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Country of origin:Great Britain
Produced in:1982
Numbers built:3
Designed by:John Barnard for McLaren
Predecessor:McLaren MP4/1 Cosworth
Successor:McLaren MP4/1C Cosworth
Author:Wouter Melissen
Last updated:July 13, 2009
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Click here to download printer friendly versionBy 1980 there was little that reminded of McLaren's big successes in the 1970s except for the white and Day-Glo orange Marlboro livery. Even the talent of Alain Prost and John Watson could not compensate for the poor Formula 1 cars by the British team. In September of 1980 the ailing team was acquired by Ron Dennis, whose team Project Four had been highly successful in F2 and F3 racing. Dennis quickly realized that drastic measures were needed for McLaren to regain competitiveness and decided to start with a clean sheet. He re-hired former McLaren employee John Barnard, who returned from a spell in the United States where he had designed the Indy 500 winning Chaparral 2K.

During his stay in North America, Barnard had become intrigued by the potential of carbon fiber composites. Although the material had been used for small parts, in Formula 1 since the mid-1970s, nobody had attempted to construct a full chassis using composites. Many believed that a carbon fiber tub was unsafe and would break into hundreds of pieces or even a cloud of black smoke upon impact. Barnard clearly did not agree and used McLaren's clean sheet to draw up a carbon fiber monocoque. He was not alone in his revolutionary believes as over at Lotus, Colin Chapman was also hard at work to design their own carbon fiber monocoque. The Lotus design did still include aluminium reinforcements for 'safety' reasons.

There were only very few capable of, and even fewer willing to turn Barnard's designs into reality. Fortunately, during his American adventure he had learned of a company called Hercules Corporation. Their 'Skunk Works' experimental department would be the ideal partner for McLaren. Overseen by Barnard, the Utah based company built Formula 1's very first carbon fiber tub. As they were unable to make curved parts, the chassis was constructed of five separate flat panels rivited together. The end result was very light and even more rigid than Barnard had imagined. The design was slightly revised and the subsequent tubs were not quite as rigid but even lighter.

One of Barnard's main objectives had been to make the tub as narrow as possible to make more room for the ground-effects tunnels running left and right of the chassis. The relative strength of the carbon fiber had made that possible. With most of the downforce generated by ground effects, the visible aerodynamics with intentionally very clean and simple. The new McLaren certainly did not look anywhere near as bulky as the company's earlier ground-effects cars. Unlike the revolutionary chassis, the running gear and suspension were mostly conventional. Power came from the tried and trusted Cosworth DFV engine, although Ron Dennis was already hard at work to secure an exclusive deal with a major manufacturer for a turbo engine.

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  Article Image gallery (52) Chassis (2) Specifications