Model history: In 1992 the McLaren/Honda dominance in Formula 1 came to an end at the hands of Nigel Mansell in the hugely sophisticated Williams FW14B Renault. McLaren drivers Gerhard Berger and Ayrton Senna did manage to win five races but after four consecutive driver's and constructor's championships that was still a bitter disappointment. To complicate things even further, engine supplier Honda announced its withdrawal from F1. This forced the engineers to design a new car to rival the Williams while McLaren supremo Ron Dennis was still looking for a new engine supplier for 1993.
Renault's V10 engine was believed to be the most powerful of the engines available, so it was no surprise that Dennis turned to the French manufacturer first. They already had a deal in place for 1993 with Williams and Ligier, and for various reasons could not supply a third team. Dennis was so desperate to get his hands on the French V10s that he seriously considered buying the Ligier team. In the end that did not work out due to conflicting interests between Renault's oil supplier Elf and McLaren's long term sponsor Shell. Eventually Dennis had to settle for Ford customer engines. In the Ford picking order, McLaren was second to official partner Benetton, who had an exclusive deal for the latest specification 'HB' V8 engines.
One of the main reasons the Williams FW14B was so very successful was the extensive use of electronics. Particularly the fully active suspension gave the car an edge over the slightly more conventional McLaren MP4/7. During the design process of MP4/8, the McLaren engineers developed many of these systems from scratch. These were incorporated into a carbon fibre monocoque chassis that was an evolution of the 1992 car. It could be easily distinguished from its predecessor by its raised pedal box and by the use of 'barge boards' behind the front suspension. The Cosworth developed Ford HB engine was mated to a McLaren designed and built six-speed, semi-automatic gearbox that was actuated by paddles behind the steering wheel.
Solving the engine supply issue was not the only problem on Dennis' plate over the winter. Lead driver and triple world champion Ayrton Senna did return to the team after spending the off season in Brazil. He, however, did so with higher financial demands than ever before. Because of the difficult negotiations that followed, it is believed that he never signed a contract for the 1993 season and actually drove for McLaren on a race by race basis. Gerhard Berger, meanwhile, had left the team to drive for Ferrari. His place was taken by Michael Andretti; the son of 1978 world champion Mario Andretti. New to Formula 1, Andretti had already made quite a name for himself in sports car and single seater racing in the United States. His most notable result was winning the 1991 CART championship.
Despite its difficult birth, the McLaren MP4/8 Ford was a very quick car straight out of the box. With Andretti still learning the ropes, Senna and McLaren faced a more than formidable adversary; Alain Prost. After a year away from F1, the French 'Professor' had taken 1992 world champion Nigel Mansell's seat at Williams. He immediately made his mark by clinching the pole at the season opener in the new Williams FW15C Renault. The race was not quite as straightforward and after starting from second, Senna took the lead from Prost twice. In the end there was little the Brazilian could do against the might of the Prost/Williams combination and he had to settle for second. Senna then made the most of the changeable conditions during his home Grand Prix to claim the new McLaren's first victory.
Next up was the European Grand Prix at Donnington, which was a new venue for Formula 1. The two Williams cars were superior during the practice sessions but on race day it rained. Senna started from fourth and dropped to fifth in the first corner. He then embarked on what remains as one of the most memorable laps in F1's history; he emerged from the final corner of that first lap in the lead. The weather changed constantly and Prost, for example, came to the pits seven times. Making better calls, Senna only stopped four times and won the race almost a lap ahead of Damon Hill in the faster of the two Williams. Prost finished third, a lap behind. With two victories in the first three races, it looked like a very promising start to the season for McLaren. It was, however, the brilliance of Senna in changeable conditions that had made the difference and the outright pace of the MP4/8. Andretti did not have the best debuts, completing only three laps in the first three races.
Alain Prost quickly restored the order, scoring back to back victories in San Marino and Spain. Monaco was next and Senna excelled once again, taking his fifth consecutive victory and sixth in total ant the principality. Prost won the next four races and his team-mate Hill took the next three. Thanks to his consistency, Senna kept in touch with Prost in the championship. Andretti's ill fortune continued and despite his first podium finish, at the Italian Grand Prix, he was replaced for the final three races by McLaren test driver Mika Hakkinen. He had never fully managed to accustom himself to the sophisticated Formula 1 cars. One of the big problems was his decision to remain based in the United States, which limited the time available for testing considerably. Andretti returned to the CART championship in 1994 and won the first race after leading every lap.
The first to break the Williams winning streak was Michael Schumacher in the factory backed Benetton Ford, at Estoril. Senna was back in his element at the penultimate race of the season; the Japanese Grand Prix. Around 20 laps into the race, it started to rain and he quickly closed the gap to leader Prost. Senna duly won the race and Hakkinen was third in only his second race for McLaren. In what was to be his last race for McLaren, Senna clinched his first pole position of the season at the Australian Grand Prix; preventing a Williams clean-sweep of poles. The Brazilian managed to continue this form in the race and led from start to finish. In was again a difficult season, he had managed to score enough points to claim second in the driver's championship. McLaren also finished the season in second and twelve points ahead of Benetton despite running one engine spec behind all year.
Long before the end of the season, Senna had announced his plans to switch from McLaren to Williams in 1994. He would fill the spot left vacant by world champion Prost, who had officially retired after the 1993 Australian Grand Prix. It would turn out to be a very tragic move as Senna lost his life during the San Marino Grand Prix, in only his fourth race for Williams. McLaren replaced Senna with the very experienced Martin Brundle and also switched to Peugeot power. Despite the works backing, the Peugeot V10 was lacklustre at best and a single podium finish for Hakkinen was well below McLaren's standards. In retrospect, the McLaren MP4/8 performed remarkably well, not in the least due to Senna's brilliance. It must have been particularly rewarding that Ford's official team, Benetton, was so thoroughly beaten. The last laugh, however, was for Ford and Benetton as they managed to win the 1994 title with Michael Schumacher.
This was the sixth of eight MP4/8s built in 1993. It was used by Ayrton Senna for eight races from the Spanish Grand Prix to the Italian Grand Prix. He drove MP4-8A-6 to a record breaking victory in the Monaco Grand Prix and scored a podium in France. In the remaining races Senna could do no better than three fourths and a fifth. For the final two races, the chassis served as a spare. It has since been one of the very few Formula 1 cars sold by Ron Dennis to a private individual. Still owned by the 'first' owner, the Monaco winning MP4/8 is seen here in action at the 2010 Goodwood Festival of Speed. Meticulously prepared by Lanzante, it was driven by Ayrton's nephew and current Formula 1 driver, Bruno Senna.
Does anyone know if anything other than a few photo's exist of the MP4/8B that McLaren built to test the Lamborghini V12 engine? From all reports it was faster than the race car (Häkkinen lapped Silverstone 1.4 seconds faster than he had in the Ford powered car while Senna was reportedly nearly 2 seconds faster at Portugal). Senna even asked Ron Dennis about the chance of ditching the Ford V8 for the Japanese GP (which he won anyway) and racing the V12. Apparently he didn't care much about reliability, just that with the V12 behind him he would be bloody quick. Dennis said no, foolishly jumped into bed with Peugeot instead of Chrysler and fate took Senna to Williams in 1994.
Senna helped develop that Lambo V12 more in 2 months than had been done since 1989. He told Forghieri to kill top end power and replace it with fatter mid range torque. Because it was Senna, someone he admired and respected greatly, Forghieri did this and while 25hp was lost up top, all round the engine gained some 60hp and became a 700+hp weapon with the promise of more to come. It compared well with Renault's already highly developed V10 and Ferrari's V12 which were producing around 700hp and the Ford V8 used by Benetton & McLaren which was only about 650hp.