Banned: McLaren’s rear brake pedal


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Of the dozens of technologies banned by F1’s governing body through the years, McLaren’s rear brake pedal stands out as one of the most unjust.

It was banned early in 1998 as McLaren made a stunningly dominant start to the year. Following a protest by Ferrari the system, that had previously been declared legal, was outlawed.

Many at the time suggested political motives were at work – and a desire to keep McLaren from getting too far ahead.

The 1997 Grand Prix of Luxembourg was held at the Nurburgring in Germany – a ruse to allow both Germany and Spain to have two Grands Prix – Spain also hosting the ‘European’ round.

It began well for McLaren with their two Mercedes cars leading ahead of the top brass from the German manufacturer. But it fell apart in the cruellest possible fashion when both David Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen’s cars ground to a halt on the start/finish line within a lap of each other.

Depressing as the spectacle was for Ron Dennis, he didn’t know things were about to get much worse. The cars stopped near photographer Darren Heath, who had been waiting for just such an opportunity.

He snuck over to Hakkinen’s car, thrust his camera deep into the footwell, and clicked the shutter repeatedly.

Foot operated clutches have been a thing of the past in Formula 1 for many years, so a drivers footwell typically only features an accelerator and brake. But Turner was expecting to see a third pedal when he had his roll of film developed – and that’s exactly what he found.

F1 Racing splashed the photographs all over their November edition – McLaren’s independent rear brake pedal had been rumbled mere weeks after it had first been pressed into service. The team had used it one week before the Nurburgring, at the A1-Ring, where sharp-eyed onlookers wondered why their cars’ rear brakes were glowing on the exit of some corners.

The pedal allowed the drivers to operate either of the rear brakes independently of the others. This gave them two additional means of controlling the car and improving the performance – by reducing either understeer or wheelspin depending on which wheel was braked and when.

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It was an ingenious system that in one respect didn’t add any new functionality to the car, merely a new way of operating its existing braking systems. Nonetheless Ron Dennis was furious to see it exposed after such a short time in service.

McLaren continued with the system in 1998 by which time they had leapt from front-of-midfielders to runaway championship leaders. Now their immediate rivals – chiefly Ferrari – protested the rear brake pedal on the grounds that it was primarily a steering system.

Although the system had previously been passed fit to race by Charlie Whiting the stewards at the Brazilian Grand Prix – the second round of 1998 – ruled against the rear brake pedal.

It was unsavoury to see a perfectly valid system banned on such a dubious technicality when it had been declared legal on other previous occasions. But it was not the first nor the last time that it happened.

It did not stop McLaren from running away with the Brazilian Grand Prix – or from winning both championships that year.


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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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14 comments on “Banned: McLaren’s rear brake pedal”

  1. Actually, independent, manually controlled braking is a good idea! I agree that this one’s unjust.

    And I thought the idea of manually controllable brake bias was something only motorcycles can accomplish…

  2. TWO brake pedals, steering assist? Am I the only race driver to have also driven a FARM TRACTOR? Yes, farm tractors have separate (left and right) braking, lock the left brake, steer left and you’ll do a very sharp U-turn. Technology, isn’t it great?

  3. Yet another example of the FIA trying to rig the world championship in Ferrari’s favour.

  4. I’m sorry, but that is a form of Traction Control, which was banned at the time, so I fail to see how it’s unjust. You just know all the McLaren would have been up in arms if any other team such as Williams or Ferrari had been running this kind of setup.
    A good idea, maybe, but as usual with McLaren, outside the rules (still very dubious about the FDuct, but at least they’re not lapping everyone else because of it). Typical Ron Dennis BS really. I see McLaren are allowed to cheat and dominate, as long as no-one else is eh? (see Red Bull now, people moan because they’re becoming dominant while daring to not be a british team, how very dare they! )

    The article is incorrect, or at least this bit is; “It was an ingenious system that in one respect didn’t add any new functionality to the car” yeah, doesn’t traction control count then? making the car go faster so much that both cars lap everyone else not enough ‘new functionality’? McLaren are just as big a bunch of cheats as Ferrari ever were…

    1. This is a driver controlled version of traction control (their feet, which is te only traction controll they should need). It was in no way a version of traction control that was at all effected by the ban. Going by what you said, drivers should be banned from using their right foot as feathering the throttle is a version of traction control.

      1. Feathering aint technology. A pedal brake used to steer is a steering device. Even Mclaren calls it brake steer. And how hard would it be to copy it? Please…

        1. Going by that logic then we should ban racers from using the trail braking technique. It helps the car turn in right? Guess its a steering system.

          The brakes don’t steer the car, they transfer load. Independently controlling the brakes is just clever.

          1. Trail braking is a combination of braking and steering where the load of the car is controlled by both. When I’ve said “A pedal brake used to steer is a steering device” I meant the delta between the two brake pedals. Imagine the steering wheel locked at a certain angle. Changing brake bias in a corner will steer the car. Applying brakes or throttle will too but that’s how I think everyone should drive. It’s adding something other than talent, that extra pedal. It’s clever indeed but for me that’s too far and again for some reason they call it brake steer.

            But this is what’s so cool about formula 1. There’s is little room for big innovations and somehow those guys manage to do just that. The hard thing is to judge when it’s too far.

  5. LOL @ Tone. Another typicle Ferrari fan :P.

  6. Franz,

    I understand the point of “steering” with the brake pedal but my argument is that it was a clever innovation and should have been allowed. As you say, modulating both brakes and throttle will “steer” the car midcorner, regardless of whether the brakes are indivdually controlled or not.

    We often hear people complain about new technology and electronics which make driving the car easier. In this case, it is an increased demand on the driver(operating two brake pedals) which results in a performance increase, seems like a win-win.

    Not to mention drivers already have adjustable brake bias. Admiteddly I don’t think they change the bias mid corner but the idea of controlling the bias is there.

    This system is in essence an infinitely variable brake bias. Not something I see as cheating the rules. It is the driver using skill and modulating pedals in order to adjust the yaw rate of the car. The same thing is accomplished with one brake pedal, but there is just less control exercised. As far as pushing the rules in F1, I really think this doesn’t. Compared to exhaust blwon diffusers this one is quite straightforward. I guess that is where we disagree.

    Its just too bad that the FIA continually bans new and innovative ideas. To me F1 is as much, if not moreso, about the technology involved. That is why I love it. To see good novel, simple ideas such as this banned is disheartening. This was really a great idea. Extremely simple, extremely effective.

  7. I agree, it would be much better if the best most innovative car and driver won, far too many teams complain if their own car can’t hack it.
    They should shut up and get on with designing a faster car, not whine about the cars that win more.

  8. How about redeveloping it, making it fit the current regulations.
    Hand operated, a paddle on the steering wheel, something very Honda like !!!!
    The concept originally passed inspection
    It is a great concept – and will stop Mercedes running away again !!!!

  9. I thought this idea was really good. It brought a smile to my face.

  10. Rear brake pedal….steering assist. Sure FIA, sure.

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