Page 1 of 2 Next >> 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. Page 1 of 2 Next >>