McLaren ’50 in 50′: Innovation

Carbon fibre chassis, just one thing we take for granted in modern Formula One. For many it is difficult to remember or imagine cars being made of anything else. But back in 1980, it came as a bit of a shock when Ron Dennis’ Project 4 (who merged with Bruce McLaren’s racing team) announced that they would be using carbon fibre to build their MP4/1.

Ron Dennis recalled at the G8 Innovation Conference, in June of this year, his memories of it. “We pioneered carbon fibre in 1980 – I can remember the frustrations” he said. “Our company at the time, it wasn’t even McLaren, had less than 20 people and we said ‘we’re going to use carbon fibre’ to shock around the world. And when we built the first Formula One car it was the biggest low-bearing composite structure in the world. Now every racing car is carbon fibre and we are the biggest producers of producion cars out of carbon fibre”.

The MP4/1 offered an unbeatable combination of strength and lightness. It also proved to be an effective safety cell after John Watson, who also piloted the car to victory, walked away from a high-speed crash at the Italian Grand Prix. John Watson said: “It was hugely exciting to be part of what felt like a revolution and amazing really to think that not only did all racing teams follow McLaren’s lead, but that McLaren has stuck to carbon so religiously in everything it has done.”

Of course, McLaren have since used this philosophy in their production cars. While it took 4,000 hours to make each carbon fibre chassis on the McLaren F1 (the first production road car to use a full carbon fibre monocoque), it now takes just four hours to produce the MonoCell of the McLaren MP4-12C, unveiled in 2009.

At the end of August this year, the McLaren Group unveiled the 12C in its new GREAT campaign livired car, which has been designed to support and inspire British innovation. The GREAT Britain campaign showcases the very best of what Britain has to offer. The GREAT campaign’s graphics have been added to the McLaren 12C along with the message “innovation is GREAT”. The car, which was built at the McLaren Production Centre, incorporates ground-breaking technologies taken directly from McLaren’s wealth of experience in Formula One, including a one-piece carbon fibre MonoCell chassis. Team Principal and CEO of McLaren Group, Martin Whitmarsh, said: “McLaren is proud to be an ambassador for British innovation and to support the GREAT campaign. The UK has led the world in the development of technologies which have changed people’s lives, from the jet engine to the internet.”

It isn’t just on the roads that McLaren have continued to be innovative leaders, but still in Formula One. In 2010, McLaren developed what became known as the ‘F Duct’ (the inspiration for this blog’s name…). This featured an air intake on the nose which allowed the driver to alter the the airflow over the rear wing by blocking the duct with their leg. To the team the innovation was referred to as the RW80 but was known generally as the F Duct, perhaps due to the fact the intake was placed beside the F in Vodafone, the team’s sponsor. The idea was adopted by many other teams, who had their own variations, but it was agreed by teams to ban it for the 2011 season.

Outside of road cars and racing, McLaren technologies are being used in other industries. Anthony Sheriff, former Managing Director at McLaren Automotive, on the 30th anniversary of McLaren introducing carbon fibre to Formula 1, said: “McLaren is a company driven by a passion to innovate. That passion manifests itself in advances in uses of materials and technologies in order to win motor races and produce ground-breaking cars. But now we are seeing that technology begin to transfer to more mainstream production.” McLaren have used their technologies in association with others to develop high tech bikes and helping rowers at the London 2012 Olympics, amongst other things. The McLaren Group are continually striving to be at the forefront of global innovation, supporting industries, using their expertise, including healthcare, public transport and energy. They have also been awarded awards for their innovation. This includes the High Performance Innovation Award at the inaugural European Awards for Innovation Leadership this year for McLaren Electronics. Peter van Manen, the Managing Director, said: “McLaren has innovation in its DNA. We are also translating knowledge and technology to other sectors to help sick children, improve public transport systems and much more.”

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