I first drove the McLaren M23 at the end of 1974, and over the next few years I got to know it fairly well, I guess. I had two World Champion team mates, Emerson Fittipakli and James Hunt, and I had some good times with the car. I won in Spain in ’75, but because of Rolf Stommelen’s fatal accident that is not really a happy memory. I should really have won at the Nurburgring in ’76; I was on the right tyres when they stopped the race for Niki Lauda’s crash.
The M23 was a good car, but in truth, nothing fantastic. Once you had it right, though, it was very good. It was a fairly simple, straightforward car, nothing vicious about it. I think it was pretty solid, and I never had any big moments with it.
In those days different chassis could vary greatly; no two were exactly the same. Some were a bit softer; I can’t even say if it was better to have a softer chassis or not! So there was a bit of a difference which you could only find out about almost by accident. It was a bit of a grey area with these cars.
The M23 didn’t really change over the years; we made small improvements here and there, mainly on dampers and springs and things like that, but aerodynamically I can’t remember having done much to it.
I definitely didn’t enjoy it on tighter tracks. Funnily enough, at Monaco I scored points but it didn’t seem very competitive. And Emerson and James struggled as well; in the tight corners we never produced enough grip. It wasn’t as agile as you wanted it to be. The car was definitely quicker on the faster circuits, and better to drive. The aerodynamics and wheelbase helped it.
The car was competitive from ’73 to ’76. I think it was down to organisation, and perhaps lack of competition from other teams. And don’t forget that in those days there were Ford DFV engines which were slightly advanced over the others, which only three teams got. And within those teams they were discreetly given to one or the other guy and we never found out exactly until much later…
Once the competition got stiffer then we very quickly lost a little bit. McLaren really lost the edge when the new M26 came out, which was not a success, although James won races with it. The M23 was the last good McLaren of that era.