On this day in F1: 15 February

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On this day in F1 is brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler: Bart De Pauw

– Presentation of the McLaren MP4/8

– Birth of Alexander Wurz

1993: One month before the start of the season in South Africa, McLaren finally unveiled the MP 4/8 which was its first title contender after the team’s most successful partnership with Honda that over the course of the past 5 seasons had resulted in 4 WDC’s and 4 WCC’s. The decision making process whereby the Japanese V12s were replaced with a Ford Cosworth V8 engine took Ron Dennis a lot longer than anticipated as he failed to realize his original plan which was to takeover Guy Ligier’s team in order to incorporate its Renault engines, and therefore the design work for the new 1993 car could only start in December 1992 which was three months behind schedule.

This backlog wasn’t much of a worry for Senna who was enjoying his customary off-season holiday in Brazil and anyhow casted a lot of doubt on whether or not he would be staying with McLaren and in F1 for the 1993 season, but it did lead to a lot of frustration for the team’s new second driver and 1991 IndyCar champion Michael Andretti who could test the old Honda-powered MP 4/7 until the very end of 1992 but who was then left twiddling his thumbs for six weeks until designer Neil Oatley and his team finally presented the newborn MP 4/8 on 15 February 1993. To make things even worse for Andretti, a last minute rule change shortened free practice sessions from 90 to 45 minutes while qualifying sessions were trimmed by 15 minutes to 45 minutes, thus significantly limiting the number of laps to familiarize himself with the car and the new circuits.

Andretti’s F1 career would turn out to be a complete disaster and after only 13 grand prix he was forced to hand over the steer of his MP 4/8 to Mika Häkkinen. Meanwhile Senna decided against an IndyCar career despite testing for Penske and the Brazilian also declined a Ferrari contract that was offered to him in the person of Niki Lauda. Instead he reluctantly started the season for McLaren, albeit on a lucrative race-by-race deal as the team wasn’t willing to pay the requested salary to benefit from Senna’s services for the whole season. But for all that Senna still managed to pull out 5 wins in the breathless MP 4/8 before leaving to Williams at the end of the 1993 season.

In this video a doomed Andretti and a very young Häkkinen are doing their best to find some positives after the MP 4/8’s first laps around a rainy Silverstone circuit:

But not a lot of positives left when a couple of months later Andretti reflects on his short F1 career:

1974: Alexander Wurz is born. Wurz is an Austrian racing driver that participated in F1 races between 1997 and 2007. He is also the youngest ever winner of the LeMans 24 hours.

Wurz made his F1 debut for Benetton in the 1997 Canadian Grand Prix after his countryman and the team’s first driver Gerhard Berger was sidelined for thee consecutive grand prix following a troublesome sinus infection. Wurz suffered a transmission failure in Montreal and spun off in his second grand prix at the French Magny-Court circuit after having beaten his Benetton teammate Jean Alesi in qualifying, but he did finish an impressive third in his third and final appearance in the B197 during the British Grand Prix and this result yielded him a full time Benetton race seat for the 1998 season. The team made the right call though to recover Berger for the following German Grand Prix as the Austrian veteran marked his return from the three-race break during which he had also lost his farther in an aircraft accident in the best possible way by scoring the final victory of his long career.

Wurz stayed with Benetton for three years but during this period couldn’t repeat his earlier podium finish. His most impressive drive came at the 1998 Monaco Grand Prix where after a great start from sixth he was running second ahead of Michael Schumacher when the German tried an aggressive overtake but Wurz refused to back down as a result of which the two drivers banged wheels. Schumacher was forced into a pit stop for a long-lasting repair of his rear suspension which saw him jump first out and then back into the car upon instruction of Ross Brawn, while Wurz retired a couple of laps later with a similar suspension issue.

Video: Wurz and Schumacher colliding during the 1998 Monaco Grand Prix

After his Benetton years Wurz became a reserve and test driver for McLaren. During this period he was regularly linked to an actual racing seat at various teams including Jaguar (2003) and RedBullRacing (2005), but McLaren kept the Austrian to his contract. In 2005 Wurz stepped in for a shoulder-injured Juan Pablo Montoya at the San Marino Grand Prix and finished the race in forth, but following the disqualification of third-ended Jenson Button and his underweighted BAR, Wurz was promoted to third and so after 128 races and almost 8 years he finally repeated his first podium finish. Until today this makes him the driver with the biggest gap between two F1 podiums.

At the end of 2005 Wurz left McLaren to sign another reserve and test driver contract for Williams, and following Mark Webber’s lingering to sign a shrunken renewal contract the team promoted him to a race seat for the 2007 season. Exactly 10 years after his F1 debut Wurz scored his third and final podium after a drive through the field from 19th to 3th at the Canadian grand prix. However, as the 2007 season progressed Wurz’ form was slumping and after the penultimate Chinese Grand Prix he announced his immediate retirement from F1: “I have always maintained that if you have a moment’s doubt about what you are doing, then it is time to stop. Privately I began to have these thoughts earlier this year and so have decided that now is the time to make my announcement.”. Wurz, who in line with his liking for things in threefold had just become a father for the third time, did not race in the 2007 season finale in Brazil but he did continue his career as an F1 test driver for one more year at Honda F1.

Video: 20 years Alexander Wurz

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10 responses to “On this day in F1: 15 February

  1. Nice to hear an F1 driver being honest. Seems like he had some fair reasons for struggling early on. Drivers today get 6 days testing, not just a day and a bit.

  2. Thanks for this Bart, I really enjoy these trips down memory lane (or in my case learning about the past). Never knew the MP4/8 was such a bad car. That was when I only just started following F1 and it was not often that you saw the races on TV in South Africa.

  3. To be honest I was not keen on Michael Andretti in F1, he never looked like he had done any training, rather more like he had just eaten a few Big Macs and I can vouch for what they do to your figure. He never really seemed to be in control of the car. But hen he had come from a completely different sport weight wise. Similarly the unfortunately named Scot Speed suffered with the much lighter cars. Though our Noige seemed to manage with theirs ok.
    Michael however did manage to take SCH out so he was not all bad. 🙂

    Alex Wurz has been far more successful since he left F1 as a driver. All the parts of the vids I picked were in German and thanks to our sad educational system I can speak more Dutch than German. When I was at Philips and visiting Eindhoven regularly, I learned Dutch for two weeks courtesy of Mr Hugo, whose book promised to teach it to me in three months. (he is still waiting) But of course everyone in Holland speaks English (under the age of 80)

    • Andretti also refused to move over to Europe which at that time was still pretty much the center of F1 racing, so the constant travel was probably another reason why things didn’t work out for him.

    • It’s horrible, but I think learning any Dutch as a English speaker seems like a futile gesture, considering how natural they are at English. I’ve a huge soft spot for Antwerp. In history, one of the most significant of trading cities. If you head out for simple food and a beer, chances are you get speaking with any variety of merchant mariner and have a laugh.

      All except the Irish bar by the main square, by the Cathedral, where I visited one St. Patrick’s day hoping for a decent Guinness and was greeted with a raucus eff off in drunken chorus, obviously on a round the clock lock – in. Hmm, okay, Nenagh Tipperary my mom’s origin, I’m pale and have red hair. (rather had red hair as a boy) so F them back, is what I said.

      I have a theory: everyone breeds with the Dutch (or possible other people farther north along those coasts) : fairly quick end to all wars.

      • JoJ, you have to let me know next time you plan to visit that Irish pub, it about a 10 minutes drive for me so will be very happy to join you then!:-)

    • I didn’t have to play that ‘tube of Alex Wurtz and Schumi, remember it well enough. Used to yell at the screen back then, well, sometimes, MS was for the first time driving for his life, about then, and being entertaining, long before he bored me to tears, and I bet many others, until they lost interest.

      I distinctly remember Wurtz was really rated, and at least I had the impression he was the coming man. Another casualty of the Flav? Or a flaw not a flav stymied him? Not every reason was because he was too tall. . .

      • Wurz probably made the mistake to go to McLaren where they always preach equal treatment but where they rarely put two drivers in the car that in their upfront assessment are equally good. It’s just another way to avoid the ‘X is faster than you’ type of messages but I guess Ron Dennis didn’t want Hakkinen or Raikkonen having to deal with a troublesome teammate…

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