The 1984 season saw the Marlboro / TAG sponsored McLaren team win 12 out of the 16 World Championship Grand Prix events, with McLaren International claiming the Manufacturers’ Championship and Niki Lauda being acclaimed World Champion driver. The whole season was one of domination by the McLaren chassis and the Porsche engine and the two drivers finished first and second on four occasions. Alain Prost won seven races and Lauda won five, only the “points system” deciding that Lauda should be World Champion. ‘The whole season and the McLaren team were written up in great detail in the December Motor Sport of 1984. When it was all over John Barnard, the chief engineer and designer at McLaren International said, with a smile, “What do we do for an encore?”. Now, in December 1985, we can explain quite simply what they did for an encore. They won the Manufacturers’ Championship again and this time made Alain Prost World Champion driver, so it is with some pleasure that we put on record the 1985 season of McLaren International.
When the 1985 season started the team was fundamentally unchanged, the cars were rational developments of the 1984 cars, the two drivers were the same, the management was the same and the sponsors were the same. There were detail changes, in that Alan Jenkins, who was the race engineer in charge of the car driven by Prost, had left to join another team, his place being taken by Tim Wright, and the Michelin Tyre Company had withdrawn from Formula One and Goodyear had replaced them on the McLaren cars. There had been suggestions that the TAG Turbo Engines firm, who funded the Porsche V6 turbocharged engine, were prepared to let other teams buy the successful V6 engine, but this came to nought, and McLaren continued to hold the monopoly on the German engine. The change from the French Michelin tyres to the American Goodyear tyres posed a few problems but they were soon overcome.
The cars used for the 1985 season were basically those used in 1984 and it would be simple to say they were refined in detail, but when you looked closely at the 1984 McLarens they seemed so refined from the outset that it was difficult to envisage any further refinement. It was much more a case of development of the existing theme, this development programme going hand-in-hand with improvements that Porsche made to the engine in the way of power output and efficiency and the tyre developments by Goodyear. As fast as a designer may arrive at a solution for getting the utmost from a tyre, the tyre development produces an improvement and he has to start again. Similarly the same race is going on between the designer and the engine development team, when the tyres and .the chassis can cope with all the power from the engine, the engine people produce more power and better torque characteristics and the competition starts all over again. If you add into the equation brakes, gearbox, clutch, aerodynamics and weight you can see that today Formula One engineers are kept very busy, no matter .what aspect of the car they are working on. For the chief engineer in charge of the overall package it could be a nightmare if he wasn’t on top of the job, but a look at the McLaren season-long development shows that John Barnard was well in control of the whole scene as applied to the McLaren team. There were no major leaps forward, no indecisive steps sideways and certainly no back-tracking. Some teams during 1985 indulged in all those motions in a state of panic and ended up in a shambles. Such changes as were made to the McLaren cars were progressive and logical, and this was one aspect of the team that impressed Alain Prost by the end of the season, the rational thinking and planning obviously appealing to his rational mind.
There were some parts of the development programme that did not make progress, one of these being the new gearbox that Barnard started work on at the end of 1984, and another was the on-board compressed air engine starter. If there is a weak point in the McLaren it has to be the gearbox. No-one is more gentle on a gearbox than Niki Lauda, as any mechanic who services his gearboxes will tell you, yet he had one retirement through gearbox failure and on another occasion was lucky to finish, only his “velvet touch” nursing the ailing gearbox through to the finish. This year Lauda had a terrible time with mechanical derangement causing retirements, while Prost had only one isolated instance. Lauda suffered from engine failures, electrical problems, brakes problems and gearbox problems, causing him to retire from nine races, while two more retirements were his own fault, one due to spinning and stalling the engine and the other due to getting off-balance and striking a wall. Prost, on the other hand, had only one retirement caused by mechanical fault, in the transmission department, but two due to driver error. One of these was spinning off into the guard rails in the wet in Portugal, the other a mild crash on the Detroit street circuit. His worst moment with the team was after he had won the San Marino GP at Imola and had run out of fuel on his “slowing down” lap. When the weight of the McLaren was checked at post-race scrutineering it was found to be 4 kilogrammes under the minimum weight limit, and Prost was disqualified from his first place. At that same meeting Lauda’s car was found to be exactly on the 540 kilogramme limit, which was cutting things a bit too fine. Whichever way you looked at it the McLaren team had made a miscalculation somewhere along the line, and the root cause was a change that had been made from brass radiators to aluminium radiators, all in the cause of continual improvement to the car.
When you look at the “Golden Results Book” for 1985 it would appear that the McLaren results were the equal of 1984, with Championships for one of their drivers and for the team, but in detail it has not been as impressive a year, as the detailed analysis which follows will reveal. Nonetheless, objectives were achieved and in the face of some strong opposition, from the Japanese Honda engine in the Williams in particular. One aspect of the team that has been impressive has been the economy of cars, none of them being destroyed and only one brand new one being ·built, and that was part of the general development programme rather than of necessity. This speaks highly of the design and construction of the McLaren and of the drivers who both avoided inflicting serious damage to their cars. The main strength of the McLaren lies in its Carbon Fibre Composite (CFC) monocoque tubs which were made for the team by the Hercules corporation in America. Near the end of the season McLaren produced a CFC monocoque from their own oven in their factory in Woking, identical to those produced previously by Hercules and with complete co-operation, but a true “home bake” article. This car was completed in time for Prost to use it in the far-away races in S. Africa arid Australia. The 1984 cars were rebuilt for the 1985 season with the only major design change being the replacement of the “rocker arm” rear suspension layout to that of a lighter and more effective “push-pull rod” system the coil spring/damper units shell being mounted “inboard” alongside the gearbox. There were numerous other detail changes in line with engine, brake, tyre, and aerodynamic development so that the 1985 cars were designated MP4/2B. In 1984 four cars had been built, one each for Lauda and Prost, one as the team spare (T-car) and one for test and development work. A fifth monocoque had been delivered from Hercules but it was not needed during that successful season. In the winter months it was built up into the first of the B-series cars, keeping its number which was 5 and Prost started the season with this car, MP4/2B-5. Cars number 2, 3 and 4 from 1984 were transformed into B-series and Lauda had MP4/2B-4, while MP4/2B-3 became the T-car for the races. MP4/2B-2 was the “test” car, later to be swapped with Prost’s race-car, and MP4/2-1 was kept as a “publicity vehicle”. The first of the Woking-made monocoques was MP4/2B-6.
When John Barnard wondered at the end of 1984 what he was going to do for an encore, a repeat-performance seemed pretty ambitious. Now I feel sure we can expect him to go for a hat-trick of Manufacturer’s Championships and certainly Alain Prost is not going to be content with one World Championship. Well before the end. of the 1985 season Niki Lauda announced that he would be retiring from Formula One racing, and in no time at all McLaren International signed up Keijo Rosberg for the 1986 season. When the 1986 season begins we can look forward to some exciting happenings from the McLaren International team, for Rosberg’s driving force is one to be reckoned with by any standards. – D.S.J.