Mclaren: Tyler Alexander exerpt
Tyler Alexander worked at Mclaren for four decades. To celebrate the team’s 50 years in F1, here is an extract from his recent book
We went into 1993 with a new car, lots of new tricks, a new engine, and two new drivers. The car had an active suspension system that differed from everyone else’s, a Cosworth engine (not the latest spec, that went to Benetton), and a lot more updates on the gearchange system. Ayrton Senna and Michael Andretti were the two race drivers, and Mika Hakkinen joined us as test driver.
We did have our own paddle gearchange programme, which I had been involved with from the beginning. A special projects manager does whatever is required, and I needed to learn about new things (computers, for example).
Ayrton came from Brazil to test the new car at Silverstone. He did quite a few laps and then spent several hours in the motorhome with Giorgio Ascanelli, his race engineer. Ayrton’s general comment was: “I think you guys have something here.”
There were a variety of software issues, which was not surprising, seeing as the MP4/8 car was much more complex than the previous car.
Apart from gear-change and throttlecontrol issues, we had a hydraulic problem. I asked Ayrton if he would come up to Silverstone for a short test we had scheduled just before leaving for the first race in South Africa. We had several modified and different parts to try, but Ayrton was very patient, his feeling being that the car was well worth the effort.
One of the many trick items on the MP4/8 was traction control, which was allowed at the time. This led to an amusing incident during practice at Kyalami, when Tom Walkinshaw from Benetton came marching down the pitlane and demanded to know why our engine was making a funny noise coming off the corners. We told him it had a misfire. But he knew it was traction control – which Benetton didn’t have with their Cosworth engines – and he stormed back down the pitlane, knowing he could do nothing about it.
Ayrton had a reasonable amount of testing in the car, unlike Michael, who was having a bit of a hard time as a result. Andretti’s F1 career did not get off to a good start when he stalled on the grid and then had a collision while trying to come through from the back.
Ayrton made the most of his front-row start and got the jump on Alain Prost’s Williams. Ayrton managed to hold Alain off for 23 pretty hectic laps. From as early as lap seven, Ayrton had been having trouble with the handling, which we later found was due to a faulty electronic control on the rear suspension. He did really well to finish second and score six points.
This result for Ayrton added to a lot of intrigue over his future. Although the guys on the team were not party to what was going on, there were rumours that Ayrton had not done a deal with Ron for the whole of 1993. From what we could understand, he was working on a raceby-race basis. That was interesting, because the next race would be Ayrton’s home grand prix in Brazil. As far as we were concerned, we carried on as normal and prepared the car on the basis that he would be there.
Sure enough, Ayrton turned up at Interlagos for what would be an eventful race. It probably didn’t do his mood much good when Prost put the WilliamsRenault on pole with Ayrton directly behind him on the second row, but with almost two seconds between them. Michael was on the third row, the difference between our two drivers being just under a second.
Poor Michael had a big misfortune with Gerhard Berger at the first corner, actually flying over the top of the Ferrari. Ayrton had made a good start and held second for some time before being overtaken by the Williams of Damon Hill. The arrival of rain after about 20 laps brought chaos, as several drivers, including Prost, spun off. Senna was brought in to serve a stop-go penalty, apparently for overtaking under a yellow flag – something he would strongly disagree with after the race. But despite all the chaos going on around him, Ayrton managed to win his home GP.
Donington got to host a World Championship grand prix for the first time when a race in Japan was cancelled. But holding it in England in early April was always going to bring the risk of rain. And we got plenty of that.
Ayrton was fastest during a wet first qualifying but, when it was dry for second qualifying, Prost and Hill were quickest, with Michael Schumacher (Benetton) third, just ahead of Ayrton. Once again, Andretti was on the third row and directly behind Ayrton.
No surprise to find it was raining at the start. Ayrton was blocked by Schumacher and found himself fifth, with Andretti sixth at the start of the first lap. Ayrton, applying a bit of his magic in the rain, was leading by the end of the lap! Michael, meanwhile, had a shunt while trying to pass Karl Wendlinger’s Sauber, and both were out.
There was a reasonable amount of chaos with the rain stopping, starting, stopping and starting again. Ayrton was in the pits five times, but on one occasion when the rain looked like it was starting up again, we weren’t ready for him. So Ayrton went straight out to do another lap and then stayed out on slicks after deciding that the rain was not that bad after all. Ayrton led virtually all of the 76 laps. It was one of his most outstanding drives.
The win in Britain maintained Ayrton’s lead in the championship, which he held on to despite retiring from the next race at Imola, followed by a second place in Spain (that put Prost ahead). We were hoping for a good result at Monaco, although we knew this race usually provided some special challenges of its own. Monaco 1993 was to be no exception.
Ayrton had a big shunt at the end of the pit straight during Thursday morning practice. This was caused by a problem with the active suspension software and did a lot of damage.
By the time we got the three missing corners and the rest of the bits fitted, qualifying had started. As soon as we had the car in a running state, Ayrton drove it from the paddock area to the pits, where the boys finished off the set-up before he joined in qualifying and set fifth-fastest time.
While the car was being put together, Dieter Gundel, Giorgio, and Mike Wroe were flat-out trying to establish what had happened with the gear-change software. They came up with a fix just in time. As for Ayrton, he was okay after the shunt, except for a bruised thumb, which was bandaged up.
There was an issue with the gearchange software in final qualifying, which probably cost Ayrton a front-row position. He had locked up a rear wheel on bumps right where he started braking for the chicane by the sea front. Until that point, he had been quickest. He would start from third, but more modifications were in order for the gear-change software.
Ayrton held third for the first 11 laps, moving into second when leader Prost was given a stop-go penalty. Ayrton hit the front when Schumacher’s Benetton had a hydraulics failure and caught fire. Thereafter, Senna’s record sixth win at Monaco was never in doubt.
As usual we were testing between almost every race. I was using the dyno at Cosworth to sort out, among other things, issues with the potentiometers that controlled the electronic hydraulic throttle.
The Cosworth engines had slide throttles, and we had been thinking that butterfly throttles might help the midthrottle driveability. David North had drawn up the system and several were made. I spent quite a bit of time with a prototype system on our hydraulic test rig, sorting out the Moog valve-control numbers. The system was then run on the dyno at Cosworth. Not much was said about it, but from what I heard I believe it ran quite well. We also ran a test at Silverstone, and Mika thought it had better driveability in the slower corners.
Of course, we were not aware – nor told – that there was a new series 8 Cosworth engine about to happen, and our throttle system didn’t fit on the new cylinder heads…
At about the same time, Mclaren was looking at the V12 Lamborghini engine, the programme being helped by Mike Royce and Kim Lyon, two very good guys from Chrysler, which had owned the Italian company since 1987.
There was a test at Imola before the race at Monza. When the test was finished, Mike Wroe and I took a box of parts to the Lamborghini factory in Modena and ran our hydraulic system on their V12 engine. We were looked after really well by Daniele Audetto, the two Chrysler guys, and the people running the dyno. The test was very productive
and allowed us to record the power difference between running with the hydraulic pump and without it.
Meanwhile, back at Woking, a chassis – to be known as the MP4/8B – was being built for the Lamborghini engine. A couple of weeks after Monza, we had a test on the Silverstone South circuit with Mika running the 8B, along with an 8A, which had some new and interesting bits on it.
After a couple of days, it stopped raining long enough for us to pack up and head for more testing at Pembrey in Wales. Ayrton flew in by helicopter to try the new bits on the 8A, and we asked him if he would do a few laps in the 8B. It turned out to be more than a few laps because he thought the Lamborghini engine was quite reasonable.
By the middle of September, Michael Andretti had left the team, fed up with his lack of success, and seeking a new Indycar ride. Hakkinen took his place for the next race at Estoril, where he outqualified Ayrton. Having qualified fourth to Mika’s third, Ayrton was talking about using a different spec engine because he felt the driveability would be better going through the very fast downhill corner at the end of the pit straight. At which point Mika proudly announced that he was flat through there.
We changed Ayrton’s engine, which unfortunately failed in the race when he was running second on lap 19. Thirteen laps later, Mika got too close to the Ferrari of Jean Alesi. As they came out of the corner leading onto the pit straight he went off the track.
We stayed on at Estoril for a test with both the 8A and 8B. One afternoon when there was a lot of work going on with the cars, Ayrton and I had a long quiet chat. He asked me a lot of questions about the Lamborghini engine and the cost of doing something with it. He also told me pretty much all the details about the sale of Mclaren to Ron Dennis and John Barnard, and that he reckoned we had sold it way too cheap. Ayrton was usually quite quiet about things and didn’t really say a lot, but this was a really good conversation. Ayrton seemed much more relaxed than normal; maybe he had already signed with Williams for 1994.
With less than an hour to go on the last day of the Estoril test, the Lamborghini engine had some problems and needed to be changed. Ascanelli bet the mechanics they couldn’t change it and get back out before the end of running. He said if they did he would buy dinner. They made the change in time, and Mika’s first timed lap with the new engine was only about a tenth of a second off the quickest time set that day. I think that Giorgio may have paid for what we referred to as a hydraulic meal, one based on Caribbean mineral water (or rum, for those who didn’t know better).
In the end, all that work was for nothing because, by the time we arrived at Suzuka for the Japanese GP, Mclaren had signed a deal to use Peugeot engines the following year. Lamborghini wasn’t pleased about this, but Mclaren didn’t think there was much future in an engine with a history stretching back a couple of years.
Ayrton qualified second with Mika third for what would be another dry-wetdry encounter. While leading the last part of the race and trying to hold off Prost, Ayrton was blatantly held up by Eddie Irvine. There was quite a scene after the race between Ayrton and Irvine in the Jordan office, with the two having an exciting ‘discussion’. Finally Senna turned to go, then turned back and took a swipe at Irvine. Later in the year the incident was subjected to an FIA hearing. Senna was sure he would be acquitted, but to his surprise he got a two-race ban, suspended for six months. That episode aside, Suzuka was a success, with Ayrton winning and Mika third.
Near the end of qualifying in Adelaide for the Australian GP, Ayrton was a couple of corners before the pit entry when he asked Giorgio on the radio if he wanted him to stop. Either Giorgio’s radio didn’t work, or he didn’t hear. The result was that Ayrton didn’t stop and kept yelling on the radio “what the hell do you want me to do?” all the way through the lap – a lap that was good enough for pole! It was the first time in 1993 that a Williams had not been on pole.
In the race, Mika didn’t finish because of brake issues, but Ayrton won his last race with Mclaren. Although we didn’t know it, it would also prove to be his last F1 victory.
My thoughts on Ayrton Senna? The first thing I would have to say, having worked with him for several years, was that he was just damn good. He had a lot of passion for what he did and an ability to stay focused on what he needed to do when there was chaos around him. He helped me on numerous occasions when I was having some issues getting something done, which I’d like to think meant the respect went both ways. His ability to get the most out of the car and himself was always more than amazing to us all.
Keith Barnard, one of the mechanics who worked on Ayrton’s car, did up his driver’s seat belts as tight as he could. In qualifying, when Ayrton tightened them up some more, Keith thought it meant he was either going to be on the front row, or walking back.
It was a great way to end our season. The MP4/8A was a good little car, particularly in the last few races with the modifications from the Pembrey test. If we’d had a bit more horsepower I think Ayrton would have won a few more races in his last season with Mclaren. For 1994 he would be moving on to Williams... ■
Senna scored his sixth Monaco win
Hakkinen outqualified Senna at Estoril, but had an off in the race
Senna ended Mclaren career with Australian success Senna felt Lamborghini unit showed promise in testing Andretti had a tough time and did not complete season
Tyler Alexander: Life and times at Mclaren is published by David Bull Publishing. It is available through motoring booksellers, bookstores and Amazon. RRP is £37.