Home>Unraced 1990 - 1999>The history of the McLambo by Alexander Percy
McLambo
Unraced 1990 - 1999

The history of the McLambo by Alexander Percy

September 10, 1992, Honda officially announces the suspension of its activities in Formula 1, a news
which does not surprise Ron Dennis informed of the intentions of withdrawal of the Japanese brand
since the end of 1991. Leaks on the future intentions have also warned F1 from this future loss.
Dennis still hoped to use the rebadged Honda V12s by exploiting them either by Mugen or by TAG
and therefore by Dennis himself via Osamu Goto, the ex-Honda engine guru.

However, the Japanese manufacturer is opposed to it for fear of negative fallout. In order to keep Senna in a competitive car, Dennis does not hesitate to try to buy Ligier. In order to steal the Renault V10 engine. With his partner Mansour Ojjeh with a proposal for 20 million dollars.
The offer was refused by Ligier as well as by Renault, which vetoed it, because only ELF could work with Renault engines and McLaren was under contract with another large oil group, Shell.

The only engine manufacturer ready to supply engines for the 1993 season is Ford, with its HB V8s,
but there are two problems:
– The first is that Benetton is the leading team of the American engine manufacturer and primarily benefits from all engine upgrades.
– The second is mechanical since the HB V8 customers are inferior in terms of power compared to the Renault (at least 80hp difference) and only the Honda V12 could counter it.

In an attempt to coax Ford, Dennis announces the signing of Michael Andretti, Indycar 91 champion
and son of 78 world champion Mario Andretti, but Ford remains in his position.

Dennis has no choice. He opts fort he For V8 but struggles to get the same engine blocks as Benetton F1. The start of the 1993 season will be to the advantage of McLaren against Benetton. As Senna who finally stayed after a convincing test on the new MP4/8. He won 3 races plus 2 podiums in 6 races and leads the world championship in the evening of Monaco. Worn out by this absurd battle, an unexpected engine manufacturer (driven by Ecclestone?) wants to power McLaren in the near future and finally move to a higher leve in F1, Lamborghini.

The 3512 V12 80 ° Italian engine has passed through many second-class teams (Larousse, Lotus, Ligier, Minardi and Lamborghini via its own team in 1991) but this engine has never had the opportunity to be in a car. competitive. Their own team started as the Mexican Glas F1 team. Which they took over after the owner suddenly disappeared with millions.

Lutz is keen to see if his V12 can play for the win and the Dennis/Briatore/Ford battle gives him the opportunity to enter Woking’s lair. Dennis curious goes to meet Bob Lutz the boss of Chrysler (owner of Lamborghini since 1987) and Daniele Audetto president of Lamborghini F1 in Detroit in August. The discussion begin on a full-scale test in a competitive chassis and possibility of a supply of Lamborghini V12s for the 1994 season.

The three men agree and an agreement in principle is reached. Lamborghini also asks to develop and finally make the V12 reliable for 1994 and wants to get to work quickly. Never mind Ron Dennis what it takes: An MP4/8 chassis which is among the best at the moment, a TAG-Electronics subsidiary ready to work on a new engine and world-class test pilots: Häkkinen and especially Senna. When Dennis tells Senna about a powerful engine to try it awakens an immediate sense of curiosity. On the part of the Brazilian and for good reason the LE 3512 is much more powerful than the HB V8 Ford used by Mclaren since the start of the season. 710HP against 680/690HP at the Ford HB V8. For its part, the management of Lamborghini succeeds in losing its contract with the electronic preparer Magneti-Marelli. To be able to be with TAG-Electronics.

Under the supervision of Neil Oatley and Giorgio Ascanelli an MP4/8 is modifield to receive the V12. The wheelbase and body were lengthened, the radiators were adapted, the engine’s anchor points to the chassis and gearbox were corrected, and resulting in a car that was now 9,5cm longer. The Six-speed semi-automatic transverse gearbox with paddle shifter is retained. On the other hand, the car is painted while, without a single sticker, expect that of a Goodyear, the tire partner of Formula1.

It was three months of intense work in high season, remembers Giorgio Ascanelli, the Senna engineer in 1993, new traction control, revised chassis, modifications to the gearbox, drive-by-wire (the system that allows you to change gear without taking your foot off the accelerator).. it was a lot of work. Only a great team like McLaren could have done it. But we came out with something quite special. It was a bit longer and heavier car than the Ford V8 version.  

It is on the small circuit of Pembrey, that a secret test is organized and Senna who on the occasion of testing the McLambo. He is immediately seduced by the power of the Lamborghini. Mauricio Forghieri, creator of the engine, listens attentively to the request of the three-time Brazilian champion. Who is well-trained in Honda V12 during two season: Your engine is good buty if there is a possibility of making it less brutal at high revs and improving the torque in mid-revs then it will be excellent. Words that have remained forever engraved in the memory of the Italian genius. Words confirmed by Audetto, also present on the English circuit: Senna preferred that the engine lose a little power for a better recovery. He especially asked for better flexibility at low midrange and asked us to change that, even if it means losing a few horses.

The first official test with the “McLambo” takes place on the 20th of September 1993. The McLaren MP4/8B powered by the Lamborghini arrives in the paddock. Mika Häkkinen takes the wheel and quickly he is seduced by the power of the McLambo. I remember that test very well; it was a very exciting time. The MP4/8 with the Ford engine was a good set, but we had high expectations of the Lamborghini V12 and we were right to do so. When you into it, you are catapulted. I will never forget that feeling. The engine did not run out of steam and continued to push; it felt like flying on the runway.

The only bad not of the day at Silverstone, the engine failure and Häkkinen also remembers it very well; I was between Hangar and Stowe when the engine exploded, but really exploded, it was incredible, I never had sucxh a strong engine explosion in my entire career. The explosion was such that it ejected pieces of the engine and pistons around my head. I could see them go left, tight, everywhere. The explosion also left a huge hole in the floor of the car, but it remains a memorable day in my career. What an engine and what a noise. Apary from this setback, the performance of the McLambo was incredible, the McLambo takes more than a full second per lap to the standard MP4/8. Another good surprise, the MP4/8B is better balanced and does not wear as much of its tires as the standard MP4/8 despite its greater weight.

Delighted with the feedback from the drivers and the McLaren team, Forghieri reworked the V12 engine. According to Senna’s instructions, modifying the camshafts and the air intake. If the engine loses 15hp, immediately it has nevertheless gained in flexibility and in a second time, it has become even more powerful to finally reach 750hp.  Coming to the three days of testing in Estoril, Portugal. The 27th, 28th and 29th of September 1993, the McLambo is back on the track with the improved engine (Rebadged Chrysler). Senna and Häkkinen are running the McLambo during the three days with more than competitive times. Ayrton was only close to reach the pole time of Alan Prost made a few days earlier. The Brazilian is delighted with the car, that he suggests driving it immediately for the last two Grand Prix’s of the season.

At the Frankfurt Motor Show Dennis, Audetto and Lutz meet each other and agree to supply the engine in 1994. A budget of 20million dollar is mentioned and a guarantee to be the factory team. However, no contract is signed. “Between gentlemen and handshake is more than a 200-page contract ”he would say. Being the cunning Ron Dennis gives himself a way out. In reality, Dennis thinks the engine is too much. The engine is old as it is designed in 1988. Dennis also thinks that Chrysler doesn’t believe in him. Moreover he has to pay 50% of Chrysler’s financing in 1994. The next day the deal with Peugeot is confirmed. Dennis calls Audetto to inform him of the signing with Peugeot. This provokes the fury of Bob Lutz. Instantly Lutz decides to end the Lamborghini adventure in the Formula One at the end of 1993.

While it is the end of the McLambo, it is not the end of the latest Lamborghini engines; even they withdrew at the end of 1993. After the deal with McLaren was declined, Tom Walkinshaw and Flavio Briatore flew to Detroit to meet the Chrysler executives. To discuss the possibility of supplying Benneton in 1994. In 1993 TWR, the company of Walkinshaw, was involved with the engines. While TWR tested the engine on a bench, the results were promising. It is said that Briatore himself called Audetto to ask if the team could use the engines. However, Lutz was still furious about the deal with McLaren. All he said NO we will not deliver engines. The people in the Formula One are not serious.