McLaren MP4-18 (lost footage of unraced Formula One car; 2003)
The McLaren MP4-18 is a Formula One car built by the McLaren team. This car was planned by team to be a revolutionary addition to Formula One and be introduced in the 2003 Formula One Season, only for it to never race at all due to extensive reliability and safety concerns. While photos of the MP4-18 are common, actual video footage of it being tested has never been made publicly available.
The concept for the McLaren MP4-18 originated from its team's disappointing 2002 Formula One Season, where the MP4-17 driven by David Coulthard and Kimi Räikkönen was unable to challenge the dominance of Ferrari's F2002 that allowed Michael Schumacher to not only win the Championship, but also finish every race on the podium. Thus, it was decided by team principal Ron Dennis and technical director Adrian Newey that a radical new car would be required to challenge for the 2003 title and future championships from then onwards.
The team initially had the advantage of not being required to rush development, as an upgraded version of the MP4-17 known as the MP4-17D had a strong start to the season, winning the first two races and almost the Brazilian Grand Prix, only for the FIA to rule that Jordan's Giancarlo Fisichella was ahead when the race was stopped. Räikkönen in particular began a strong title challenge, and the idea that the MP4-18 could be released as early as the San Marino Grand Prix was quickly scrapped. However, as Ferrari introduced the F2003 for the Spanish Grand Prix, which led to Schumacher winning the next three races, pressure was put onto McLaren to deliver the MP4-18 as the MP4-17D became more outdated.
Launch and Testing
When the MP4-18 conducted its first test on 20th May, visually it was clear the objective of a radically different car had been met. Newey's goal was to start developing and implementing extreme rear-end packaging, with McLaren conducting more research than what had previously been done for any other car. While this practice was in its infancy, it would become the norm for modern F1 cars, including the Red Bull cars Newey designed that guided Red Bull Racing and Sebastian Vettel to four titles in a row from 2010 to 2013. Tight packaging in general would contribute towards the MP4-18 being lightweight compared to its predecessors. Another striking feature was its front wing, with a new narrow and long nose that allowed for short wing supports and a front wing that extended ahead of the nose. This theoretically would give the MP4-18 a major aerodynamic advantage.
According to managing director Martin Whitmarsh, the MP4-18 would only officially race if it was as quick and reliable as the 17D. Dennis expected it to race somewhere between the Canadian and British Grand Prix, meaning a deadline of mid-June to mid-July. The car was first tested at the Paul Ricard circuit in France, and under test driver Alexander Wurz, was the slowest of the runners, being almost five seconds behind the 17D driven by Räikkönen. More concerning however, was the reliability, with the extreme packaging causing issues with the car's balance and especially its cooling, with breakdowns and fires being common. While changes were made to improve cooling for later testing, the Mercedes engine and even the gearbox casting in particular was generally unable to withstand the high temperatures being produced. Nevertheless, Räikkönen and Coulthard were both positive about the car's performance when they tested it at the Circuit de Catalunya in early-June.
Crashes and Cancellation
The MP4-18 is perhaps most notorious for the high-impact crashes Räikkönen and Wurz experienced during testing. During a session at Catalunya, Räikkönen experienced a high-speed crash on the final turn, which resulted in him suffering from a bruised knee. As for Wurz, he would be involved in numerous shunts throughout 2003. During a test at the Jerez circuit, Wurz was negotiating Turn 4, when the floor of the MP4-18 collapsed, resulting in a heavy crash that split the car and according to the driver, caused the engine to end up closer to his side and him to suffer from minor bruising. He also experienced three brake failures at Paul Ricard. Finally, during testing at Silverstone, the car's rear suspension collapsed as Wurz approached the Bridge corner. The resulting crash again caused the car to split in two, which finally caused Wurz to refuse to test the car again.
By this point, none of the McLaren drivers were willing to test the vehicle. Räikkönen refused to test the MP4-18 again, as he allegedly was furious for the team blaming him for the crash. Because a ban on testing was to commence later in 2003, it was decided by McLaren that the 17D would continue for the remainder of the season, with further work to be conducted on the MP4-18 for the 2004 Season. When the McLaren MP4-19 was introduced for the 2004 Season, Dennis claimed it was an all-new car. However, Newey insisted that it was actually just a rebadged 18, and that he wanted to redesign the car only to be outvoted. The MP4-19 would struggle initially in 2004, but a redesign from Newey allowed the car to be somewhat competitive, with Räikkönen winning the Belgian Grand Prix.
While plenty of photos of the MP4-18 in testing are available online and as part of Unraced... Formula One's Lost Cars, no footage of the car in action are publicly available. A major factor is that the testing sessions it was involved in were private, thus preventing the media from covering it beyond photos. However, each track's CCTV cameras may have captured footage, including of the serious crashes. In a podcast with Bring Back V10s entitled "What went wrong with the McLaren MP4-18", ex-McLaren mechanic Marc Priestley discussed a major incident involving Wurz at the Paul Ricard circuit, which he called "the biggest crash I have ever seen in my life", which was captured on the circuit's CCTV camera and was possibly destroyed.
Considering Wurz was involved in another major crash when testing the MP4-20 at the circuit in 2005, it may well be that either Wurz experienced another previously unknown crash with the 18, or Priestley was mixing up the incidents. Regardless, the fact the MP4-20 crash was captured on CCTV does bring the possibility the incidents two years earlier were also caught on film. Alas, no footage has ever been publicly released.
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- F1 Technical summarising the MP4-17. Retrieved 9 Nov '21
- Motorsport Magazine detailing Schumacher's dominant 2002 Season. Retrieved 9 Nov '21
- Car Throttle discussing the motivations behind the MP4-18. Retrieved 9 Nov '21
- BBC Sport reporting on McLaren almost winning the 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix only for a ruling that Jordan's Giancarlo Fisichella was the victor. Retrieved 9 Nov '21
- The Race detailing the MP4-18's design, testing and failure. Retrieved 9 Nov '21
- BBC Sport reporting on the MP4-18's debut test on 20th May. Retrieved 9 Nov '21
- Mobil1 The Grid discussing the Red Bull RB7, which had extreme packaging inspired by the MP4-18. Retrieved 9 Nov '21
- F1 Technical detailing the MP4-18, its specifications and its testing issues. Retrieved 9 Nov '21
- RTE reporting on Whitmarsh comments that the MP4-18 must be as quick and reliable as the 17D for it to race. Retrieved 9 Nov '21
- Motorsport reporting on the MP4-18's debut being expected between the Canadian and British Grand Prix. Retrieved 9 Nov '21
- Autosport reporting on the Paul Ricard test, where the MP4-18 was the slowest of the runners. Retrieved 9 Nov '21
- Car Throttle discussing the MP4-18's various reliability issues. Retrieved 9 Nov '21
- Motorsport reporting on the successful tests Räikkönen and Coulthard conducted at the Circuit de Catalunya. Retrieved 9 Nov '21
- Autosport reporting on Räikkönen's crash at the Circuit de Catalunya. Retrieved 9 Nov '21
- Crash reporting on Wurz's crash at Jerez. Retrieved 9 Nov '21
- McLaren article where Wurz discussed testing the MP4-18, its crashes, and him refusing to test it following the Silverstone accident. Retrieved 9 Nov '21
- Grand Prix reporting on the 2003 testing ban. Retrieved 9 Nov '21
- BBC Sport reporting on the MP4-18 being set never to race, and would be in further tests for the the MP4-19's development. Retrieved 9 Nov '21
- How to Build a Car where Newey discusses the MP4-18, also claiming the MP4-19 was just a rebadged 18 and that he wanted a redesign that was ultimately granted albeit only after much of 2004. Retrieved 9 Nov '21
- BBC Sport reporting on Räikkönen winning the 2004 Belgian Grand Prix, a return to form following a difficult season for McLaren with its MP4-19. Retrieved 9 Nov '21
- Unraced... Formula One's Lost Cars discussing the MP4-18 and providing many photos of it in action. Retrieved 9 Nov '21
- Eurosport noting the testing sessions were private, which may explain the lack of available MP4-18 footage. Retrieved 9 Nov '21
- Bring Back V10s where Priestley discussed a major crash possibly involving the MP4-18 which was caught on CCTV. Retrieved 9 Nov '21
- Motorsport reporting on Wurz discussing his MP4-20 crash which Priestley might have been referring to. Retrieved 9 Nov '21
- CCTV footage of Wurz's 2005 crash in the MP4-20, which brings the possibility the testing and crashes of the MP4-18 may have also been recorded in similar fashion. Retrieved 9 Nov '21