Wednesday, 12 June 2013

McLaren M23 Owners' Workshop Manual - Haynes Goes F1

Back in the 1970's there were two great Formula One cars;  the Lotus 72 and following it, this - the McLaren M23.

The release of this Haynes Owners Workshop Manual might initially seem a bit strange however it all makes sense when you appreciate that this year will see the arrival in cinemas of Ron Howard's Rush! which tells the story of the epic battle for the 1976 World Drivers' Championship between Niki Lauda and James Hunt.
Of the Haynes Manuals I've attacked in the last few months this is certainly the most technical and, strangely, the first one that deals with a real world, physical object.

The McLaren M23 brought the now Woking-based Formula One team two world drivers’ championships in 1974 and 1976 at the hands of Emerson Fittipaldi and James Hunt respectively but far from being a book that focuses solely on these two events, Haynes have produced a book which examines every aspect of the car from its design, through its racing career and to where the various chassis’ are today.

A Formula One fan but not being overly technical there were some aspects here that totally overwhelmed me within this Owners’ Workshop Manual especially when it came to discussing brakes, construction and the minutiae of the Cosworth engine which powered the car. Fortunately that section is not a huge chunk of the book and the remainder, for someone more interested in the historical detail of the sport and the McLaren team, is a snapshot of one period in the team’s history as it began to grow into one of the biggest and most renowned teams in the global sport.

Memorabilia is plentiful as well throughout whether it’s racing notes, paddock passes, sections of bodywork or James Hunt’s steering wheel from Japan ’76, you’ll find it in here and kudos to Haynes for making sure that all the people behind the scenes and the bits they’ve collected are given just as much page space as the men who drove them to multiple wins and championships. No longer are they the unsung heroes of F1 as the M23 Manual puts them firmly in the picture in whatever role they acted.

Courtesy of Haynes
The opening section – as the book is separated into seven distinct segments book-ended by Introduction, Epilogue, appendices and indices – covers the story of the company under the guidance of both Bruce McLaren and later Ron Dennis before turning attention to the M23 project. Documenting the classic F1 car from drawing board with insights from those involved, the story illustrates to how its success paved the way for a series of world champions to pass through the doors of McLaren from the 1970’s right up to the present day and 2008 winner Lewis Hamilton.

. What the book makes very apparent is the longevity of the M23 and the 14 chassis that were produced in the 1970’s. Indeed, it’s story is stuff of legend not only for the fact of the 1976 season but also as it provided the first F1 drives for both Gilles Villeneuve and Nelson Piquet later in its competitive life.  Not only that but we get to understand how and why there were three M23s racing on the grid at one time due to deals with major sponsors Marlboro and Yardley. In every way Haynes have covered all angles of the story, not just examining the more intricate mechanical details that they may be better known for in the past on these “real world” vehicles.

Today a car might last a season or at the most a season and a few races at the beginning of the following championship but here was a car that lasted through at least four campaigns and some of its number were raced abroad after that, even fairly recently. The hundreds of people who can be seen around the pits today is a huge leap from the 20 or 30 individuals who made up the entire team when the M23 took to the track in anger. CADCAM and many other design, building and testing processes were probably not even a thought of a possibility and here we see how the team knew all aspects of their car inside and out.

Indeed, its 40 years since this car was racing but the level of information recalled and documented here is impressive. For those technically minded the breakdown of the car and its workings is a real eye-opener and I would suspect that this would be a wonderful reading companion against Haynes other F1 based publications the contemporary Lotus 72 and the recent championship winner the Red Bull RB7.  What the latter of those books would certainly not provide you with is such an amazing history lesson of this era and the life stories of the cars especially after they had competed in Formula One. For me this was the highlight of the production as we are led through each of the chassis’ lifetime and where they are now. Incredibly only M23/7 does not survive as it was used for training at Brands Hatch but all the others are still around and in use in some form or another. Accompanying them and the rest of the book are a wealth of pictures covering the entire history of the car, the places variants ended up in and the bizarre guises some chassis’ took on over the year, most notably the Can-Am bodykit fitted to M23/2 for racing abroad.
In fact the anecdotes from former drivers such as Jody Sheckter, Jochen Mass and Emerson Fittipaldi really lift this book as do the contributions from engineers who worked on the permutations of this classic F1 car. The real loss here is that due to his sudden death while in his 40’s we miss the chance to hear James Hunt’s thoughts on the car that took him to championship glory in a wet Japan.  The ownership story of the car doesn’t stop there though as Haynes have researched and spoken to collectors as well as privateers who restored, showed and raced them over the years following. To use a bit of a clich√© there really is no wheelbearing left unscrewed. In fact that’s another key area with this book. Not only does it detail the afterlives of the cars but how they are looked after, what they do now and how they are restored to their original condition.
Their insights into driving and maintaining the M23 then and now mean you get a feel of how special and unique this car was. Even in its later F1 career it took on and beat the Ferrari 312T2 of Niki Lauda (circumstances mitigating) for the 1976 championship.  Probably more so than Fittipaldi’s championship in 1974 the car is remembered for that legendary year even though it was probably not the best car in the field having been around for some time.

Diagrammatically this is not a book that you will be pouring over if you like a cutaway diagram or a keyed picture as they are very few and far between; the illustration on the cover itself marking the only dissected picture in the whole volume. This doesn’t in any way detract from the superb content but might leave those people who collect the more unusual manuals a little wanting in its illustrative areas. In all honesty this feels like a real nitpick as the M23 Owners’ Workshop Manual is a labour of love and by getting fully ingrained with the car you get the real sense of how important it was for not only the people who built it, drove it and have cared for them since but to McLaren, F1 and motorsport history. In fact so much so that I would now happily go and find a copy of Haynes’ Lotus 72 book and demolish that in a couple of days.
The relevance of the book today is of course is that Ron Howard’s Rush! is about to hit cinemas and here there is a section dedicated to the production as well as photos from the set of the movie which was shot with original cars as well as replicas and the involvement of people who were part of the M23 story during that 1976 season.  Some of these photos may not be available anywhere else so it’s almost as if we’re getting a bit of a sneak preview and comparing the replicas to the originals you would really be pushed to find any way of telling them apart on the surface. As a teaser to this motion picture this just gives enough while keeping it in the context of the events featured here.
This would make a wonderful addition to any F1 fan’s library. Older fans would maybe take this as a sweet nite of nostalgia while newer fans might revel in the dangers and anecdotes of the sport that are plentiful throughout the pages here. While the M23 is held in high esteem it was still a very, very dangerous era in which to race as some of the recollections within the book will testify. If nothing it does reinfoirce how safety has come on in 40 years as well as the technology involved in creating and maintaining these cars.  A brilliant, if occasionally wordy book from Haynes that I’m glad I got the chance to read. I have a much better understanding of not only the era in which the M23 raced but the fabric of the team and how Formula One used to be. A truly golden era for the sport.

The McLaren M23 Owners' Workshop Manual is now available from Haynes priced £21.99 ISBN 9780857333124

1 comment:

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