F1 Racing (UK) - - THE CHAMPION CARS - 1998

Adrian Newey had a con­tract with Wil­liams through to 1999, but his am­bi­tion was to be­come a tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor in his own right. This wasn’t go­ing to hap­pen with Patrick Head in situ at Wil­liams, so in late 1996 Newey ne­go­ti­ated a new job at Mclaren. An ugly le­gal dis­pute be­tween the two teams fol­lowed, and he spent late 1996 and the first half of ’97 on gar­den­ing leave.

Once-dom­i­nant Mclaren slumped in the mid1990s af­ter the with­drawal of en­gine part­ner Honda. Fol­low­ing in­terim sea­sons as cus­tomers of Ford and Peu­geot, Mclaren forged a new part­ner­ship with Mercedes in 1995, but the team had lost their way; en­gines with more bite im­proved the sit­u­a­tion, but not enough to sat­isfy su­per-com­pet­i­tive Mclaren boss Ron Den­nis.

That changed with the ar­rival of Newey, whom Den­nis would go on to de­scribe as: “The most com­pet­i­tive man I’ve ever met.”

Mclaren were al­ready on an up­swing, hav­ing book­ended 1997 with one-two fin­ishes for Mika Häkki­nen and David Coulthard, and there could have been more, but for a num­ber of en­gine blow-ups. Newey’s com­bi­na­tion of big-pic­ture think­ing and foren­sic at­ten­tion to de­tail added much-needed rigour to a de­sign of­fice that was of­ten throw­ing in­no­va­tions (such as the clever but quickly banned ‘brake-steer’ sys­tem) at the car in the hope of find­ing an edge.

Get­ting his feet un­der the desk mid-sea­son, Newey fo­cused on de­vel­op­ment of the 1998 chas­sis with a view to ex­ploit­ing the lat­est rule changes. Again, the FIA planned to shake up the for­mat to con­trol speeds and (the­o­ret­i­cally) en­cour­age over­tak­ing by im­pos­ing strict lim­its on brake per­for­mance, mak­ing the wheels and the cars them­selves nar­rower, and by bring­ing in the soon-to-be-hated grooved tyres.

“I joined on 1 Au­gust,” said Newey. “You look to start on the fol­low­ing sea­son’s car in June. The team had al­ready an­a­lysed sev­eral so­lu­tions, in­clud­ing the long side­pods, and I worked on the re­main­ing el­e­ments. One of the dis­tin­guish­ing fea­tures of this car was its low nosecone.”

The car was a clean-sheet de­sign, as was its lighter, nar­rower Mercedes FO 110G en­gine, with the vee-an­gle squeezed from 75° to 72°. With bet­ter power and re­li­a­bil­ity, Häkki­nen won eight GPS, and Coulthard added an­other in San Marino, to se­cure both cham­pi­onships by sea­son’s end. Amaz­ingly, Mclaren have yet to win an­other con­struc­tors’ ti­tle. Car­bon-fi­bre com­pos­ite mono­coque Dou­ble wish­bones, pushrod-ac­tu­ated tor­sion bar (front) and coil (rear) springs and dampers Mercedes-benz FO 110G V10 2,998cc 760bhp Mclaren 6-speed semi-au­to­matic 600kg 2,895mm Bridge­stone Mika Häkki­nen, David Coulthard Neil Oat­ley, Adrian Newey

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