In 1998 the McLaren MP4/98T, better known as the McLaren 2-seater, saw the light. The car was one big marketing tool for the McLaren team that appeared on the grid from 1998 until 2001. Several famous people appeared as a passenger in the car during the years. Also infamous incidents happened like Sylvester Stallone that was to be one of the passengers at Monza while he was working on his Formula One script. After 2001 the MP4/98T went into retirement and was never seen before. What has happened with the 2-seater?
Doing the research I found out that the first plans for the 2-seater appeared in 1996. Andy Blackmore who worked at that time TAG McLaren Marketing Service was asked to came up with concept designs for Formula two-seater. At that time in 1996 McLaren had still Marlboro as main sponsor, WEST only came a year later. Therefore, he first concepts were fitted with the Marlboro livery. One of the designs are available at Andy’s page.
The plan was to use a McLaren MP4/11 tube for the 2-seater. One of the reasons was the the higher cockpit sides that were introduced for safety reasons. Another thing was the fitting of the passenger behind the driver. The passenger was fitted behind the driver, with his legs “around” the hips of the drivers. It meant that the chassis had to be make wider and strengthen. The passenger would be seated slightly higher than the driver. Though due to the positioning and the headrest it seemed that the view for the passenger wasn’t optimal.
Adrian Newey eventually started working on the McLaren MP4/98T in between the other work he had to do. Where the car was originally to be based on the MP4/11 the two-seater was now base on the McLaren MP4/13. As far as I know only one car was build. The car appeared for the first time on the track at the 27th of May 1998 at Brands Hatch. Darren Turner tested intensively with the car. The very first time a passenger would be riding in the MP4/98T was the one and only Murray Walker! During the British Grand Prix weekend of 1998 Walker took place the 9th of July behind Martin Brundle who sat behind the wheel. A day later, the 10th of July Max Mosley was the passenger.
It was the start of approx. 150 drivers around many tracks during Grand Prix weekends. Darren Turner, David Coulthard, Mika Häkkinen, Niki Lauda, Martin Brundle, Chris Goodwin and Olivier Panis drove between 1998 and 2001 occasionally with the two-seater. The last time the car was “driven” was during Adrenaline Programme in Kyiv Ukraine. The Adrenaline Programme was established to bring the Formula One closer to the people in countries that did not host a Grand Prix or where the interest in Formula One was low. It was the perfect tool to promote the Formula One or use it for charity purposes.
After that last event in June 2001 it seemed that the McLaren MP4/98T was parked in one of the McLaren garages. There were some rumours around 2011/2012 that the two-seater would return on the grid to be used during demo’s. However, this seems not to have happened. Then in 2021 the car returned on the grid at Laguna Seca during the Velocity Invitational event! Mika Häkkinen took place behind the wheel during the demo sessions. The car was in papaya orange this time. It seems that this was the last time the MP4/98T appeared somewhere on a circuit.
After McLaren appeared with their two-seater it wouldn’t take long before other teams would appear with their own. The 31th of May 2000 the Orange Arrows team shown their own 2-seater to the world. The car was designed by European Racing the team from Paul Stoddart that drove for Arrows in the F3000. Paul himself was the first one that drove around with the 2-seater, completing 40 laps at Pembrey without problems. In April 2000 Mark Webber drove for the first time passengers with the car at Donington. Then during the Autosport show in Birmingham the Arrows team even came up with their own 3-seater the Arrows X3! That car is seen every now and then on the tracks still.
Another team that came with a 2-seater was the Minardi team. Paul Stoddart saved the Minardi team in February 2001. As he purchased plenty of the Tyrrell equipment back in 1998 during an auction, he purchased as well the Tyrrell’s from 19998 the 026. To give Minardi an extra boost and get some extra money they team turned a couple of the cars in the 2-seaters that Minardi used from 2001 on. During many events the cars appeared on the grid. Like on the Thunder at the Park in Donington. Those cars, a bit modified but still with the V10 engine, still appear during Grand Prix’s as demo cars by Paul Stoddart.