Feb 7 2015
According to Neil Oatley, the success of the MP4-13 allowed West McLaren Mercedes “to push the design of the MP4-14 more that we would have been comfortable with the previous year. We had more time with the next car, and could afford to be a little more adventurous in some of its mechanical aspects.”
None of this prevented yet another season’s racing being run down to the wire, but what from the word go was that McLaren’s new car was one of its most ambitious designs ever. With a lighter, lower V10 from Mercedes-Benz, it also showcased a host of new innovations brought in by Adrian Newey.
Accordingly, at its launch Dennis explicitly rejected the word evolutionary, describing it instead as a new car which “represents the biggest single step we felt we could take for 1999 with perhaps the smallest-ever percentage of carry-over components from last year’s car.”
The new F0 100H now developed around 785bhp at 16,700rpm, and Newey battled to make the most of this by recovering as much grip as possible which would otherwise have been lost to a mandated, footprint-reducing fourth groove in the front tyre. The car now sported a new mid-height nose with a pair of high-aided bargeboards mounted either aide of the cockpit. To the rear, but ahead of the driven wheels, large deflector panels made the car instantly recognisable.
Newey also reordered the packaging to a great degree, something he would clearly have done a year earlier had the timeframe allowed. He relocated the oil tank and hydraulic system and fitted a new, shorter gearbox, and the reduced weight of the new car allowed for some more creative ballasting with various ancillaries stowed within the walls of the monocoque. New torsion-bar rear suspension was added to the mix, while the front remained fundamentally been on MP4-13.
The increased complexity and lower weight did not at first inspire complete confidence on the part of David Coulthard and Mika Häkkinen’s , when compared to the previous year‘s Championship winner. At the limit it was able to perform quite brilliantly, but as Managing Director Martin Whitmarsh observed, “in terms of riding the bumps, stability on the straight and sheer chuckability, it gave away something to the MP4-13.”
The reality was that, more or less as a natural consequence of its more complex design. The MP4-14 just took longer to get right so that for much of the year it was very much a case of one step forward, one step back. No one foresaw the reduction in rear grip which was to affect the latest.
Semi-automatic gearboxes were pioneered in Formula 1 in 1989, and they quickly became commonplace – McLaren first adopting the technology on 1992’s MP4/7.
Clearly, this wheel is a quantum step ahead of what had gone before – a legacy of the rapidly increased automation that hit F1 in the 1990s. By the end of that decade, grand prix cars were on the verge of becoming the most complex ever, using automatic shifting, pits-to-car adjustments and, by the start of the 2000s, traction control – both of which are now banned.
The ‘PLS’ pitlane speed limited sits on the left, the red-topped reverse selector on the right. At the base of the wheel is a row of engine and differential rotary dials, which can be adapted to alter traction and power during the race. A separate display readout is attached to the cockpit bulkhead – between the wheel’s two ‘horns’.
Bridgestones early on. Similarly no one expected the year to start quite as badly as it did, with both cars stopping in the Australian opener. Later Häkkinen’s drove superbly to win in Brazil, where Coulthard was forced to retire with gearbox problems.
Thereafter Imola provided a glimmer of hope: Coulthard should have won, and might have but for difficulties with heavy traffic, and at Monaco Häkkinen’s finished third but was clearly unhappy with his car which was later stripped down and checked component-by-component. After that another reversal saw him win in Spain – actually it was a McLaren 1-2 – and again in Canada, before yet another change in fortunes left him qualifying in only 14th place at Magny-Cours. While Coulthard exited the French GP with electrical problems, the Finn was eventually able to recover and pull off second place. At Silverstone David Coulthard took a hugely popular win in front of his home crowd. Mika was forced to withdraw after shedding a wheel.
In Austria the two McLarens finished in the points immediately behind Eddie Irvine’s Ferrari, but then at Hockenheim the Ulsterman was able to triumph again. In Hungary the old form reasserted itself, however, producing another McLaren 1-2 – the lead position Hkkinen’s again – only for another reverse at Spa when the two cars touched wheels, leaving the Finn behind the Scot.
At Monza, the Nurburgring and Malaysia neither driver fared well so that by the time the circus reached Suzuka for the Japanese and final round, Häkkinen’s ‘s two-point lead over Irvine, and McLaren‘s eight-point advantage over Ferrari, had turned instead to four-point deficits. Once again it was to be a truly nail biting finish to the season, but Häkkinen’s duly delivered, driving a superb race to beat Schumacher and Irvine and clinch his second Drivers‘ World Championship. Another strong performance by Ferrari denied McLaren another double, however, as the 1999 Constructors‘ World Championship went to Maranello by four points.
Seven wins out of 16 was good, but not good enough. West McLaren Mercedes was still the team to beat but while Mercedes-Benz had demonstrated outstanding levels of mechanical reliability, the car never quite measured up to it. The team had won through in the end, but despite a relentless programme of development which continued right through the series – as late as Suzuka Newey was still introducing refinements – there was no escaping the conclusion that the MP4-14 could have won the Championship by the end of the summer.
McLaren MP4/14 on display at the Donington Collection. The car carries chassis number 4 and is in the state it crossed the line to win both the 1999 Japanese Grand Prix and the Formula One Drivers’ Championship for its driver, Mika Häkkinen.