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

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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

Photos: LAT and Sut­ton Images

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.

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