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Friday, March 25, 2005

Flashback 1992

In 1991, Ayrton Senna was involved in a monumental battle for the world championship against Nigel Mansell. In the end, the Brazilian won it but not without exhausting all of Woking's resources in the process. So much so that development of their 1992 McLaren MP4/7 was pushed behind schedule whilst the engineering department was fully concentrated in turning around the 1991 MP4/6 into a car capable of beating the Williams Renault FW14.

Come 1992, Williams added active suspension to the FW14B and at the first race of the season at Kyalami, Nigel Mansell was dominant by a country mile. The FW14B was simply phenomenal, a product of current McLaren technical director Adrian Newey. McLaren, having had to delay their MP4/7 until later in the season used a modified MP4/6 that was simply outclassed by the Renault powered Williams. Nigel Mansell could simply turn on the speed at will.

The same situation persisted at Mexico where again, the Williams Renaults could not be stopped. The reigning world champion Senna, could not hide his frustration at being so helpless against Mansell and Patrese. So much so, he pushed for the introduction of the MP4/7 at the next race in Brazil. The MP4/7 too, promised active suspension (and hence active aerodynamics), fly by wire throttle and semi-automatic gearshifts.

The MP4/7 though was never meant to be introduced at the third round of the season. The car was simply too new and untested. For backup McLaren brought along the previous year's MP4/6 to Interlagos. The McLaren garage filled with 4 cars in total. 2 MP4/7s and 2 MP4/6s, a testament to their organization and financial firepower. Both cars went out during free practise but in the end it was decided that the MP4/7 would be used for the race.

It was a terrible mistake. The Honda powered MP4/7 in the hands of Gerhard Berger and Ayrton Senna still could not live with the Renault powered cars. In fact, they were under pressure even from Michael Schumacher, now in his first full season of Formula 1 in the Benetton Ford. Ayrton Senna famously remembered for slamming the door on Schumacher's face. I suppose that's where Michael learned a lot of his roughhousing. He may not admit it much these days but a lot of what Michael does reminds me of Senna.

In the end both the MP4/7s retired with reliability problems. Not that they had the speed to do anything about the two Williams.

Anyway, try and catch what I'm trying to say here. Two races into the 1992 season in the old car and McLaren were completely outclassed. In the third race, they rushed a new car in. Too new and untried, it turned out to be a mistake as the reliability simply wasn't there. In their rush to push forward a new car to challenge the dominant Williams Renault, they ended up scoring no points.

Now fast forward season 2005.

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