Posts Tagged ‘John Barnard’

A McLaren MP4 TAG-Turbo was not a run of the mill testing sight at Porsche’s Weissach test track, so it is hardly surprising to see most of the workforce down tools for the occasion on 29 June 1983…

The race debut of a Porsche-turbo powered McLaren at Zandvoort in the hands of Niki Lauda is only two months away. On this fine, cool day John Watson put McLaren’s test hack MP4-1D TAG through its paces for the first time at Porsche’s renowned test track.

 

McLaren created a new paradigm with the debut of the carbon-fibre tubbed MP4 Ford in 1980. Whilst the cars were the best of the Ford brigade going into 1983, 550 bhp of normally aspirated Cosworth DFY V8 was no longer a match for 700 bhp plus turbo-charged Brabhams, Ferraris and Renaults. The ‘boiling tea kettle’ days of the first Renault V6 turbo-charged engines were a long time in the past.

McLaren International’s Directors pondered the available engines they may have been able to acquire or lease but design chief John Barnard rejected those as either compromised designs- the BMW-four and Renault V6 or insufficiently developed and compromised- the Hart-four.

The very focused Barnard held sway over matters technical and was determined, as Colin Chapman had been with Keith Duckworth in developing the Ford DFV, to very tightly prescribe the overall layout, dimensions, location of ancillaries and attachment points to the chassis of his new engine.

It was the era of ground effect tunnels, McLaren’s engine had to be designed in such a way that their efficiency was not compromised given how critical aerodynamics were to the overall performance of the car.

Watson in a Ford engined MP4/1C Ford DFY at Monaco in 1983, just to remind us of what McLaren’s primary contender looked like in 1983. Despite running Ford DFY’s both cars failed to qualify as a result of poor handling on the Michelins they had on Thursday and rain on Saturday…Rosberg won in a Williams FW08C Cosworth

Porsche had more turbo-charged road and race experience than any other manufacturer at the time, as a consequence they had been approached to build an F1 engine by others on a customer basis but Ron Dennis’ pitch to Porsche’s R&D Chief Engineer Helmuth Bott in the winter of 1981/2 was different in that his enquiry was to ascertain the companies preparedness to build an engine for McLaren International, who would pay for it. A novel concept in motor racing of course where nobody wants to pay for anything.

In short order John Barnard wrote a tight specification of his requirements which outlined in detail a narrow engine with a small frontal silhouette, it’s exhaust plumbing raised high each side to clear the raised underfloors.

Doug Nye wrote that his requirements to Hans Mezger of Porsche’s engine design unit included the maximum crankcase width and height, and maximum width across the cam-boxes. Pumps for oil and water had to go to the front of the engine within its crankcase silhouette. Exhaust pipes had to leave the heads horizontally, not downswept so as to leave the underfloors high on both sides.

 

Nye goes on to explain that the engine had to be a stressed member of the chassis just as the DFV and it’s successors were- Barnard wanted it to pick up similarly to the chassis. He even specified a precise crankshaft height, the same as the DFV, to offer the best design parameters for the whole car. It could have gone lower but John had concerns about potential piping and underbody problems. He had concluded that a V6 would provide the optimum blend of size and power but sought Porsche’s opinion in that regard.

Porsche R&D were an organisation notorious for the cost of their services but eventually Ron Dennis signed a contract for design of the engine and prototype build after which the design rights would be McLaren International property. The time allocated was six months which gave Dennis the period in which to embark on a journey to find a commercial partner to fund the cost of the engines themselves and their ongoing development.

Porsche modelling determined a V6 was the best approach with an 80 degree included angle between the two banks of three cylinders the optimum in terms of structural strength of the block, primary balance and room within the Vee for ancillaries.

The quoted bore and stroke of the TTE-PO1 V6 motor was 82mm x 47.3 mm for a capacity of 1499cc. The design of course included four gear driven camshafts and four valves per cylinder. Traditional Porsche suppliers Bosch and KKK provided the sparks, fuel injection and two turbo-chargers. Quoted power was initially 600 bhp with peak power produced at between 10000 to 11500 rpm, total weight ready to pop into a McLaren chassis was 330 pounds.

Dennis approached a number of potentional backers, Mansour Ojjeh’s Techniques d’Avant Garde were the successful partner- TAG Turbo Engines was duly incorporated with the production contract signed by Porsche in December 1982. By that time the prototype engine had been humming away on a Weissach dyno since the eighteenth of that month…

The prototype engine was shown for the first time at the Geneva Salon in April 1983.

McLaren used a float of 15 engines in 1984, the TAG truck and Porsche technicians would have been very busy

 

 

Nye explains at length the adversarial and on many occasions difficult relationship between customer and client which extended to the testing of the engine. Porsche wanted to run the motor in a 956 test hack whereas McLaren sought all of the testing to be done in an F1 car.

Porsche went ahead anyway, little was learned by Niki Lauda and John Watson in the 956 prototype but ‘…Lauda drove very hard, ignoring the meagre safety facilities of the undulating test track. He revelled in the new engines smoothness after the Cosworth V8’s vibration. And there was no doubting the power “Incredible, Fantastic, just like being hit from behind by a bomb” Nye quoted Lauda as saying having tested the 956. Importantly, with both drivers doing plenty of miles, engine reliability was good.

The car Watson is testing in these shots is McLaren’s original prototype carbon fibre chassis MP4/1-1 with 1982 straight sided bodywork- converted into the turbo test hack it was dubbed MP4/1D.

Initial problems centred around excess turbo-lag which had been disguised in the much heavier 956 sports prototype, and oil consumption. Porsche set to in solving both problems, with changed KKK’s and exhaust sizes the lag fixes. At Silverstone on test Lauda was delighted to be whistling along Hangar Straight at 186 mph, far quicker than he had ever gone before.

A major battle then erupted within McLaren between Lauda who wanted the car to be raced immediately, on the basis that there was no substitute for the sorts of pressures of a race weekend, and Barnard who wanted to continue testing but take the time needed to refine the design of his 1984 package.

Lauda’s car in the Zandvoort paddock

 

Lauda in MP4/1E at Zandvoort, not a bad looking car for one knocked together very quickly (unattributed)

The politically astute, wiley Lauda lobbied sponsor Marlboro and prevailed, so ‘in six weeks our blokes built two cars- well one complete runner and one 85% complete- ready for Zandvoort’ said Barnard. The new cars were allocated the tags MP4/1E-01 and 02, they were based on former chassis, MP4/1C-05 and 06.

At Zandvoort ‘Niki was unbelievably quick on the straight (in MP4/1E) but basically the Cosworth wing package download was way deficient with turbo power. We cooked the brakes in the race, a function of the turbo car going about 30 mph faster down the straight than the Cosworth’ said Barnard.

The Dutch GP was won by Rene Arnoux’ Ferrari 126 from the sister car of Patrick Tambay with Watson’s Cosworth powered McLaren in third.

Zandvoort again, photos emphasise just how much space was taken up by the turbo-chargers and related ancilliaries in these 1.5 t/c cars

 

Lauda, MP4/1E in the Kyalami pitlane, mid October 1983. Lauda Q12 and DNF electrical on lap 71 of 77 whilst poor John Watson was disqualified for passing a couple of cars on the parade lap. Piquet won the race and took the drivers title, Brabham BMW the constructors one

McLaren and Porsche were away, there were huge Bosch fuel injection problems to solve to develop their ‘Motronic MS3’ electronic injection system to meet the fuel restriction rules of 1984 but the 1984 McLaren MP4/2’s triumphed, Alain Prost took the first race win in the opening  round of the championship in Brazil- and won seven GP’s but he still lost the title by a smidge to Lauda who won five races but had greater consistency throughout the year.

Prost took the title in 1985 racing an MP4/2B to five wins, with Lauda winning another in his final year of racing. Watching him retire after a minor crash in Adelaide caused by locking brakes whilst well in the lead was a real bummer in his very last race for we Australian Lauda fans!

Hans Mezger getting the lowdown from John Watson, Weissach

Zandvoort 28 August 1983, McLaren TAG race debut…

I

‘l am telling you Ronnie, ve vill schitt on zem all next jahr! Say nuzzinc to any of zem journalists!’

Renault’s Gerard Larousse looking very thoughtful at right rear and thinking ‘holy merde’ this thing will be quicker than a Matra air to ground missile- and it was.

‘I’ll bet I am going to pay for a few more of these Turbo thingies in the next few years!’ is perhaps what Dennis is thinking above.

The first ‘in the field’ KKK change perhaps?

 

More power, gimme more! is perhaps Niki’s exhortation.

The engine itself is tiny, note the water and oil coolers in the sidepods and beefy intercooler.

Another TAG-Porsche powered MP4 1983 shot above of Lauda during the European GP weekend at Brands Hatch in September- Q13 and DNF whereas Watson was Q10 and DNF accident. Nelson Piquet won in a Brabham BT52 BMW from Alain Prost’s Renault RE40 with Nigel Mansell’s Lotus 92 Ford Cosworth the best of the normally aspirated brigade.

Credits…

‘The History of The Grand Prix Car’ Doug Nye

Getty Images- all Weissach photographs by Hoch Zwei

Tailpiece…

The Swabian Hills are alive with the sound of Vee-Six Turbo Music- Watson up in June 1983.

Ya kinda get the impression it was an important day in Porsche history as indeed it was. Ditto McLaren International…

Finito…

 

 

Dan Drinan prepares Michael Andretti’s March 86C Cosworth DFX at Indy, 19 May 1986…

Its the final few days of preparation before carb day and the final chance to test the car before the Memorial Day classic on 31 May. Michael’s cheque for qualifying third on the grid is on the wall.

Bobby Rahal won in a similar March with Michael sixth from grid 3 having led 45 of the 200 laps including the first 42. In a rout for March, the Bicester concern had cars in nine of the top ten placings, the only interloper was Al Unser Jr’s Lola Cosworth in fifth.

Rick Mears, Kevin Cogan and Rahal battled for the lead. In an emotional win, Rahal got the jump from Cogan after a lap 194 restart and took the victory for his team owner Jim Trueman who died of cancer eleven days later. Rick Mears was third.

Michael Andretti, Indy 500 1986, March 86C Cosworth (B Harmeyer)

With an opening photo like that the focus has to be on that magnificent engine and it’s conversion from F1 ubiquity to CART interloper.

John Barnard’s appointment to replace Maurice Philippe as Designer for the Vels- Parnelli F1 and Indy team was at the behest of his former Lola colleague, Jim Chapman, then VPJ Team Manager.

Barnard achieved much with both VPJ and Chaparral before returning to Europe and staggering F1 success with McLaren, but its his role in development of what became the Cosworth DFX V8 turbo which is of interest in this article. His primary job at VPJ was to design and develop the ground-breaking Parnelli VPJ6B and 6C which introduced the turbo Cosworth DFX to Indycar racing. Over the next dozen years the DFX dominated, winning 151 races, including 10 consecutive Indy 500s between 1978-87.

When Barnard arrived at VPJ in Southern California in 1975 he was thrown into the deep end, fettling the team’s F1 car and designing the drivetrain for Parnelli Jone’s off-road Ford truck- you can’t argue with those extremes of variety.

Danny ‘On The Gas’ Ongais, Parnelli VPJ6B Cosworth , Indy 1977 20th from Q7 (B Harmeyer)

Al Unsers VPJ6B rear, Indy 1977. Note turbo plumbing and wastegate outlet (B Harmeyer)

Through the early and mid-1970s Indycars were allowed to run unlimited boost with the ageing four-cylinder Offenhauser pushed beyond its limits. “I was on USAC’s rules committee and we kept blowing up engines,” says Parnelli Jones in a Gordon Kirby article published in MotorSport. “You could not buy an engine from Drake Engineering (manufacturers of the Offy) and run 500 miles. You couldn’t even run it 100 miles because of porosity in the engines. We had a machine to impregnate the engines so we could keep ours together, but you had to pull it all apart and blueprint it after you bought it…Then USAC cut the fuel mileage back to 1.8 mpg and I said to Vel, ‘We’ve got those little Formula 1 Cosworths. I think they could work’.”

In amongst the team’s F1, USAC and F5000 programs Barnard was beavering away ‘converting’ the F1 design into a USAC car by means of a variety of changes including turbo-charging the Cosworth DFV F1 motor.

John Barnard picks up the design changes: “It was actually a completely new chassis. We put coil springs on the rear, but I kept the torsion bars on the front. The Brit strengthened the car by double-skinning the monocoque and designing a much stronger front bulkhead. “That proved very useful,” Barnard says. “In ’77 we were practising at Indy and Al ran over Janet Guthrie’s turbine wheel, which came out on the track, and had quite a big accident. But he walked away. I was glad I had double-skinned that front bulkhead.”

The resulting VPJ6B was a much smaller overall package than the existing Offy and Foyt/Ford-powered chassis then racing.

Ongais again in 1977, note front suspension linkages, torsion bars the spring medium up front (B Harmeyer)

Unser 1977, Q3 and 3rd in the race won by AJ Foyt’s Coyote Foyt/Ford V8 turbo and Tom Sneva McLaren M24 Cosworth who started from pole (B Harmeyer)

Barnard also designed many key components for VPJ’s DFX development program. “There was a lot to do on the engine — inlet manifolds and all sorts of things. I was drawing conrods and pistons, an oil pump system, fuel injection and God knows what else. It was fantastic for me because I had never really got into engines much, but we had our engine shop so we could do this stuff to every part of the car and engine. It was fantastic, just like having a toy shop.”

But there was little support from Keith Duckworth for turbocharging the DFV. Duckworth famously didn’t believe in turbos. “I remember him giving me a lecture about turbos,” Barnard adds, “and another one about why 4WD wouldn’t work. I remember Vel reporting that Cosworth told him he was a bit of a twit trying to get all this horsepower out of an engine that was designed to generate 500bhp, and there we were getting more than 800,” Barnard says. “Vel told me, ‘Those bloody guys at Cosworth don’t mind selling me pistons and heads all the time. I’ve spent $100,000 with them just on pistons.’ But they told him we were idiots for making a turbocharged version of their engine.”

Unser and Andretti ran a few practice laps at Indianapolis that year in an early version of the VPJ6, and the first complete 6B made its debut in Unser’s hands in 1975’s season-closing race at Phoenix, finishing fifth. “Once we got in the right ballpark with wheel and spring rates we had pretty good balance, and it got better and better,” Barnard remembers. “We continued to muck about with the engine. It was an ongoing programme. I was making wastegates and all sorts of things.”

Unser scored the Parnelli-Cosworth’s first win in the Pocono 500 in June 1976, then won again at Milwaukee in August and Phoenix at the end of the season. “We proved that the engine worked and we brought Duckworth over to Pocono because we wanted to get a distributorship for the Cosworth Indy programme,” Parnelli recalls. “So Duckworth came over and damned if he didn’t turn around and steal Larry Slutter and Chickie from us.”

Ongais 1977 (B Harmeyer)

Unser 1977, gorgeous bit of engineering kit. Won the first Cosworth DFX  Indy win aboard a Chaparral Lola in 1978- 11 of the 33 starters were Cosworth powered  (B Harmeyer)

Barnard took a dim view of Duckworth’s manoeuvre. “As soon as we won Pocono, Cosworth saw the light. It wasn’t long afterwards that they nicked Larry Slutter and set their own engine shop up right there in Torrance, which to be honest I thought was pretty mean. “I was told by somebody at Cosworth many years later that the turbo Indy engine programme — the DFX as they called it — was their most profitable programme of all. So I wasn’t impressed with the way they did that. Vel and Parnelli were the ones putting their hands in their pockets to develop this car and engine, and I don’t think they ever got the proper credit.”

After all the money and effort VPJ had put into developing the engine, not being able to turn it into a commercial enterprise was a big blow, playing a role in the team’s demise a few years later. “Of course,” Jones says, “we were in a catch-22 because you had to satisfy your sponsors and we needed to order parts from Duckworth. We could have sued him, but we decided to try to work with him.”

For the 1977 season both McLaren and Penske built new Fl-based cars with DFX engines and Tom Sneva won the USAC Championship aboard Penske’s Cosworth-powered McLaren M24 and Penske PC5. Johnny Rutherford also won four USAC races in the works McLaren DFX while Unser and new team-mate Danny Ongais each won a single race, with Big Al taking the California 500.

Barnard quipped “I didn’t start the Cosworth programme,” he adds, “but I had most of the input making a car work around that engine. Looking back, I learned massive amounts and enjoyed it, too. It was bloody hard work, but I was a young man and ready to do whatever it took.”

Unser 1977, classic aero of that just before ground effect period. The F1 Lotus 78 raced throughout 1977- the first of the Lotus g/e’s (B Harmeyer)

Bibliography/Credits…

MotorSport article by Gordon Kirby 2013, Getty Images- Bettman and Bob Harmeyer

Tailpiece: Cosworth factory DFX studio shot…

Finito…

berger busstop chicane belgianm 1989 fazz 640

Gerhard Berger pings his Ferrari 640 through the ‘Bus-Stop’ chicane, Spa 1989…

He spun off on lap 9, the race won by Ayrton Senna from teammate Alain Prost in McLaren MP/5 Hondas’ and Nigel Mansell in the other Ferrari 640.

ferrari 640 cockpit

The nub of the cars innovation, its electro-hydraulic 7 speed gearbox and steering wheel mounted operation; faster gearchanges, greater reliability by eliminating ‘muffed’ up and especially downchanges, two hands on the wheel at all times giving greater control and speed. (Unattributed)

Ferrari 640 and Innovation…

The new single-seater was known colloquially as the 640 after its design number, but was officially F1-89.

Nigel Mansell joined the team, Gerhard Berger was his teammate. Ferrari took three wins and was third in the Constructors’ Championship with 59 points.

The F1-89 hailed the return of the normally aspirated 12-cylinder engine and in a major first for Formula 1, also had a gear change bar mounted behind the steering wheel.

Ferrari have never been noted for innovation but this was a ‘game changer’ which all other teams and formulae followed.

Nigel Mansell won his debut race at Interlagos and then headed the pack across the line again at Budapest. The Scuderia’s third season win came from  Gerhard Berger at Estoril. McLaren took both titles that year with Alain Prost winning the Drivers’ Title for them.

The semi-automatic gearbox was Barnard’s solution to the problem of the long manual actuation mechanism. Barnard interviwed by ‘MotorSport’ in 2005 said ‘The project started because I wanted to make the monocoque really narrow. In those days we had to fit a gearshift run through the monocoque alongside the engine and back to the gearbox. It was a real pain to find a route for this and make room in the cockpit for the selector and the driver’s hand. I thought, ‘Surely, instead of a gear lever, I can have a switch.’ So it was a packaging imperative. The gear linkage affected lots of things, and of course the driver was taking his hand off the wheel during changes. The time-saving advantage came afterwards. Vittorio Ghidella, running Ferrari post-Enzo, was terrified of the ‘box failing and had a manual version built; Mansell tested it and said ‘forget it’. But the effort was a danger to the project.’

Originally intended to appear in ’88 on the 639, the electrohydraulic ‘box and normally aspirated V12 were held back until the following season once it was clear that the equivalency rules for ’88 made it vital to run a turbo to be competitive. When it did at last race in ’89 the new transmission was initially unreliable but it eventually became clear to everyone in the pitlane that here was a technology they would all have to copy.

Ferrari say that ‘the new gearbox and communications difficulties with Barnard who was working from England dragged out the car’s development’. However, when it finally did emerge, it was seen by the other constructors as a shining example of superb engineering and aerodynamics, the latter thanks to its extremely clean-looking form’

Boy, it was and is a stunning looking car, perhaps the last really sexy F1 car?

ferrari 640 cutaway

Technical Specifications…

With the banning of turbo-charged engines from the end of 1988, as stated above, Ferrari returned to a normally aspirated 65° V12 Bore/stroke 84 x 52.6 mm displacing 3497.96 cc. The  block was cast iron as a result of Barnard driving Ferrari hard on engine length and to get the crank as low as possible. He also influenced the 4 bolt pick ups for the engine, which differed from the way Ferrari hung their engines from the tub before.

Compression ratio was 11.5 : 1, maximum power 441 kW (600 hp) at 12,500 rpm. Valve actuation was DOHC per bank, five valves per cylinder, Fuel feed by Weber-Marelli electronic indirect injection, Ignition electronic, single spark plug per cylinder, lubrication dry sump. Clutch multi-plate with a 7 speed electro-hydraulic gearbox.

The chassis was designed by Barnard and his team at Ferraris’ Guildford Technical Office in the UK. When Barnard joined the team Ferrari had not won a race since 1985 so he was able to name his terms, inclusive of not working at the factory in Maranello! Ferrari agreed to the establishment of a design office near Barnards’ home in the UK.

The chassis was typical of the period, a Kevlar and carbon-fibre composite monocoque, its distinctive pannier shape a function of the large volumes of fuel, 220-230 litres carried at the time..

Barnard commented about the cars suspension ‘The 639 had conventional spring/damper units on top of the chassis, but because the 640 monocoque was so narrow I drew up a torsion-bar arrangement instead which started the short-torsion-bar fashion that continues today. It kept the installation as compact as possible and also I didn’t like coil-over dampers. The springs were never well enough made to avoid side loads on the damper rods and consequently added friction. I designed a lower friction package with the torsion bar, which ran on ball bearings. It was a really good solution’.

Front suspension comprised independent push-rod, torsion bar springs, telescopic shock absorbers and anti-roll bar. Rear suspension independent push-rod, twin wishbones, coil springs over horizontally-mounted telescopic shock absorbers. Brakes were steel discs. Steering rack-and-pinion. Fuel tank capacity 192 litres and Front tyres 25.0-10.0-13 and Rear tyres 26.0-15.0-13.

ferrari 640 naked

The beautiful symmetry and packaging of the car, a Barnard strength is seen to good effect in this shot from above. (Unattributed)

Apart from Mansells debut win at Interlagos in Brazil the gearbox gave early season troubles, both drivers having DNF’s in all subsequent races until the French GP, the ‘box the cause of many of them.

John Barnard again comments and sets the record straight ‘The semi-auto gearbox was slagged off early on for being unreliable, but that was unwarranted. A lot of the retirements in early 1989 listed as gearbox failures weren’t at all, they were due to loss of power to the ‘box. The alternator was driven by a belt from the crank and this kept falling off. It took a long time to find out why, using high-speed photography on the dyno. At this time the V12 only had a four-bearing crank which started to whip at certain revs, causing the front pulley to shed the belt. The alternator would stop and so would the gearbox electronics. We didn’t have any fundamental problems with the ‘box itself. It was pretty reliable. It was mostly standard inside and the hydraulic system was simple and robust.’

After these problems were sorted the advantages of the gearbox were clear…Barnard had instigated the second technical innovation of his career, the first the carbon-composite chassis…

Check out this article on John Barnards’ McLaren MP4/1 Ford…

https://primotipo.com/2014/12/05/mclaren-mp4-ford-1981-the-first-carbon-composite-car-john-barnards-brilliance/

1989 brazilian gp start

Start of the 1989 Brazilian GP with L>R Berger, Prost, Senna, Patrese and Boutsen behind him…Ferrari 640, McLaren MP4/5 Honda x2 and Williams FW12C Renault x2. Winner Mansell is not to be seen, he won from Prost and Mauricio Gugelmins’ March CG891 Judd. (Unattributed)

Etcetera…

mansell onaco fazz 640

Nigel Mansell at Monaco in his 640 1989. He retired with gearbox failure, Senna won in his McLaren. (Unattributed)

Credits…

Scuderia Ferrari, MotorSport June 2005

 

Watson McLaren MP4 Ford Silverstone 1981

John Watson wins the 1981 British Grand Prix at Silverstone…a confluence of events lead to the first carbon-composite chassis Grand Prix car, the McLaren MP4 Ford…

Ron Dennis commenced his Grand Prix career at 18 as a mechanic with Cooper…he was immediately recognised as a man with talent, star driver Jochen Rindt taking him from Cooper to Brabham in 1968. When Jochen decamped to Lotus at the end of the year Ron remained and was Chief Mechanic for Jack in his final year, 1970, Brabham a competitive race winner in the BT33 that season.

Brabham and Dennis 1970

Brabham Racing Organisation council of war around the BT33 in 1970, Jack and Ron Dennis to the fore.(unattributed)

Dennis and Neil Trundle formed ‘Rondel Racing’ to run customer Brabham F2 cars in 1971, Ron Tauranac cutting a deal which provided for payment of the teams BT36’s at the end of the season, after they had been sold. Projects 3 and 4 were also racing teams running customer cars in F3 and F2 throughout the 1970’s, including drivers sponsored by Marlboro, one of his customers in 1980 was Marlboro sponsored Andrea de Cesaris, for whom they ran a March BMW.

Over at McLaren things were not going so well, they won world titles with Emerson Fittipaldi and James Hunt in 1974 and 1976 with the long-lived M23 but had achieved minimal success with their M26 and even less with the cars which followed.

Colin Chapman made life complex for all other designers circa 1978 with his ground-effect concepts and his Lotus 78/79 race-winners. In those days understanding aerodynamic concepts and successfully applying them was part science and part ‘black-art’ and experience, McLaren were not alone in struggling…

The team had been sponsored by Marlboro since 1974. By 1979, John Hogan, the enthusiast and executive responsible for the sponsorship program was getting decidedly ‘toey’ at the lack of success despite McLarens’ generous budget.

Watson, Zandvoort 1979

John Watson leads teammate Patrick Tambay, Dutch GP , Zandvoort 1979. The Mclaren M29 Ford ‘ looked the goods’ but was far from the best Lotus 79 ‘copy’ that year. The Williams FW07 was, albeit the Ferrari 312T4 won the title in Scheckters’ hands. (unattributed)

Dennis’ own programs had been successful commercially, he had built all but one of the M1 ‘Procars’ for BMW in a very short period, he was keen to take the next step to F1 and fulfil a dream which commenced with his Motul F1 car in 1973, a project sold to others and raced as the Token in 1974 when the fuel crisis hit and Motul withdrew their sponsorship.

Dennis asked Patrick Head, Frank Williams design partner in Williams Grand Prix Engineering, for suggestions of a potential designer for his proposed car and F1 program. Head suggested John Barnard whom he had met at Lola and had most recently designed the ground-effect 1980 Indy 500 winning Chaparral 2K Cosworth DFX for Jim Hall.

Chaparrall 2K

‘Lone Star JR’ Johnny Rutherford during his victorious run during the 1980 Indy 500. The ever innovative Jim Hall/ Chaparral team built John Barnards’ ground effect design. 2K had teething problems in ’79 but came good in 1980, by ’81 the bigger teams jumped onto the ground effect bandwagon and the little team was over-run. Beautiful looking car, the looks did not deceive. Rutherford also won the USAC Championship that year, winning at Ontario and Indianapolis. (unattributed)

When Dennis met Barnard he was staggered to learn that Barnard wanted to build the first carbon-fibre F1 car.

At the time the biggest F1 design challenge was to build an aluminium monocoque chassis, which was light but also torsionally stiff enough to withstand the considerable forces generated by the new generation of ground effect cars. Ground effect tunnels were all important to the success of these cars but as the tunnels grew wider, the chassis became narrower and sufficient torsional rigidity, using the aluminium alloy construction material and techniques of the day, was a big challenge.

Barnard saw a chassis of carbon-composite as the solution.

It was a big risk for Dennis as it hadn’t been done before, carbon was being used for wing-endplates and the like but not a chassis…and their were many including Colin Chapman, himself building a car, the twin-chassis Lotus 88 partially of carbon-composite but not wholly of the material as he was convinced that it would not be strong enough in a major accident.

Dennis and Barnard pitched the MP4 ‘Marlboro Project 4’ design to Hogan, initially on the basis that Marlboro dump McLaren and provide the funds to them to build the MP4. Hogan, impressed, to his credit chose not to ‘shoot McLaren’ in whom they had much invested, but with little to lose, engineered a ‘shot gun wedding’ of Dennis/Barnard with McLaren in September 1980.

Teddy Mayers shareholding in McLaren was watered down to 50/50 with he and Dennis appointed Joint Managing Directors. Barnard received some of the equity from Dennis who didn’t have the cash to pay him….Within a year Dennis took control of the team when Mayer said ‘this isn’t working’, Ron paid him out with an advance on his fees from Marlboro.

But that was all in the future, they needed to build the car, and the carbon-composite capability did not exist in the UK.

McLaren International launch

Marlboro PR shot at the launch of ‘McLaren International’, Barnard, Mayer and Dennis pose with the scale model of the ‘Marlboro Project 4’…they may be ‘McLaren Project 4’ now but thats not the way it started! (unattributed)

Hercules Aerospace, Utah…

MP4 chassis nude

Mclaren MP4 Ford…Hercules chassis in all its naked glory…its 1981 and not so different from what we see now, all current GP tubs were born here…with apologies to the Lotus 25. (unattributed)

Whilst carbon-composites were in use in the aero industry in the UK, their was no company with the capability to build a car. A contact of Barnards’ from his Indycar days pointed him in the direction of the Hercules Corporation in Utah. The company had an R&D facility, Barnard jumped on a plane with the quarter scale model of MP4 shown above, and together they worked out how to build it.

Hercules were contracted to design and build the cars chassis with input from Barnard.

They lacked the technology to create curved pieces so the first monocoque was formed with five major components, each with flat surfaces. The internal front suspension bulkhead was aluminium but otherwise the chassis was carbon-composite, McLaren themselves describe it as a bit ‘rough and wrinkled’, but by any standards it was a stunning bit of kit.

The rest of the car was the ‘ground-effect’ Cosworth paradigm of the day; Ford Cosworth 3 litre DFV V8 engine, Hewland FGA five-speed gearbox and inboard suspension front and rear to maximise the flow of air into and out of the cars GE tunnels.

MP4 monocoque launch

Its all about the chassis…MP4 Ford laid bare for the media. The flat surfaces referred to in the text clear. Front suspension comprised wide based lower wishbone and top rocker actuating coil spring/ damper units inside the carbon tub. (unattributed)

Racing the McLaren MP4…

In the last race of 1980, the US GP, McLarens star recruit, 1980 F1 ‘newbee’ Alain Prost had a massive accident blaming it on suspension failure, Mayer cited driver error and Alain left for Renault…he would be back mind you, but for the moment an important element of Dennis’ immediate plans had been lost by Mayers’ inept management. The error didn’t help Teddys’ failing stocks with Marlboro either.

McLaren signed Andrea de Cesaris, whom Ron had run in F2 the year before, and who had the support of Marlboro Italy, and John Watson entering his fourth season with the team and in need of a win, he had been pretty much ‘blown off’ by Prost in 1980.

Dennis, Barnard and Watson

Dennis, John Barnard and John Watson wrestling with a knotty problem by the look . Watsons faith in Dennis and Barnard not to be understated, it was a brave new world, had MP4 not withstood the impact of Watties’ Monza 1981 shunt the outcome may have been different…as it was he proved the ‘shuntability’ of the material by having one big prang bigger than de Cesaris’ many smaller ones that season. (unattributed)

The team started the season with the M29, now in C spec, but no quicker than the year before…

In the first two races, the sole MP4 was raced by Watson qualifying 11th and 7th and finishing 10th in the San Marino GP.

At Zolder he qualified 5th and ran 4th until gearbox  dramas dropped him back to 7th. He qualifed 10th at Monaco and was up to 4th when the DFV went ‘bang’.

Then things started to improve. 4th on the Spanish grid and a 3rd place finish. From the front row in France he finished a strong second behind Prosts’ Renault, his first GP win, and then Wattie won the British GP …

British GP Arnoux and Watson 1981

Arnoux lead Watson for 30 laps, and the Regies’ engine lost its edge…letting John thru for the first carbon-composite chassis victory, Silverstone 1981 (unattributed)

The Renaults’ of Prost and Arnoux lead, Wattie held up by a prang involving de Cesaris, Jones and Villeneuve. Then Watson ‘tigered’, Prost dropped out with a burnt valve, Watson was second to Arnoux, things stayed that way for 30 laps, Arnoux’ engine note changed, the car slowed and Watson took the lead on lap 61 and the win.

The first for carbon-fibre and McLarens first since Fuji in 1977.

The competitiveness of the car was now not in doubt but there were still concerns about the materials abilty to absorb major impacts, although de Cesaris was doing his best to dispel these.

The car had a tendency to ‘porpoise’, as airflow through the GE tunnels ‘stalled’, the aero far from resolved and whilst quick, MP4 was a reasonably unforgiving chassis, which was ok for a relative veteran such as Watson but much more of a challenge for Andrea, who proceeded to have a lot of accidents.

‘de Crasheris’ a nickname which stuck. In 1981 he had 5 accidents in races, 2 spins into retirement and in Holland the team withdrew his entry from the race after an almighty prang in practice.

Having said that, the ‘big one of the year’ was Watsons Italian GP shunt at Monza when he went off at high speed in the Lesmos’ corners, running wide on a kerb at the corners exit at over 140mph, backing the car into the armco and carving it in half, the engine, ‘box and rear suspension, torn from the car but leaving the tub itself intact, with John in it.

Much to Murray and James delight he jumped out unharmed…Barnards’ faith in the material, and his engineering of it was vindiacted, the doubters were silenced as they realised a new paradigm was upon them.

Nelson Piquet won the World Championship for Brabham in his BT49 Cosworth from the Williams duo of Carlos Reutemann and Alan Jones, scrapping with each other and denying them both, and the team the titles which were theirs to take with more aggressive team management.

‘Wattie’ finished sixth in the MP4s’ debut year, the cars success forcing all to build their own cars of the new material.

MP4 was, in the modern idiom, a ‘game changer’.

Into 1982 Niki Lauda, bored with retirement and needing money,  joined the team, replacing de Cesaris and bringing his strong testing abilities to extract the best from the chassis, but that is another story…

Watson Monza 1981

Watsons MP4 Monza 1981…destroyed in a big accident the following day…the chassis forward finished beside the armco where Watson jumped out of it, the engine, box and rear suspension being partially collected by Alboretos’ Tyrrell on circuit…(John Shingleton)

McLaren MP4/1 Ford Legacy…

When you look back on it, the idea of the ‘carbon car’ was audacious, Dennis had not run an F1 Team before nor had Barnard designed a GP car. But they had nothing to lose, nor did Marlboro who needed wins quickly.

Whilst the plan was audacious the execution of it was outstanding in a way the GP world was to come to expect from Ron Dennis.

From a drivers safety perspective the development of carbon-composites as THE chassis material for all but the junior classes means fewer lives have been lost than in any previous era, since 1981.

The advent of the modern aluminium monocoque in 1962 by Lotus, the mandated use of safety belts, on-board extinguishers and ‘bag’ fuel tanks were all postive safety steps but surely no single change in any era of motor racing has made as big a safety impact as Barnards’ pioneering use of the material in MP4?

For that we should all be thankful.

McLaren MP4 cutaway

Cutaway drawing of McLaren MP4/1B, the 1982 car driven by Watson/Lauda. Essential elements the same as MP4/1 as the first car was called retrospectively. Carbon fibre honeycomb chassis, Ford Cosworth 3 litre DFV V8, circa 490bhp@10750rpm in 1981. Hewland FGA400 gearbox. Front suspension inboard, top rocker actuating coil spring damper units and wide based lower wishbone. Rear wishbones actuating inboard mounted coil spring/damper units. Steel discs (they experimented with carbon in 1982), rack and pinion steering, circa 585kg in weight. (Bruno Baratto)

McLaren MP4 Ford profile

Credits…

McLaren International, John Shingleton, Bruno Baratto

Finito…