McLaren MP4-13: McLaren’s last constructors’ title-winner

2012 Goodwood Festival of Speed

Posted on

| Written by

If recent experience has taught us anything, it’s that the combination of a change in the aerodynamic rules offers the perfect chance for a designer of Adrian Newey’s calibre to create a truly exceptional machine.

His Red Bull RB5 hit the sweet spot in 2009 (double diffuser notwithstanding) and its successors have been the benchmark in F1 ever since.

So it was with Newey’s first creation for McLaren in 1998. Having left Williams and been placed on ‘gardening leave’ he had plenty of time to contemplate F1’s change to narrower cars and grooved tyres.

In defiance of superstition, his creation was dubbed the MP4-13. McLaren made sure science trumped irrationality by investing 12,000 man-hours into clawing back the downforce taken away by the rules change.

The MP4-13 was a classically undramatic but hugely effective Newey creation. Its most famous gizmo – a third pedal in the driver’s footwell which allowed either of the rear brakes to be independently controlled – was not new: it had already been raced on the 1997 car.

So the team were somewhat surprised when it was banned after Ferrari protested it prior to the second race of the season in Brazil. It didn’t take a cynic to surmise that McLaren’s crushing dominance in the season-opener at Melbourne might have had something to do with it.

Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard won by a lap, despite Hakkinen accidentally pulling into the pits when he didn’t need to. Coulthard inherited the lead due to Hakkinen’s blunder and, in a move he later regretted, backed off and let his team mate re-pass him.

Despite the banning of what McLaren called its asymmetric braking system, Hakkinen and Coulthard finished one-two at Interlagos by a minute.

One year on from the team’s first win with Mercedes power, the FO110G V10 was a match for anything the opposition could muster. The McLarens blasted through the speed trap at the old, high-speed Hockenheim at up to 356kph (221mph).

McLaren’s 1998 success was also owed to a well-timed switch from Goodyear to Bridgestone tyres. The American company was dissatisfied with the FIA’s imposition of grooves in the tread the reduce cornering speeds and abandoned the sport at the end of the year.

But they did respond to Bridgestone’s dominant start to the season, supplying wider front tyres for the third race which brought McLaren’s rivals Ferrari into the hunt. This began a season-long contest for the drivers’ championship fought out between Hakkinen and Michael Schumacher.

With two races to go, the pair were tied on points. Hakkinen produced a superb performance at the Nurburgring to win having been behind the two Ferraris.

At Suzuka – a Newey track if ever there was one, just ask Sebastian Vettel – Hakkinen led every lap from pole position to win and deliver the world championship.

McLaren also clinched the constructors’ championship, a feat which, remarkably, they have not repeated since.

Nick Heidfeld’s Goodwood Festival of Speed record in the McLaren MP4-13

The McLaren MP4-13 has a special place in the history of the Goodwood Festival of Speed for two reasons. It set the record time for climbing the hill and brought an end to F1 cars competing in the hillclimb.

In 1999 the team’s 22-year-old test driver Nick Heidfeld was tasked with taking the car up the hill. As he pulled up at the start gantry McLaren’s Martin Whitmarsh leant into the cockpit and told him, “be careful, don’t do anything silly… but just make sure you’re quickest.”

He certainly got the last part right: 41.6 seconds later Heidfeld was at the top of the hill, having ascended it at an average speed of more than 160kph (100mph):

Whitmarsh watched Heidfeld’s blistering run wide-eyed: “I realised how irresponsible I’d just been,” he said later.

After that he went to see Lord March, the event organiser, and suggested that perhaps it was too dangerous for F1 cars to attempt the hill flat-out. Since then, they haven’t – at least, not officially…

Goodwood Festival of Speed

Browse all Goodwood Festival of Speed articles

Images © F1 Fanatic except Hakkinen image © Bridgestone

Author information

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...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

38 comments on “McLaren MP4-13: McLaren’s last constructors’ title-winner”

  1. Good to see Nick again.

    1. agreed, and if i remember correctly, bbc coverage showed him in the middle of a group of Ferrari crewmen in Valencia. maybe if Ferrari would lose patience with Massa…

      1. Yes, you are right. He was at Valencia (strangely) but who knows, something might be cooking.

        1. I’d still be a bit annoyed if I were Heidfeld. Knowing I was the driver a team goes to when they haven’t got a real choice.

          1. I see your point with it, but it’s still better to be the first choice among “the rest”, than being fully excluded from this very finance-based driver selection. On the other hand, I’d still be a bit annoyed if I were Heidfeld, knowing that I always perform on a very high level, but I always get pushed out to make way for sponsorship money flowing in with another driver in the seat.

            But honestly, if Massa would be replaced by someone during this season, Ferrari won’t bring in Bianchi for sure, won’t take its hands on Perez too early, Alguersuari is rather inexperienced, Trulli and Barrichello are over their finest days, Heidfeld would be the ideal choice, a real (and real fast) workhorse next to Alonso could help them climbing up in the constructors championship.

        2. @neelv27 Heidfeld was in Valencia because he was working with Sky Sports that weekend.

          1. hmmm didn’t knew that. Has SKY started to get a former F1 driver every race weekend? It was JV in Canada and now NH?

          2. Just until Anthony Davidson is fit again, I guess.
            Good news from him a couple of days ago –

            2 weeks since the crash and progress going well. On my feet most of the day & the rehab starts Mon. Now confident of a full recovery!

          3. Looks as if Sky try getting in a fresh ex-F1 guy in for each race, a nice touch.

      2. He was reporting for Sky, plus I tihnk he’s tied up with the Le Mans series now anyway, and seems happy enough to stay there.

  2. It’s a shame that the car looks silly with the blank white space on the side, I wonder why they didn’t put “Nick” on there in the style of the West writing, in the way that they used to in the early events where tobacco sponsorship was used?

  3. F1fanGoodyear
    30th June 2012, 18:28

    Has anyone done it quicker unofficially?

    1. Drop Valencia!
      1st July 2012, 2:19

      Mcnish Toyota F1 maybe, but they are untimed now and it was about the same time…

  4. The looks of 2012 cars pales in comparison with this ’98 McLaren.

    1. yep one of my favourites love that era the cars were sliding everywhere and looked like fierce machines, one thing about the arcticle i must disagree is about the MP4-13 dominance, i think the biggest factor in terms of performance was the well timed move for the bridgestone, in 1998 we saw a very interesting season cause the lower grade teams went for the new tyre and suddendly they were closer than expected from the top teams especially before the new wider front tyre.

  5. ***I Love These sounds. Much Much better than today´s F1 car.***

    1. One of the best looking and sounding videos of all time! Its just nuts how quick that thing is! And god I miss those V10’s! :(
      That’s also how an F1 car should look!

      1. Must Agree

  6. I always wondered what “up the hill” meant in Goodwood terms, so thanks for the video, which was completely insane! That looked very dangerous for both the driver and the spectators. Still, since nothing bad happened, I quite like the Whitmarsh anecdote, and the fact that Heidfeld’s priority seemed to be to ensure that he got being fastest part right.

    1. It’s great to see a modern Formula 1 car in these old-school surroundings. Didn’t Heidfeld also take the BMW Sauber round the full Nurburgring in 2006? He should do Macau next…

  7. The 1998 season was my first season watching Formula 1. 6 Year old me was a die-hard Schumacher fan, and so this car represented the enemy, a fearsome enemy at that. I thought it looked ugly compared to the Ferraris. The car has definitely grown on me since then – it still looks not quite right in its proportions, as all cars of new regulations tend to, but it still looks better than today’s cars, and God does it sound good.

    For me, the 1998 season was one of the last ones before F1 cars became too precise in their construction and execution. The cars were more wild and unpredictable – they broke down and drove more raggedly, especially on the silly grooved tires. It wasn’t long before traction control and later, the V8 engines, took more of that away. Although the racing these days is more unpredictable than ever, the cars have lost some of their scary and unpredictable edge, and I miss that.

  8. At Suzuka – a Newey track if ever there was one, just ask Sebastian Vettel – Hakkinen led every lap from pole position to win and deliver the world championship.

    That’s slightly twisting history…

    1. @cduk_mugello As you haven’t explained what you’re objecting to I can only guess at what it is.

      Suffice it to say that nothing here has been “twisted”; the details of Michael Schumacher’s misfortune in that particular race have been omitted but as this is an article about the mp4-13 I don’t think that’s unreasonable.

      1. @keithcollantine

        Yeah all I meant was the pole position thing, given that he didn’t actually start from pole position. I guess it depends how you depends how you classify it (goes back to the Schu-Monaco thing again). If Hakkinen started Japan 98 from pole, then Hill started France 96 from pole and Schumacher likewise in Indy 2005.

        Not having a go, wasn’t looking for an argument, just though it worth pointing in out. That’s why I said slightly twisting it. It’s not a massive deal eh.

    2. @cduk_mugello @keithcollantine Well seeing as Newey’s cars won the 92, 94, 96, 98, 99, 2005, 2009 AND 2010 races at Suzuka…I think it’s safe to say he’s got a good record round the place! ;)

  9. Rather ironic considering how Heidfeld’s career would later develop…

  10. That is on BRICK of a laptop on the side!

  11. McLaren are like the Tim Henman of Formula 1…. Brilliant at almost winning…

  12. I see the modern day McLaren team have been issued with the car. Haven’t put the wheels on.

  13. Marcus (@jadedwriter)
    1st July 2012, 1:09

    My god that is one demonic sounding engine. They should still be racing with those.

    1. Yeah

  14. The more years I watch F1, the better I understand the appeal of its history as memories about racing mix with the personal ones. 1998 was the second F1 season that I experienced as a fan. I was a 14-year old boy finding it hard to come to terms with the life both in my school and outside of it. I had no access to the internet, almost no money for F1 books or fan articles and going to a Grand Prix was a seemingly utopian dream then. I knew nothing about aerodynamics, tyre wear and the political games. Still, I watched every Grand Prix (one of the local TV stations luckily broadcast all of them live) and bought the sports newspaper that was printed in black-and-white but contained an extended race report every Tuesday after the race. I was extremely happy to get a couple of F1 magazines in German even though I didn’t understand much of the language then. I had a small poster of Schumaher (that’s how a local teen magazine had spelled it) on my wall, drew F1-related things in my exercise books and even organised a predictions championship in my class. Looking back, I can conclude that my understanding of the sport and access to it might have changed quite a lot just like my life since then but the passion itself has actually remained absolutely the same as it was in 1998.

    1. COTD for me

      1. Thank you a lot for the appreciation, @DanBrown180 . The opportunity to share my memories & thoughts with fellow F1 fans from the whole wide world here is actually worth more than the COTD awards :)

  15. White is so dull. Very glad they went for the chrome effect, it really makes them stand out.

  16. Attractive section of content. I just stumbled upon your web site and in accession capital to assert that I get actually enjoyed account your blog posts.
    Anyway I’ll be subscribing to your feeds and even I achievement you access consistently rapidly.

  17. What a beautiful, fantastic machine. Its simplicity, its ferocity are a joy to behold.

  18. Look at the age of the computers required to get that McLaren going!! What are they going to do 20 years from now when those ancient laptops are long since knackered? Its my fear for todays cars that 20 years from now they’ll be static museum pieces as the computers and software required to run them will be long gone.

Comments are closed.