No. 26 McLaren MP4-23

Born of con­tro­versy, this ma­chine broke McLaren’s long dry spell in 2008

F1 Racing - - INSIDER -

No other cham­pi­onship-win­ning rac­ing car has been de­signed and built in as toxic a po­lit­i­cal at­mos­phere as the McLaren MP4-23. Its ges­ta­tion tracked par­al­lel to the drip of rev­e­la­tions in the ‘Spy­gate’ es­pi­onage scan­dal that shook For­mula 1 to the core in 2007, in which McLaren’s chief de­signer, Mike Cough­lan, ob­tained tech­ni­cal blue­prints from for­mer Fer­rari race tech­ni­cal man­ager Nigel Step­ney.

What they planned to do with this in­tel­li­gence is de­bat­able, for it was never proved that any Fer­rari in­tel­lec­tual property ap­peared on ei­ther the MP4-22 in which Lewis Hamil­ton made his siz­zling 2007 de­but, or the MP4-23 in which he claimed the driv­ers’ ti­tle. Even so, the scan­dal was dam­ag­ing: McLaren were hit with a record fine of $100m and stripped of their 2007 points, while FIA in­spec­tors scoured the blue­prints of the MP4-23 for any item that could have been in­flu­enced by knowl­edge il­le­gally trans­ferred from Fer­rari.

Ques­tions con­tin­ued to be asked about the MP4-23’s tech­ni­cal prove­nance un­til the 2008 sea­son be­gan in earnest. Then sus­pi­cions faded, largely be­cause Fer­rari seemed to have the su­pe­rior car. Hamil­ton won the sea­son-open­ing Aus­tralian GP but was all at sea in the fol­low­ing races, even driv­ing into the back of Kimi Räikkö­nen in the Mon­tréal pit­lane. But, mid-sea­son, some­thing clicked and a com­mand­ing win in the wet at Sil­ver­stone, where he ap­peared to be op­er­at­ing at an al­to­gether higher level than any of his ri­vals, set him back on the road to cham­pi­onship con­tention.

STU­ART CODLING

The MP4-23 it­self was an evo­lu­tion of its pre­de­ces­sor, with a longer wheel­base and more aero­dy­namic de­tail­ing. Dur­ing the sea­son the high-mounted ‘bridge’ wing was joined by a pair of curv­ing, nose­mounted flow con­di­tion­ers, an aero must-have pi­o­neered by BMW. The MP4-23 also boasted an­other, con­cealed piece of trick­ery, the ‘in­erter’. This con­sisted of a spin­ning mass that helped dis­si­pate the en­ergy of sus­pen­sion move­ments; Re­nault did some­thing sim­i­lar with their ‘tuned mass damper’ in 2006, only to see it banned for the spu­ri­ous rea­son that it con­sti­tuted a move­able aero­dy­namic de­vice.

For both McLaren and Fer­rari this was a weary­ing sea­son of snip­ing pol­i­tics and nose-to-the-grind­stone tech­ni­cal de­vel­op­ment, and it would prove to be their un­do­ing the fol­low­ing year. As the ’08 sea­son built to­wards its cli­max, each fo­cused on wran­gling more speed out of their cur­rent pack­age rather than shift­ing fo­cus to 2009.

Hamil­ton and Fer­rari’s Felipe Massa faced off against one an­other in the most nail-bit­ing sea­son fi­nale of all time. Massa won from pole po­si­tion and could not have done any more on the day. Hamil­ton looked to have al­lowed the driv­ers’ ti­tle to slip from his grasp, un­done by a late-race rain storm, only to clinch fifth place at the fi­nal cor­ner – win­ning the ti­tle by a sin­gle point. It was McLaren’s first driv­ers’ ti­tle since 1999, but Fer­rari beat them to the con­struc­tors’ crown.

Af­ter vic­tory, de­feat. Hav­ing de­ployed all their re­sources in 2008, nei­ther Fer­rari nor McLaren would win again un­til late 2009.

JAMES MANN/McLAREN

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