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The interim F1 McLaren that unexpectedly challenged Ferrari

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For 2-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner and long-time Method 1 tester Alex Wurz, the query of selecting a favorite racing automobile isn’t dictated by whether or not he raced or examined it. As an alternative, it’s one thing somewhat extra easy that’s behind the Grand Prix Drivers’ Affiliation president’s choose of the McLaren MP4-17D, a machine that narrowly missed out on the F1 world championship in 2003 with Kimi Raikkonen.

“I solely suppose, ‘I’m driving it to its limits in any situation’ – empty [tanks], gentle, alone, in opposition to opponents,” Wurz says. “And the 17D was simply probably the most balanced and joyful and really quick automobile to drive.”

The unique MP4-17 appeared in 2002, the place it together with the remainder of the sphere was blown away by Ferrari’s F2002. The primary automobile to outcome from the matrix construction carried out by Martin Whitmarsh following Adrian Newey’s near-defection to Jaguar the earlier 12 months is described in Newey’s Tips on how to construct a automobile autobiography as “a little bit of a careless design, definitely not one in all my greatest” with victory at Monaco with David Coulthard its sole noteworthy outcome. There was little to point that McLaren would mount a convincing title problem with an developed model of the identical automobile in 2003.

Certainly, McLaren believed {that a} large step was wanted to problem Ferrari and so threw its weight behind Newey’s “bold” all-new MP4-18. However though its wind tunnel figures had been promising, the notorious machine proved aerodynamically unstable in testing in addition to being beset by extreme engine vibrations and cooling points. Such had been its issues that the automobile was by no means deemed sufficiently sorted to race, as McLaren as an alternative endured with the 17D all through the 2003 marketing campaign.

Wurz, who had joined McLaren as a tester for the 2001 season after shedding his seat at Benetton, had a hefty shunt aboard the MP4-18 at Jerez and says it was “the precise reverse” of what made the 17D so particular.

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“It was absolutely the least favorite,” he displays of a automobile that shaped the idea of the uncompetitive 2004 MP4-19A, “in truth the 18 with a distinct badge” in response to Newey.

“I’ve respect of velocity and I had shunts in my life, however I used to be by no means actually scared. However the 18 I used to be scared, as a result of issues simply stored breaking and also you had large shunts.”

The MP4-17’s successor by no means lived as much as expectations, forcing McLaren to revert to an up to date model of the {old} automobile for 2003

Photograph by: Lorenzo Bellanca / Motorsport Images

Within the information that the brand new automobile wouldn’t be prepared for the beginning of the season, McLaren had up to date the prevailing MP4-17 to nice impact with a brand new entrance suspension bundle, revisions to the aerodynamics and gearbox enhancements. It was a automobile through which Wurz felt completely at residence.

“The 17D was a automobile which was the extension of myself,” he says. “Regardless which circuit and regardless which circumstances, it at all times did what the mind needed it to.

“I couldn’t wait to drive it as a result of I knew from the out-lap of learn how to slide it, of learn how to not slide it, of learn how to appropriate it, quick, gradual corners. It didn’t matter if it was raining, aquaplaning, it felt just like the extension of myself at nearly each observe.”

Outcomes got here shortly on grands prix weekends too because it received each of the primary two races of 2003. Coulthard inherited victory within the Australia season opener following a spin for Juan Pablo Montoya’s Williams, earlier than Raikkonen broke his duck in Malaysia by a whopping 39s.

“We have now finished so many lap information in testing with this automobile and I used to be so proud as a result of I used to be basic within the growth of this automobile” Alex Wurz

Both of them may have received in Brazil – Coulthard probably would have finished had the race run its course as he made a scheduled cease from the lead shortly earlier than the pink flag, whereas Raikkonen was initially credited with victory regardless of shedding the lead with a minor slip to Giancarlo Fisichella earlier than his Jordan group received its protest.

A weaker than anticipated begin to the season from Ferrari maestro Michael Schumacher meant that Raikkonen headed the factors when the circus descended on Montreal for spherical seven. Whitmarsh would later admit that work on the flawed MP4-18 within the opening third of the season had detracted from the MP4-17D’s ongoing growth, which wanted to select up if Raikkonen’s championship problem in opposition to Schumacher and Montoya was to be sustained.

And this did the trick, as Raikkonen remained within the hunt till the ultimate spherical and ended up simply two factors shy of Schumacher regardless of twice having to start out from the again with errors within the new one-shot qualifying – he recovered to sixth in Canada after a sudden delamination on the lengthy again straight, however was out when he was unable to keep away from the stalled Jaguar of Antonio Pizzonia in Spain – and shedding a doable win in Melbourne to a pitlane rushing penalty.

Raikkonen missed out on the 2003 F1 world title by two points with the McLaren MP4/17D

Raikkonen missed out on the 2003 F1 world title by two factors with the McLaren MP4/17D

Photograph by: Andre Vor / Sutton Photos

One other went begging on the Nurburgring, the place Raikkonen led till his Mercedes engine let go. Newey cites this as a vital consider McLaren’s defeat in his guide and places it all the way down to the technical director of Mercedes’ engine builder Ilmor, Mario Ilien, being “fully overstretched” following the loss of life of accomplice and managing director Paul Morgan in an plane accident.

“The engines suffered consequently, with our efficiency slipping beneath Ferrari’s and BMW’s,” Newey wrote. “Worse nonetheless, reliability grew to become much more of a difficulty.”

This tallies with Wurz’s recollection: “They ran out of spare components for the engines of the 17D,” he says.

Nonetheless, the Austrian has fond reminiscences of his time as a part of the McLaren testing set-up and isn’t bitter that he by no means received to reap the rewards of his work on the 17D for himself.

“We examined each week,” says Wurz, who scored his first F1 podium since Silverstone 1997 in his one and solely race for McLaren at Imola in 2005 when he subbed for the group’s injured new signing Montoya. “We’ve been throughout Europe, even exterior Europe at some checks.

“We have now finished so many lap information in testing with this automobile and I used to be so proud as a result of I used to be basic within the growth of this automobile. And it was actually my favorite automobile by a good distance.”

Certainly, the MP4-20 he raced to fourth on the highway at Imola – previous to Jenson Button’s disqualification from third upon the invention of his BAR’s unlawful secondary gasoline tank by scrutineers – was one other McLaren to problem for the title as Raikkonen finally misplaced out to Renault’s Fernando Alonso. However to Wurz, it wasn’t in the identical league because the MP4-17D.

“It was a good automobile, however it nonetheless had its flaws by way of set-up,“ Wurz says of the MP4-20. “It was temperamental at some circuits; when tyre temperatures had been chilly it didn’t swap the tyres on properly. There have been objects which had been respectable, however not as excellent because the 17D.”

Wurz felt the MP4-20 came close to matching the MP4-17D in his all-time list

Wurz felt the MP4-20 got here near matching the MP4-17D in his all-time checklist

Photograph by: LAT Photographic

The one automobile that comes shut, he reckons, was the Peugeot 908 LMP1 automobile with which he received Le Mans for a second time in 2009, 13 years after his breakthrough as a rookie in 1996. Having carried out intensive tyre testing with Michelin, Wurz says “the automobile and tyre was like one”. It helped too that “the Michelin driving fashion is totally suited to my pure driving fashion”.

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“I say the Peugeot earlier than the Toyota [TS040] of 2014 as a result of we received with the automobile,” he says of a race he was denied by {an electrical} drawback associated to a melted wiring loom. “With the Toyota I bear in mind Le Mans in ’14 after I began the race and constructed up the lead super-fast as a result of that day the stability was simply immaculate. And a mega automobile to drive.

“However I’ll point out the Peugeot as a result of ultimately we received the race with it and it was once more simply an extension of [me]. No matter I needed to do, it did. However not as beautiful because the 17D.”

Peugeot's 908 LMP1 just misses out as Wurz's favourite ever race car

Peugeot’s 908 LMP1 simply misses out as Wurz’s favorite ever race automobile

Photograph by: Edd Hartley

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