FORMULA 1: FERRARI 312T2 VS. MCLAREN M23
tunnel showed it generated more
downforce than its single-seat, open-wheel
cousin. “So, less weight hanging over the
rear in a quest for better traction, and less
rear wing – ergo, more straight-line speed.”
Caldwell: “The Ferrari was short and fat
and probably would have made a good
ground-effect car because it had a nice
flat floor – except it didn’t have any exits.
We didn’t know about venturi then, but
that transverse gearbox was exactly the
wrong thing in that respect.
“It was a very good car, though – better
than ours a lot of the time, to be honest.
It was probably on the weight limit, which
we weren’t. McLaren never had to ballast
a car. M23 drove like a truck; its steering
as heavy as hell. James was powerful and
fit, but even he complained. Still, he
Caldwell’s six-speed gearbox
conversion, achieved by moving reverse
to the rear of an outwardly unchanged
casing, was mated to a DFV tuned by
offshoot Nicholson McLaren – so
bypassing the conservatism of “kit car”
pillars Hewland and Cosworth. The V8
was fitted with high-compression Mahle
pistons allowed by fuel tailored by Texaco:
the maximum allowable octane rating
with a higher motor number (detonation)
than was available from filling stations.
“The gearbox was a huge gain,” says
Caldwell. “Stupidly good. Normally
briefings were filled with talk of ratios.
Now they didn’t want to talk about them.
‘What gear are you in?’ ‘The right one.’
A massive breakthrough.
“The fuel was my idea, too. We always
used to blow engines at the Österreichring.
So I kept some fuel from there. In those
days we just used five-star [commercially
available, 100-octane gasoline] from a
local gas station, and Austria’s state fuel
was 101-octane, plus or minus one
percent. Ours was 101. 8.”
Ferrari was less frenetic – although
Forghieri had schemed another major
mechanical surprise – and the updated
312T used for the first three GPs of 1976
featured a slightly narrower rear track and
a marginal reduction in weight. Lauda won
January’s opener in Brazil and in South
Africa in March, too, before finishing second
at Long Beach behind teammate Clay
Regazzoni – Hunt started all three from
pole – but enforced change was imminent.
As the longest and widest, M23
provided the basis for the governing
body’s redrawing of maximum/minimum
dimensions that came into force at May’s
Spanish GP. Yet McLaren continued its
expansion; tweaked sway bar mounts and
extended radius rods stretched M23 by
2in. The new regs had moved the rear
wing 20cm (8in) forward in relation to
the vertical center line of the wheels, and
this was McLaren reaching for cleaner air.
“M23 was big from the off,” says
Coppuck. “We’d never gone slower by
making a car bigger. The closer you place the
moment of inertia to the center of gravity,
the better. That’s why we made longer bell
housings. And the pneumatic starter not
But there were limits. Hunt’s “victorious”
Born in 1935,
Ferrari’s design chief
in 1962. His potency
and versatility – he
oversaw engine, as
well as chassis and
aero design, on
both the F1 and
sports car programs
– made Forghieri
to Ferrari politics.
He finally left to
Engineering in ’ 87.
The McLaren M23
“turned evil” and off
the pace in Belgium,
LEFT) and Sweden
rule changes and the
of oil coolers. Once
rectified, and with the
added help of new,
James Hunt (LEFT,
comparing notes with
title rival Lauda) went
on a tear. (BELOW
LEFT) Hunt won a
GP “on the road,” but
was later disqualified.
In the end it didn’t
matter, the McLaren
man still doing enough
to earn the 1976 title.
After winning two of the first three
grands prix in the 312T, Niki Lauda kept
his title defense on track with three
more in his first six starts with the T2,
the first coming in Belgium (BELOW).
“M23 drove like a truck; its
steering as heavy as hell.
[James Hunt] forgave it
because it was quick”