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F1 History: McLaren MP4-20

Continuing on from my post yesterday where I looked at the history of what has to be my favourite BTCC car, the Volvo S40 today I'm going to have a closer look at the McLaren MP4-20, driven by Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya in the 2005 F1 season. The MP4-20 has to be one of the most beautiful, yet frustratingly unreliable cars in recent F1 history and it's questionable reliability problems cost McLaren what would have been an epic fight in the 2005 championship with Renault and Fernando Alonso. Designed by none other than now Red Bull designer and F1 genius Adrian Newey and Mike Coughlan, who would go on to play an instrumental part in the legendary Spygate scandal the MP4-20 is a favourite among many F1 fans and was no doubt a revolutionary, yet troubled race winning Formula One car. Compared to their 1998/1999 glory days McLaren had a difficult 2004 season, after Kimi Raikkonen just lost out on the 2003 title to Michael Schumacher by two points.

Remarkable considering Raikkonen won just the one race (Malaysian GP) compared to Schumacher’s six. As mentioned above, 2004 was a difficult season for McLaren (although nothing compared to the difficulties they experience today) and despite again winning just one race (Raikkonen at the Belgian GP) McLaren would struggle against the supreme Ferrari and the resurgent Renault and BAR Honda and would eventually finish the season fifth in the constructors championship with Raikkonen as their highest placed driver in seventh.

Roll onto 2005, and the signing of Montoya and the unveiling of the MP4-20 ushered in a new sense of optimism at McLaren, and the MP4-20 was undoubtedly the fastest car in the field, scoring 10 wins, 7 poles and 12 fastest laps in the 18 race 2005 F1 season.

The Car

The MP4-20 was powered by a 3.0 litre Mercedes Benz V10 engine using Mobil 1 unleaded fuel and a 7 speed gearbox. Compared to previous seasons, the car featured a shorter wheelbase, along with a raised front wing and smaller diffuser and the car sprouted its distinctive horns as a result of a loss of downforce through the FIA’s new regulations. The suspension was operated by a pushrod and bell crank double wishbone arrangement and McLaren used Michelin tyres for the 2005 season.

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Raikkonen in the MP4-20

The History 

Right from the outset in preseason testing the car was fast however it was dogged with reliability issues and Raikkonen and Montoya struggled in the first few flyaway races of the 2005 season. It wasn’t until the third round in Bahrain that McLaren scored the first of many podiums in the MP4-20. Bouyed by Montoya’s 4th place at the previous round in Malayisa, Kimi Raikkonen came from 9th on the grid to follow home early championship leader Fernando Alonso and the fast qualifying Toyota of Jarno Trulli to take 3rd place at the flag.

The 2005 San Marino Grand Prix is where the world first got a taste of just how much pace the MP4-20 had when Raikkonen took McLaren’s first pole position by ~0.6s (on aggregate) from Fernando Alonso. Raikkonen led the race from pole and was sprinting away from the field until the first tell tale signs of the reliability problems which would define McLaren’s season hit on lap nine, and the Iceman retired with driveshaft problems. The 2005 San Marino GP would go on to be defined by Alonso and Schumacher’s legendary battle in the closing laps of the race (I’m sure you remember) and ITV famously cutting to an advert break right in the middle of it! All was not lost for the MP4-20 at the San Marino GP however as the car scored it’s second podium in a row in the hands of Montoya’s replacement Alex Wurz.

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Raikkonen streaking away from Alonso before his retirement on lap nine at the San Marino Grand Prix.

The MP4-20’s pace continued to be the class of the field, and Raikkonen continued McLaren’s streak of podiums by taking the MP4-20’s maiden victory at the Spanish Grand Prix, and a follow up victory in what was a majestic drive in Monaco to take McLaren’s podium tally to 4 for the season. Montoya returned from injury in Spain to record a 7th in Barcelona followed by a 5th place in Monaco before McLaren endured a difficult weekend at the European GP where Kimi Raikkonen was denied a certain victory by a suspension failure on the last lap, a consequence of him flat spotting a tyre.

McLaren and the MP4-20 left the Nurburgring 2nd in the constructors standings just 23 points behind Renault however this was before the F1 points system changed to award the race victor 25 points, and a 23 point gap was already a significant mountain for McLaren to climb, even with what was the fastest car in the field.

The MP4-20’s pace was further underlined by Kimi Raikkonen’s 3rd victory in 4 races at the Canadian GP, a race at which Alonso would retire after hitting the wall and Montoya would be disqualified for ignoring the red light. The MP4-20 scored 3 out of a possible 4 podiums in the following two races in France and Britain (not including the USGP), however 10 place grid penalties for Kimi Raikkonen at both races following the need for an engine change cost him what could have been two very possible victories, and were the first signs that the MP4-20’s poor reliability would cost the Finn the 2005 championship. Rakkonen again retired from the lead in Germany, gifting title rival Alonso another valuable ten points.

McLaren trailed Renault by 22 points in the constructors championship heading into the Hungarian and Turkish Grand Prix’s and the MP4-20 scored another 3 out of 4 podiums at the Hungaoring and Istanbul Park as McLaren closed the gap in the constructors championship to just 9 points, the closest it had been all season. More poor engine reliability in Italy cost Raikkonen another 10 place grid penalty at the Italian Grand Prix, and again cost him what would have probably been certain victory. The Renault’s of Alonso and Fisichella finished second and third as Raikkonen set the highest speed ever recorded during an F1 race (229.96mph) on his way to fourth, but Alonso extended his lead over Raikkonen in the drivers championship to 27 points (almost three race victories) despite McLaren closing in on Renault by a point in the constructors.

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Raikkonen hunts down Montoya on his way to victory in the 2005 Belgian Grand Prix

Belgium and Brazil saw the MP4-20 take another two victories as Raikkonen won in Spa before Montoya took his third race victory of the season at Interlagos. Despite McLaren’s best efforts and a one-two finish for the MP4-20’s Alonso secured the drivers championship for Renault with two rounds to spare as his third place finish ensured he couldn’t be caught by Raikkonen. Poor reliability and engine changes had cost Raikkonen around 50 places in grid drops over the course of the season, and despite having the fastest car he was unable to claw the points back off Alonso after Renault’s stunning start to the 2005 campaign.

The 2005 Japanese Grand Prix was a race where Kimi Raikkonen drove himself into F1 folklore with a final lap pass on Fisichella around the outside of turn 1 after starting 17th on the grid. Suzuka would be Raikkonen’s final race victory for McLaren before his move to Ferrari at the end of 2006 and McLaren left Suzuka just 2 points behind Renault in the constructors championship, leaving the MP4-20 with a very real chance of securing McLaren’s first title since 1999.

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Raikkonen makes F1 history by passing Fisichella on the final lap of the 2005 Japanese Grand Prix.

Alas, it wasn’t to be, and Renault scored a 1,4 finish at the season ending Chinese Grand Prix to secure the Enstone based squad the constructors title by 9 points. Raikkonen finished 2nd behind newly crowned champion Fernando Alonso however a lap 24 engine failure for Juan Montoya effectively ended McLaren’s hopes of the MP4-20 bringing home the constructors title in 2005.

The Legacy

The MP4-20 has been, and will always remain one of my favourite F1 cars. I distinctly remember spending many a summer afternoon in 2005 sitting exasperated at the TV when I saw Raikkonen lining up in 10th place on the grid courtesy of an engine change, or seeing the MP4-20 grind to a halt from a winning position at the side of the racetrack. However, despite it’s questionable reliability it does still perhaps remain one of the the most well built, and engineered cars of the recent F1 era. The championship winning R25 didn’t win car of the year in 2005, the MP4-20 did and although it wasn’t the outright championship winning car in 2005, it certainly won the admiration of fans of all teams in the F1 paddock. Plus, I have to say, I don’t think we’ve had a better looking F1 car since!

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading/reminding yourself about the MP4-20! If you’d like me to cover one of your favourite F1/touring cars in my next history post just let me know either at the_hairpin_corner@outlook.com or over on twitter @hairpin_corner

 

 

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