift with a carbon/carbon clutch. Note: McLaren have chosen to use the ‘vanity panel’ on the car’s revised nose.
“The MP4-28 isn’t merely a refinement of last year’s seven-race-winning car,” they say, “it’s a deep and sweeping re-design of an already successful chassis in several key areas – most notably around the nose and front suspension, the sidepod profiles and the rear bodywork.”
“It’s fully appropriate that the echoes of the past should be made to reverberate around the glass walls of a thoroughly modern building like the McLaren Technology Centre,” said Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh.
“Equally, however, we’ve never lost sight of the fact that we’ll always be linked to that fearless band of enterprising pioneers who came together to form Bruce McLaren Motor Racing Ltd in the autumn of 1963. Like Bruce and his closest friends, we still have the belief that we can go out into the world, risk everything and emerge victorious. That, ultimately, is the spirit that drives this organisation.”
What drives the MP4-28 is another combination of ‘old’ and ‘new’ in the shape of Jenson Button and new teammate Sergio ‘Checo’ Pérez. The last man to win the Drivers’ crown for McLaren, Lewis Hamilton, has left to join Mercedes. His absence leaves the team with an intriguing blend of the smooth, sophisticated Button and the unpolished but promising Pérez.
By the way, McLaren drivers have taken the world title on 12 occasions. Can you name the drivers and the years they were World Champions?
Typically, Button was keen to underline his sense of McLaren’s past as he goes into his fourth season with the Woking team.
“This year’s car is the best we’ve ever made – I know the engineers have left absolutely no stone unturned in wringing every ounce of performance from every available area,” said the 2009 World Champion who turned 33 last month.
“I cannot wait to get behind the wheel and attempt to carry forward the incredible legacy that lives beneath the skin of every single man and woman who works at McLaren.”
But Jenson also had a word for the new kid on the McLaren block. “I know from personal experience that it can feel initially daunting when you walk into the McLaren Technology Centre for the very first time,” he added, “but I also remember how quickly I was made to feel at home and how welcoming I found the whole McLaren family. I’m sure Checo already feels very much at ease here.”
The Mexican, 23 last month, raised a few eyebrows when he made the move from Sauber to McLaren but at the MP4-28 launch he was making all the right noises.
“Of course, I am fully aware of the steep slope ahead of me: it has already been an intense couple of weeks, getting to grips with a new team, meeting my engineers and mechanics, learning new ways of working and, of course, learning all about a brand new car – something I’ll need to do with just six days of on-track testing. It’s a big challenge,” he admitted.
“But I’m more prepared than I’ve ever been for the start of a new season. I feel extremely fit, focused and refreshed – there’s still a lot to do, but my aims are to feel confident, comfortable and ready to race by the time I land in Australia in just a few weeks’ time.”
The McLaren Legacy
Bruce McLaren’s all-too-short career left an indelible mark on the sport he loved. By the time he lost his life in a high-speed accident while testing a Can-Am car at Goodwood, the 32-year-old Kiwi had won four World Championship Grands Prix, the first of them at Sebring in 1959 – the race that saw Jack Brabham push his Cooper over the line to claim his first world title.
But it was Bruce’s fourth win that mattered most. It came on the daunting hills and curves of Spa-Francorchamps in1968, and it was the first Grand Prix win for a McLaren car.
Now, 723 races, 155 pole positions, 152 fastest laps and 182 Grand Prix victories later, McLaren are seeking to regain the constructors’ crown for the first time since 1998. Their eight titles leave them third on the overall list behind Ferrari and Williams – an uncomfortable position for a team notoriously dedicated to being number one.
“For 2013, of course, we go racing to win,” said Whitmarsh to underline that point. “With Jenson and Checo, and this fantastic-looking new car, I believe we’re extremely well prepared for another competitive season.”
How did you go with McLaren’s 12 World Championship winners? They were:
Fittipaldi (1974), Hunt (1976), Lauda (1984), Prost (1985-86-89), Senna (1988-90-91), Hakkinen (1998-99) and Hamilton (2008)