Sunday, 10 July 2011

From Metal Bashing to Autoclave - McLaren MP4/1 #MP4/1-02

Thirty years ago I was extremely lucky to find my self working for six months in an accounts department of a double glazing manufacturer during the one of two industrial experience segments of my degree course. This meant I had the time and funds not only to spend a week at Le Mans but I also had the time and funds to spend a weekend at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.

McLaren MP4/1, Silverstone BGP

During the 1980 / 1981 off season McLaren's long time sponsor Philip Morris, disappointed with three years of under achievement coerced team principle Teddy Meyer into a merger with Project Four a lower tier Formula 2 team run by Ron Dennis which coincidentally was also sponsored by Philip Morris.

Ron Dennis had hired the designer, of the Chaparral 2K Indy Car, John Barnard to design a new car for McLaren which became known as the MP4/1. Outwardly the car was a conventional 'kit car' using a Cosworth DFV engine that had been the motor of choice since 1966.

However beneath the paint work John Barnhard's chassis was the first to be wholly manufactured with carbon composite materials, which until 1981 had been primarily used in the aerospace industry. Carbon composite materials when pressure and heat treated in an autoclave, a process developed by the Royal Aircraft Establishment in 1963, can be used produce objects that have high flexibility, tensile strength and temperature tolerance while at the same time have low thermal expansion and low weight compared to similar metal objects.

By the end of the 1980's all Formula One chassis were being manufactured from carbon composites along with brake discs and suspension components.

John Watson, seen during practice for the British Grand Prix here, qualified fifth for the 1981 British Grand Prix, at the start of the race the two turbo charged Renaults and Ferrari's made the best get away but on lap 3 Gilles Villeneuve clipped a curb and spun,see clip 1m 20secs, an incident which took out Alan Jones on the spot.

Somehow John Watson who was right behind Jones managed to avoid the melee almost coming to a stop as he did so, which in turn caused his team mate Andrea de Cesaris behind him to take evasive action and spin off into the catch fencing.

After loosing a lot of time Watson set off in sixth place behind Piquet, Reutemann, Pironi, Arnoux and Prost. Piquet crashed out with a puncture, Watson then over took first Reutemann and then Pironi who's engine exploded on the next lap. Prost retired with distributor trouble which put John in 2nd place behind Arnoux who had a comfortable lead.

On lap 53 Arnoux started experiencing the same problems as Prost and 8 laps later a huge roar went round the circuit as Belfast born John took the lead of his home Grand Prix which he held until the end of the race.

This was John's second Grand Prix victory his first was in the Penske PC4 in 1976 and the first victory for McLaren under the guidance of Ron Dennis. McLarens last victory had been with James Hunt in 1977.

John drove this same chassis #MP4/1-02 to victory in the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix.

Hope you have enjoyed today's British GP edition of 'Gettin' a lil' psycho on tyres' and that you will join me again tomorrow. Don't forget to come back now !

PS It is with great sorrow that I learned of the passing of William 'Bill' Boddy MBE known to many as 'WB' who edited Motor Sport magazine from 1936 to 1991, an organ which played no small part in my addiction to motoring and motor sport in the 1970's and ultimately to this blog.

He famously ran Motor Sport magazine through the war years during his spare time while working on important Air Publications.

Bill was a vociferous opponent to the 70 mph speed limits introduced to Britain as a temporary measure by Tom Fraser in 1965 after a spate of accidents in fog and the alleged testing of an AC Cobra at speeds up to 180 mph on the M1 motorway.

WB was aged 98, sincerest condolences to his family and many friends. RIP 'WB'.


  1. Okay the photo is what drew me here. I'm not very knowledgeable about automobiles. But I recognized this one!
    And while I read your great blog post I got a history lesson.
    Thanks Art!

  2. Booze and cigarettes were good for racing.

  3. Kept it going through difficult times as has banking more recently JC :-)