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McLaren MP4/2-TAG Porsche, the champion of Professor Barnard

by

Antonio Eiras

The McLaren MP4/2-TAG has been the second car of the renewed team of Woking and, designed by John Barnard in close collaboration with Porsche, represented not only the return of the English team at the top of competitiveness but also a change in the way of conceiving a Formula 1 car.


McLaren Project Four team (MP4) was born in 1980, when the decadent McLaren International joined the young and ambitious Project Four team of Ron Dennis, under the sponsorship of Philip Morris International (read Marlboro). In less than six months was presented the MP4/1-Ford, the first single-seater using a chassis built in carbon fiber, whose stiffness exceeded, by far, the classic honeycomb of aluminum chassis, then used by most teams.


The young engineer John Barnard, could then project a narrow chassis, leaving space for large side pods, with inverted alar profiles to generate downforce, without compromising the vehicle’s stiffness, behavior and safety. To build the chassis and not finding in Europe who did, he had to resort to Hercules, a US company, in Salt Lake City.


The MP4/1 soon revealed competitive and developed by the veteran John Watson and the returned Niki Lauda, it has become the most effective of the non turbocharged Formula 1 cars of its generation.


When the flat under floor was imposed, in late 1982, Barnard innovated, once again, by strengthening the side pods immediately in front of the rear wheels, in the form of “coca-cola bottle", thus creating a flow separator which allowed him to generate downforce where it is most needed.


It was clear that the team needed a supercharged engine, to remain competitive and the British engineer managed to convince Ron Dennis to not choose the Renault or BMW engines, which were available for the customer teams and to propose to Porsche, which had an extensive experience in supercharged engines, the purchase of a specifically designed engine for the new chassis MP4/2. They found a sponsor in TAG (Technologies d’Avant Garde), the deal with Porsche materialized, and with an engine made by measure and according to his precise specifications, in terms of structure and exterior dimensions, Barnard can then finish the new chassis, which was presented only two weeks before the start of the 1984 Championship.


The new MP4/2 used push-rod type front suspensions and in the rear an upper rocker arm and lower quadrilateral, which activated both in front and rear, sets of concentric springs with dampers. For the disc brakes, from SAP, they resorted, as for the chassis, to the carbon fiber. The TAG-Porsche was a six-cylinder engine in 800 V and 1.5 liter capacity, which, fed by two turbochargers KKK, delivered 750CV with a 2.2 bar pressure, at about 11.500 rpm. This power was transmitted to the rear wheels through a 5 or 6 speeds gearbox, manufactured by McLaren.


John Barnard had a very peculiar way of working, setting down to the smallest detail his projects, in a long gestation process in his office. When they were presented, his cars revealed invariably beautifully finished, with an excellent level of quality in every detail and always with something innovative.


The McLaren MP4/2-TAG Porsche was no exception and impressed from the start, winning the debut race and finishing the Constructors' World Championship with the highest points advantage to the second classified team, Ferrari, ever seen so far.


Alain Prost won 7 GP and Niki Lauda was crowned World Champion with 5 wins and only half a point ahead of the French. Together they won for the team 143.5 points, 86 more than the Ferrari drivers. The quality of the MP4/2 chassis was well proven by the Austrian champion, who used the same chassis, the MP4/2-1, all season!


The exploded view drawing that I’ve made of this car was presented, in a poster, in November “Turbo” magazine with the journalists report of "our" first Grand Prix of the modern era. For months I devoted myself to draw all the Formula 1 profiles and drivers helmets, which, used in a poster in October “Turbo” magazine, with the presentation of the GP, made a huge success among the readers and the public, who used it to collect signatures of the drivers.


Finished this work for the GP, José Vieira, at the time director of the magazine he founded, he proposed me do the drawing, in exploded view, of the car that, by the time (September) had yet won for McLaren the Constructors' World Championship. He left to me, however, the decision of which of the two cars I would draw. I opted for the number 8, the Niki Lauda’s one, my favorite in the fight between the two McLaren drivers and because I felt that an Austrian driver triple championship would do more for motor sport, by the impact on the public opinion, than a first Alain Prost title, which, conversely, would bring more notoriety to the team.


With the victory in the Championship, Niki Lauda’s car drawing was then signed by the Austrian driver, by Ron Dennis, John Barnard, Jo Ramires, sporting director of McLaren and Hans Mezger, Porsche engineer and author of the engine project. The collection of signatures was a huge task of José Vieira, widely rewarded by the (one more) success that this poster had along the “Turbo” readers.


In the next year I had the opportunity, recorded by the “Turbo” magazine photographer, Adelino Gonçalves, of talking to John Barnard, in a break in the practice for the Portuguese GP, on a rainy day in late April, and, using the poster of the previous year, to question him about the differences from the car that I had drawn for the new MP4/2B of Prost and Lauda, whose cutaway drawing I would do to illustrate two more pages of a “Turbo” magazine of that year.


Unlike his colleagues at the time, McLaren's technical genius did not limit to assembly, on the project of the MP4/2, by join an existing engine with a new chassis. Instead, he thought and designed it as a homogeneous whole, delivering the part of the engine to Porsche and focusing on what he knew best to do, the chassis. The result was a fabulous racing machine, which remained highly competitive for four years and which allowed  McLaren to win 5 titles, 3 of Drivers and 2 Constructors ones.


In late 1986 John Barnard would separate from Ron Dennis and McLaren to go to Ferrari, at the invitation of the Comendatore. This had been impressed with the professionalism and way of working of the British engineer and asked him to design the return of the Italian team to the conquest of the titles, that delayed and of the lost competitiveness.

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