Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis
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Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis

How McLaren and Ferrari went to war with the rules in '76

Formula 1’s epic battle for the 1976 world championship title between James Hunt and Niki Lauda will go down in history as one of the best ever.

How McLaren and Ferrari went to war with the rules in '76

But despite their rivalry never boiling over, the same could not be said for their McLaren and Ferrari teams – who were at loggerheads many times during the fraught campaign.

Perhaps the biggest controversy came on this day in 1976 at the Spanish Grand Prix when Hunt would be stripped of his race victory due to his McLaren M23 being deemed illegal after the race. Here we look at the background to this fascinating controversy.

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Scrutineering

New rules had given the teams plenty to focus on ahead of the Spanish GP, but McLaren would fall foul of two design parameters that would put it in hot water during post-race scrutineering – the car’s overall width, and the position of the oil coolers and their associated pipework.

The McLaren M23 had been measured by the governing body during 1975, as it was well known to be the widest car on the grid. So its measurements would form the basis for the new width restrictions introduced in Spain.

Hunt was disqualified after the race for this, as his car had been found to exceed the new tolerance during scrutineering, the team having failed to measure the rear end of the M23 as it knew nothing had changed since its car was measured the previous year.

The problem with this thinking was that a change had occurred, just not to the car. Instead it was a new tyre introduced by Goodyear that would be its undoing, as the tyre manufacturer moved from a cross-ply to a radial construction. It meant that rather than having a flat sidewall, the tyres now featured a bulge.

McLaren M23 top view French GP

McLaren M23 top view French GP

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The difference was less than a centimetre on either side, with the car measuring 216.8mm, rather than the mandatory 215mm.

 

 

There was also a question mark over the position of the M23’s oil cooler and pipework, with the team having placed theirs at the rear of the sidepod and created a cutout to feed them cool air (right image).

Whilst the general idea was sound, it appeared it had misinterpreted the regulations in regard to how the coolers and pipework could be positioned within. The team swiftly made changes and reverted to a more conventional arrangement for the next three races.

James Hunt, McLaren M23 Ford

James Hunt, McLaren M23 Ford

Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch

This hurt performance, with Hunt unhappy with how the car drove over the next few races. As such, a reworked installation appeared for the French Grand Prix, which Hunt duly went on to win with, reinvigorating his campaign.

More good news would follow, as the FIA would convene for the appeal hearing in Paris to deliberate over his disqualification at the Spanish Grand Prix. The post-race decision to disqualify the Brit was overturned and his victory reinstated, pivoting the championship on its axis with the second half of the season still to run.

The other major change to the regulations at the Spanish GP would rid the sport of the tall airboxes that had become commonplace up and down the grid.

James Hunt, McLaren M23

James Hunt, McLaren M23
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Photo by: Sutton Images

The McLaren M23 featured the tall airbox in the opening three rounds of the championship.

James Hunt, McLaren M23

James Hunt, McLaren M23
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Photo by: Sutton Images

A shot of the M23 from the front reveals just how high these airboxes had become.

Niki Lauda, Ferrari 312T

Niki Lauda, Ferrari 312T
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Photo by: David Phipps

Likewise the Ferrari 312T that started the 1976 season sported the much taller airbox to take advantage of being able to get more air to the engine.

James Hunt, McLaren

James Hunt, McLaren
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Photo by: David Phipps

For the Spanish GP, for which the new rules were introduced, McLaren had opted to split its airbox into two L-shaped ducts mounted alongside the roll over structure.

Niki Lauda, Ferrari 312T2, leads James Hunt, McLaren M23 Ford

Niki Lauda, Ferrari 312T2, leads James Hunt, McLaren M23 Ford
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Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch

Lauda led from Hunt in the early phase of the Spanish GP, his Ferrari 312T2 ditching the tall airbox for elegant and extremely large NACA style ducts embedded within the cockpit fairing that would funnel air back to the engine.

McLaren M23B 1976 detailed overview

McLaren M23B 1976 detailed overview
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Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The cutaway reveals many details about the M23 including showing how the airflow taken in by the two new airbox inlets will feed the engine with a supply of fresh air.

Ferrari 312T 1976 detailed rear view

Ferrari 312T 1976 detailed rear view
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Photo by: Giorgio Piola

A cutaway of the 312T as used in the opening three races with its tall engine cover airbox.

Ferrari 312T2

Ferrari 312T2
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Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The 312T2 introduced for the Spanish GP did away with the tall airbox, utilising NACA-style ducts at the front of the cockpit fairing which would supply air to the engine.

Alastair Caldwell, McLaren Team Manager and Teddy Mayer, McLaren Team Owner

Alastair Caldwell, McLaren Team Manager and Teddy Mayer, McLaren Team Owner
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Photo by: Sutton Images

It might seem a little barbaric by modern standards, but in order to comply with the rules a mechanic is using a hacksaw here to cut a length off the metal rear wing endplate.

A mechanic works on the rear of the car of Jochen Mass, McLaren M23 Ford

A mechanic works on the rear of the car of Jochen Mass, McLaren M23 Ford
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Photo by: Motorsport Images

Leftfield: Experimental low mounted rear wings were installed on Jochen Mass’ car and tested for the Monaco GP but not raced.

Hunt would go on to win the drivers’ championship that year by just a single point from Lauda, who suffered life threatening injuries in a crash at the Nurburgring but, against all odds, returned to action just three races later at Ferrari’s home race at Monza.

Thanks to Giorgio Piola’s illustrations we’re able to break down the McLaren M23, chronicling a great deal of the car's makeup.

McLaren M23 top and side view

McLaren M23 top and side view

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

  1. Front wing support

  2. Battery

  3. Brake cylinders

  4. Front anti-roll bar

  5. Adjustable front wing

  6. Front brake ducts

  7. Nose support bracket

  8. Front suspension assembly

  9. Upper rocker arm attachment points 

  10. Lower triangle connections (two possible arrangements)

  11. Lower front suspension wishbone

  12. Steering assembly

  13. Lockheed brake calipers and ventilated discs

  14. Steering arm attachment on upright

  15. Upper suspension wishbone

  16. Steering arm

  17. Fire extinguisher control auxiliary battery

  18. Instrument panel support

  19. Front roll bar structure

  20. Detachable steering wheel

  21. Gear shifter

  22. Central fuel tank that creates the seats back

  23. 3kg and 5kg fire extinguishers

  24. Side tank with deformable structure

  25. Bib to help create ‘ground effect’

  26. Cockpit fairing attachment

  27. Central fuel tank

  28. Main roll structure

  29. Refueling cap

  30. Oil tank

  31. Medical air cylinder 

  32. Radiator protection net

  33. External fire extinguisher pull

  34. Water radiator

  35. Connection between passenger compartment and engine

  36. Oil cooler in regulatory position

  37. Ignition box

  38. Rear brake duct

  39. Air intake

  40. Rear shock absorber

  41. Starter motor (driven by compressed)

  42. Upper rear suspension support

  43. Lower rear suspension support

  44. Gearbox spacer flange

  45. Upright attachment point

  46. Frame for attaching the upper suspension rod and shock absorber assembly

  47. Adjustable top flange for camber variations

  48. Lower upright attachment point

  49. Rear anti-roll bar

  50. Hewland FG400 6 speed gearbox

  51. New wing support

  52. Connecting point for compressed air to engage starter motor

  53. Dashed line - the left shock absorber assembly

  54. Triangular wishbone, which is lighter than the parallel arms previously used

  55. Rear wing adjuster

  56. Rear light

  57. Rear wing support and oil recovery tank

  58. Lockheed brake caliper

  59. Pipework to recover oil from the tank

  60. Gearbox oil cooler

  61. Holes in the endplate to very the wings incidence

  62. The wing profile

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