McLaren MP4-23 - The last champion from Woking
The McLaren MP4-23 was a car which in the hands of Lewis Hamilton won his first Formula 1 World Championship title in 2008 while the team finished 2nd in the Constructors’ championship.
Engineering director Paddy Lowe and his team of almost 150 designers began works on constructing this car almost two years before the launch. Actually, it wasn’t a completely new car. Just like many of the previous MP4s, this car was developed and improved version of the previous model.
Developed and improved version of the previous model
The Mercedes – Benz engine was the same as in 2007, so the focus was in developing aerodynamics. The most notable change was a higher nose cone and that change proved to be a good one. At the same time, the front wing was pretty the same as the previous. The wheelbase on McLaren MP4-23 was longer, the front suspension was slightly redesigned and the T-wings became larger. A lot of work was also put into the sidepods and especially the area where the air is fed into the side pod for engine cooling.
The MP4-23 was unveiled at the Mercedes-Benz museum in Stuttgart, on 7th of January, and two days later both cars were ready for testing at Jerez Circuit and right from the start the car showed the similar pace to Ferrari F2008. However, before the start of the season, McLaren MP4-23 had to pass FIA inspection to determine if any Ferrari intellectual property was incorporated into the car. The reason for the inspection was espionage controversy from the previous year when Ferrari’s former employee passed confidential technical information to the British team.
Mixed fortune at the start of the season
Lewis Hamilton stayed with the team, while Heikki Kovalainen was brought to replace Fernando Alonso. The team was excluded from the championship in the previous year, after espionage controversy, and was resolute to prove its capability of winning trophies.
The season started well after Hamilton won the Australian Grand Prix, while Kovalainen was 5th. In Malaysia, the Finn finished 3rd, while the British racer could only finish in 5th. The race in Bahrain was one of the worst moments for Lewis. He finished the race in 13th position but Kovalainen again confirmed a solid form by finishing 5th.
However, Hamilton recovered in the following two races. In Spain, he was 3rd, while in Turkey he ended 2nd in the race. On the other side, Heikki retired in the race at Catalunya Circuit and was only the 12th in Istanbul.
After five rounds, Hamilton was sharing the 2nd place in the standings with Felipe Massa, seven points behind leader Kimi Raikkonen. In the Constructors’ Championship, McLaren was 3rd, behind Ferrari and Sauber.
Good form of McLaren team in the middle of the season
Hamilton scored the second victory of the season at Monaco Grand Prix but retired in the following race in Canada after starting from pole position. That was the first race in which both drivers of McLaren MP4-23 failed to score. The French Grand Prix was the next race on the calendar and again the Englishman underachieved after finishing 10th. On the other side, his teammate fulfilled expectations by finishing 4th in France.
The situation became better for Hamilton after winning the British Grand Prix. It was followed by another victory, at Hockenheimring, while Kovalainen was 5th in both races. After two consecutive wins, Hamilton took the lead in the championship, four points ahead of Felipe Massa and seven ahead of another Ferrari pilot Kimi Raikkonen. In the Constructors’ Championship, McLaren still was behind Ferrari and Sauber.
Maiden win for Kovalainen
In the Hungarian Grand Prix, Heikki Kovalainen scored the first and only win in his F1 career but Lewis was able to take only the 5th position. In the European Grand Prix, Hamilton finished as a runner-up and in the following race at Spa-Francorchamps he was 3rd. The Italian Grand Prix at Monza saw Kovalainen again being better of the two McLaren MP4-23 pilots. The Finn finished 2nd, while Lewis was 7th. In the Singapore Grand Prix, Hamilton for the ninth time in 2009 season grabbed podium finish by taking the 3rd place.
With three races remaining, Hamilton was the championship leader, with a 7 points lead to Felipe Massa. At the same time, McLaren took the lead in the Constructors’ championship, only a point ahead of Ferrari.
Thrilling finish of the year
The race in Japan was horrible for McLaren. Hamilton finished 12th, while Kovalainen retired. Luckily for Lewis, his main rival also had a bad day in that race. Chinese Grand Prix was a penultimate race of the season and the tension was at very high level. Lewis proved that he can cope with pressure and won the race, but Massa finished 2nd. Before the season-closing race in Brazil, British driver had an advantage of 7 points to his closest rival. At the same time, Ferrari secured the Constructors’ championship title after Kovalainen retired from both races.
The Brazilian Grand Prix was a great opportunity for Massa to become a World champion in front of his fans. He was able to win the race comfortably but Hamilton finished 5th what was enough to become a champion, finishing just a point ahead of Massa.
What do the numbers say?
During the 2008 Formula 1 season, McLaren MP4-23 scored 6 wins and a total of 13 podium finishes. There were also 8 pole positions, seven won by Hamilton, as well as three fastest laps, two of them being recorded by Kovalainen.
McLaren MP4-23 technical specifications
Chassis: Moulded carbon fiber/aluminum honeycomb composite incorporating front and side impact structures
Suspension (front & rear): Inboard torsion bar/damper system operated by pushrod and bell crank with a double wishbone arrangement
Engine: Mercedes-Benz FO 108V, 2.4 l V8 90° naturally aspirated, mid-mounted, 2.400 cc, limited to 19.000 RPM
Transmission: McLaren semi-automatic, 7-speed sequential with reverse
Electronics: McLaren Electronic Systems control units incorporating electronics for chassis, engine and data acquisition
Brakes: Ventilated carbon ceramic discs, all-round
Weight: 605 kg
Tires: Bridgestone Potenza
Fuel: Mobil 1 unleaded