McLaren 60

Born to Win: McLaren's History of Greatness

Born to Win: McLaren's History of Greatness

Written by Richard Kelley

New Zealand-born racing driver Bruce McLaren founded McLaren Racing in 1963. Since then, the team have won 20 Formula 1 World Championships, 183 Formula 1 Grands Prix, the Indianapolis 500 three times, and the Le Mans 24 Hours at its first attempt.

In an era when most racing car manufacturers chose to focus on one or two series only, McLaren created great success in four major championships; Formula 1, Can-Am, F5000 and Indy. McLaren believed the various programs were to their ultimate advantage.

Young Bruce McLaren during the 1962 Belgium Grand Prix. Image Courtesy: Motorsport Images.

McLaren M23

The final hurdle to winning the Formula 1 world championship began in 1973. Gordon Coppuck and Team McLaren combined the monocoque of the 1972 Indy 500-winning M16B and the suspension of the M19 F1 racer to create one of the most successful F1 cars ever constructed.

In place of the Offenhauser Indy engine was the Cosworth DFV engine, used as a fully stressed member with the suspension bolted directly to the block.

Livered in Yardley colors, the M23 debuted in the third race of the 1973 reason. Denny Hulme promptly qualified it on the pole and did so again in the next race. Seven races into the season, he scored the car's maiden victory.

In the remainder of the year, his teammate Peter Revson scored another two victories, which was good enough for McLaren to finish third in the constructor's championship behind champions Lotus and Tyrrell.

Emerson Fittipaldi sits in his McLaren M23 while Denny Hulme watches the preparation of his own car before the 1974 Italian Grand Prix. Image Courtesy: Motorsport Images.

For 1974 Hulme teamed up with 1972 world champion Emerson Fittipaldi with the M23 under the new Marlboro-Texaco livery. Both drivers proved their worth by each taking a victory in the first two races. Fittipaldi and Hulme repeated with two more wins each, and Fittipaldi's consistency throughout the season earned him enough points to score his second world championship.

Fittipaldi teamed with Jochen Mass in 1975. The Brazilian World Champion scored two victories with the M23, but his performance was no match for Niki Lauda in the new Ferrari 312T.

With Fittipaldi leaving for the 1976 season, McLaren hired upcoming star James Hunt with high expectations of taking the fight to reigning champion Lauda.

With the high airbox that had become a common sight on the grid banned after the fourth race of the season, McLaren created a new airbox with intakes on each side of the rollbar, which still fed plenty of air to the DFV engine, but complied with the new regulations.

Halfway through the season, Niki Lauda seemed ready to clinch his second consecutive title after winning four races and scoring another three podium finishes. Hunt trailed by 26 points after taking two victories and another second place. Then the season turned around dramatically with Lauda’s near-fatal crash at the Nürburgring.

Amazingly Lauda returned to Monza only three races after his horrific accident. However, with his wounds barely healed, Lauda could not match his pre-accident pace. Hunt had made the most of it, winning four of the six races after the accident. He was three points adrift of championship leader Lauda in the final race in rain-swept Japan.

History records that Lauda gave it his all but couldn't maintain his speed on the rain-soaked track. In the end, Hunt secured third place and took the championship.

With 16 victories, two driver's and one constructor championship, the M23 remains one of the most successful Formula 1 racers of the 1970s. Unique is also McLaren's second 'double' in 1976, with the team scoring their third Indy 500.

Emerson Fittipaldi racing his McLaren M23 at the 1974 Italian Grand Prix. Image Courtesy: Motorsport Images.

McLaren MP4/2

New owner Ron Dennis and designer John Barnard's ground-breaking carbon-fibre monocoque chassis quickly reestablished McLaren as a Grand Prix-winning team in the early 1980s. What prevented the revived team from challenging for the world titles was the ageing Ford Cosworth DFV engine.

McLaren commissioned a bespoke turbocharged engine from Porsche. Dennis approached Mansour Ojjeh and his company TAG (Techniques d'Avant Garde) as a full partner, and accordingly, the engines were officially badged 'TAG turbo’.

With the engine in place, Barnard laid down the improved 1984 carbon-fibre MP4/2, completed by large side-pods. Behind them, the body neatly wrapped around the compact TAG-Porsche engine. Its massive additional power allowed fitting 'barn-door' wings to produce a staggering amount of downforce.

A year before, Niki Lauda left retirement for McLaren. He would now share the MP4/2 with Alain Prost, having just left Renault. Two new MP4/2s were ready just in time for the season opener in Brazil.

Niki Lauda at the wheel of his McLaren MP4/2 at the 1984 Italian Grand Prix. Image Courtesy: Motorsport Images.

The F1 season's pattern immediately emerged; the TAG-Porsche engine used full boost in qualifying and then turned down the power in race-trim to defeat the thirstier competition. Alain Prost won straight out of the box, and the two talented drivers would dominate the season, winning 12 of the 16 races. McLaren won the constructor's trophy, with Lauda clenching his third championship by just half a point over his teammate Prost.

For the 1985 season, Barnard only made subtle changes to the all-conquering MP4/2 with a smaller rear wing and modified suspension for the switch from Michelin to Goodyear rubber. Thus updated to MP4/2B, the revised machine continued where the original had left as Prost won the opening round of the 1985 season. Prost would collect five races and his first driver's title, with Lauda taking one victory in his final season.

Entering its third season, revised 1986 regulations mandated a smaller fuel tank for the MP4/2C. Alain Prost would team with another ex-world champion, Keke Rosberg. While McLaren had lost ground to the Honda-engined Williams, the meticulously consistent Prost captured four victories and another World Championship over Williams drivers Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell.

Niki Lauda in his McLaren MP4/2 battles with Michele Alboreto at the wheel of the Ferrari 126C4 during the 1984 British Grand Prix. Image Courtesy: Motorsport Images.

McLaren MP4/4

Designer Gordon Murray took the best parts of his failed Brabham BT55 to create McLaren's ultra low-line MP4/4. This time, thanks to drivers Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, McLaren won 15 of the 16 races in the 1988 season, making the ultra-low MP4/4 one of the most successful racing cars ever produced.

Murray and chief designer Steve Nichols placed the car's weight as low as possible in the carbon fiber/ honeycomb monocoque chassis, making McLaren's very compact Honda twin-turbo V6 the perfect fit.

The ultra-low chassis reduced frontal area by 10% so air could flow more cleanly to the rear wing, significantly improving efficiency. The design also meant that the drivers had to lie almost flat in the car, against Alain Prost's initial objection.

Ayrton Senna leads the 1988 Hungarian Grand Prix in his McLaren MP4/4. Image Courtesy: Motorsport Images.

The MP4/4s superior twin-turbo Honda V6, which had been used significantly by the Williams and Lotus teams, remained the most powerful engine on the grid. The V6 mated with the  Weisman three-shaft six-speed gearbox was developed explicitly for the MP4/4.

Brazilian rising star Ayrton Senna had moved with the Honda engines from Lotus to McLaren. His raw speed was complemented by the then two-time World Champion Alain Prost. The two best drivers on the grid, with the ultra-low chassis and the most potent engine, made for an unbeatable combination.

The McLarens were unstoppable in fifteen of the 16 race season. Senna led with 13 pole positions and eight victories. Prost won the remaining seven and scored 11 more points. However, only the 11 best results of the year counted, so Senna was crowned Champion with a 3-point lead over Prost.

The remarkable MP4/4 had to be retired at the end of the season due to the 1989 turbocharged engine ban.

The McLaren MP4/4 blasting through the streets of Monaco during the 1988 Grand Prix. Image Courtesy: Motorsport Images.

McLaren MP4/13

After three seasons without a Grand Prix victory, McLaren rediscovered their winning ways in 1997 when David Coulthard won the season opener in Australia. Coulthard and his team-mate Mika Hakkinen would add another win to McLaren's tally, but the team remained eclipsed by rivals Williams and Ferrari.

Then, in 1998, the highly talented designer Adrian Newey left Williams to create the MP4/13.

The 1998 modified regulations meant Newey and McLaren had a virtually clean sheet. To reduce the increasing cornering speeds, the maximum tyre width dropped by 200mm to 1,800mm and would be 'grooved'- three grooves on the front and four on the rear tyres. Newey teamed up with lead designer Neil Oatley to hold on to as much speed as possible.

Newey excelled in aerodynamic efficiency, and the new MP4-13's front suspension featured push-rod actuated, longitudinally-mounted torsion bar springs that slimmed down the monocoque and cleaned up the aerodynamics making the MP4-13 the most compact car on the grid. McLaren also changed from long-time partner Goodyear to Bridgestone for a final touch.

Mika Häkkinen and David Coulthard running P1 and P2 in their McLarens MP4/13 during the 1998 Monaco Grand Prix. Image Courtesy: Motorsport Images.

Engine supplier Mercedes-Benz also spared no expense in providing McLaren with the third evolution of their 'FO 110' engine in two years. Nearly 20 kg lighter, it tipped the scales at just 107 kg. The V10 boasted four valves per cylinder and produced an impressive 760 bhp at around 16,000 rpm.

The MP4-13 was stunningly quick straight out of the box at Melbourne, with Hakkinen and Coulthard's McLarens taking first and second, nose-to-tail, having cooly lapped the entire field. They would repeat the same order in Brazil.

Ferrari bounced back, with Michael Schumacher winning round three. After four wins in the first six races, Hakkinen began to struggle, winning just two of the subsequent eight rounds and allowing Schumacher to make up most of the ground lost. Hakkinen bounced back with a win in the penultimate round and then produced one of his best drives at the season finale at Suzuka. His eighth win of the season secured McLaren's first driver and constructor titles since the early 1990s.

Mika Häkkinen pushing his McLaren MP4/13 towards victory in the 1998 Monaco Grand Prix. Image Courtesy: Motorsport Images.

McLaren MCL60

For McLaren's milestone year, the team named its 2023 competitor the MCL60 to commemorate 60 years since Bruce McLaren founded the company. It carries McLaren's beloved papaya orange and blue livery, the colours first used by the team in the 1960s, which have become a team favourite since their reintroduction in 2018.

Led by new Team Principal Andrea Stella, McLaren is keenly focused on the MCL60's primary goal of re-establishing itself as the leading midfield team in 2023.

To quickly accomplish that momentum, McLaren implemented significant updates at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix at the end of April, with changes to the car's floor. Next was introducing a new rear wing flap and beam wing at the Canadian Grand Prix.

The McLaren MCL60 of Lando Norris running through the pits wrapped in the special Triple Crown livery during the 2023 Spanish Grand Prix. Image Courtesy: Motorsport Images.

Fifty per cent of McLaren's new package will appear at next week's Austrian Grand Prix, with the remaining half distributed over the Silverstone and Hungaroring weekends – equating to rolling out a veritable B-spec car.

Stella expects the Red Bull Ring's high-speed layout to cater to the qualities of McLaren's car and will render the MCL60 polyvalent across a diversity of tracks.

"I think the forthcoming update is a 'major overhaul' impacting almost 'every single aerodynamic part' on McLaren's MCL60," said Stella. Thus, our focus, more than the characteristics of the track, is now on the car itself.

"Ultimately for us, it's a milestone in terms of possibly turning around the situation this season. Not only thanks to what we bring to Austria, but also with thanks for what will follow in the next races."

Oscar Piastri exits the garage in his McLaren MCL60 wrapped in the special Triple Crown livery during the 2023 Spanish Grand Prix. Image Courtesy: Motorsport Images.

Follow the link below to discover our premium poster collection celebrating the 60th Anniversary of McLaren Racing.

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