Yesterdays post I wrote about where and how the three independently owned Formula One teams came about. The one team that needed more time as in another post was McLaren as their back ground into how they developed is seriously fascinating.
I briefly touched on how McLaren were the first Formula One Team to use carbon fiber and this is where the team were heading. The technologies sides of Formula One teams is big business as they develop new skills and unearth new use cases for various items they manufacture.
The only BMW spoiler from the time era 1977/78 I can find that fits McLaren's brief giving them the idea to manufacture the Formula One body out of composites.
Back in the late 1970's carbon fiber was not being used like today and was not widespread. McLaren had manufactured a rear spoiler for BMW using carbon fiber and this is what gave them the idea to use it for the body. Very strong and lightweight it would be a game changer. In the UK BAE systems and Westland helicopters used the material not for its strength, but for weight saving. McLaren needed a company that were using composites in a different way as they needed strength. The idea was to build the monocoque which is the main body outer skin of the car entirely out of carbon.
First carbon fiber car in Formula One.
A designer they knew had worked at a company in the states at a facility in Salt Lake City. The company was called Hercules and they manufactured rockets for the military plus NASA. At first they were reluctant to help saying they were too top secret and were influenced when Ron Dennis offered them an idea he thought up on the spot. Hercules could never market themselves for anything else due to the Military contracts so no one knew who they were or what they did. He told them to use the McLaren car they were going to build as a marketing tool which they could then invite clients to Formula One races. They had the body built within 3 weeks and the rest is history as the car was unique being ahead of it's time.
Over the years they perfected the art of building with composites themselves and like the Mercedes Team of today ahead of their competitors. Ron Dennis has always wanted to lead McLaren into the technology age and was the business he envisaged for McLaren. His shareholders wanted Formula One titles and he wanted to be known as a technology based company.
What is interesting is they cooked the books back in the 1980's and 1990's to show the Formula One team was actually costing money and barely breaking even. This was done on purpose so they could justify sponsors paying a premium for advertising. They could not tell everyone how much they were really making as then sponsors would want to pay less.
The company back in the early 1980's went from 90 staff to close to 3000 personnel within the next 10 years as they started to diversify. There first prospective client was the New Zealand sailing team from the Americas Cup trying to learn about various composites to manufacture their boats from. This got them thinking along the lines of the Olympic team and what they could do to improve their performances.
They helped with the Winter Olympic team first helping design and manufacture the bobsleigh and skeleton boards with mixed results. Where they really performed was with the British Summer Olympic team especially with the rowers and cyclists.
Over 3000 personnel and less than 1000 involved with Formula One as the bulk are on the technology side of the business. McLaren supply control systems to every Formula One team including Nacar. This is what they are known for and specialise in robust control systems for a wide range of clientelle.
They manufactured carbon oars with sensors so they could read the data of every rower knowing the teams best set up due to the power output. McLaren was hoping to publicize this to help promote their business away from Formula One, but were sworn to secrecy. The British team did not want other competitors to get any idea what they had and something that has been happening for many years. The cycle team was the same with a set program mapping muscle memory and nothing else which increased performance by concentrating on those specific muscles.
McLaren back then was not a car manufacturer like it is today as they were not intending to go down that pathway. the first car they ever did was the McLaren SLR which was designed along with Mercedes. Ron Dennis the McLaren International and Automotive founder is not that big into motor cars surprisingly as it is the technology side that he is passionate about.
Just as an extra for Formula One fans or Senna fans how McLaren signed Ayrton up is interesting. Ron Dennis and Ayrton had been negotiating a contract but were so far out they didn't know how to agree on the terms. Neither could compromise and Ron Dennis knew Senna was fairly religious in the concept of God will look out for you.
Ron suggested a coin flip so whoever chose correctly would have their contract accepted. It was a two year deal extended to 3 years valued at over $1 million dollars. Back then it was a small fortune and it went to a coin flip. Ron Dennis called correctly and won the bet after the coin had hit the edge of a rug and rolled underneath a curtain.
Looking back McLaren were the leaders in their field due to technology and nothing else like Mercedes are today. Mercedes have the upper hand in the high tech side of things like the simulators and why they have had that edge for the last 10 years. For others to beat them they need to improve on what they have and that is highly unlikely so they need to have some other type of breakthrough maybe in the power units or battery supply.
I do believe the next car to rule Formula One will be the one that harvests the power to feed the batteries that much quicker. Currently teams harvest the energy for 1 lap and then use that energy on the next lap. One team will at some point harvest enough energy to make it for two laps meaning they have a constant supply of extra power and that will be the team to beat. Maybe Mercedes are closer to that point as in the Brazil race they outperformed everyone on engine performance. Interesting times ahead and it is going to be intriguing what these boffins come up with next.