|McLaren M7D Alfa Romeo|
Having finally sourced a competitive engine, McLaren could ready a serious Formula 1 effort for the 1968 season, after struggling for two seasons with exotic Ford and Serenissima V8s and BRM's V12 that had actually been designed for sports cars. The new engine was the Ford Cosworth V8, used exclusively in 1967 by Team Lotus, which was now also made available to McLaren and Matra.
Developed specifically for the new-for-1966 '3-litre' regulations, the DFV engine could be used as a fully stressed member of the chassis. This meant that the chassis only needed to hold the front suspension, fuel tank and driver. The engine was bolted directly to the bulkhead behind the driver and together with the gearbox shared the load of the rear suspension. With only half the chassis needed of a conventional design, the DFV powered Formula 1 cars were de facto lighter than the competition.
Responsible for the design of the new 'M7', or 'M7A' McLaren was Robin Herd, who had also penned the 1967 Can-Am winning 'M6' together with Bruce McLaren. He laid down a simple 'bathtub' style monocoque, unlike the DFV powered Lotus 49, which used a fully enclosed monocoque. Constructed from aluminium sheets, the chassis featured three steel bulkheads for additional rigidity. The rubber fuel tanks were housed inside the chassis, and fitted on either side of the driver.
Before the design was completed, Herd left to join Cosworth where he was tasked to design the engine builders first complete car. With guidance from Bruce McLaren, Gordon Coppuck was assigned to continue the work, particularly on the suspension. The end result was a conventional car but with some subtle novelties like the sports car inspired radiator exits on the nose that diverted the heat away from the chassis and driver, and the relocation of the oil tank and cooler to the rear of the car for a better weight balance.
Despite the changes in the design office halfway through the project, the McLaren M7A proved a winner straight out of the box when Bruce McLaren drove the first example to victory in the 1968 Race of the Champions at Brands Hatch. After placing third at Brands Hatch, team-mate and reigning world champion, Denny Hulme followed that result up with a win in the International Trophy at Silverstone. At the M7A's world championship debut, the Spanish Grand Prix, Hulme finished a very promising second.
In only the car's third Grand Prix, at the ever daunting Spa Francorchamps circuit, McLaren took his team's first international win, becoming only the second driver after his mentor Jack Brabham to win a Grand Prix in a car carrying his own name. With back-to-back victories in Italy and Canada, Hulme added two more victories to the M7A's tally. Thanks to consistent season for both drivers, McLaren ended 1968 second in the constructor's table behind Team Lotus, who obviously had enjoyed a head start with the DFV.
Encouraged by the promising results in the car's debut season and pre-occupied with an all-wheel-drive F1 car, McLaren continued with the M7A in 1969. Two distinctly different versions did emerge; the M7B with pontoon mounted fuel tanks and a brand new M7C, which featured a F5000 derived fully-enclosed monocoque. Both these cars were pet projects of Bruce McLaren and mostly raced by him. Further development focused on the seemingly ever taller wings that were fitted on top of the front and rear suspension.
Particularly due to the rapid aerodynamic developments, McLaren struggled to repeat the 1968 form. Even though the high-mounted wings were banned from Monaco onwards, a McLaren did not win until the final round when Hulme beat Jacky Ickx and Jack Brabham to victory in the Mexican Grand Prix. McLaren finished the year fourth in the constructor's table. At the start of the 1970 season, the team switch to the M14, which effectively was an evolution of the full monocoque M7C. Others continued to race the M7, including Andrea de Adamich, who used the one-off Alfa Romeo powered M7D.
With the M7, McLaren emerged as a force in Formula 1. Even though it would take until the 1974 season before the team would dominate, McLaren has remained one of the sport's top teams ever since.
Article by Wouter Melissen, last updated on January 03, 2013
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