Thursday, August 5, 2021 by René Fagnan
With financial support from its main sponsor, the tobacco company West, the McLaren Formula 1 team has developed and run a two-seater Formula 1 with performances close to the standard single-seater.
Marketing strategists for West, an Imperial Tobacco brand, were convinced that bringing stars, athletes and political figures around the circuit in two seats would transform the media’s profits. They were not wrong.
According to McLaren, it all started in 1989 with the creation of McLaren Cars and the first work done on its flagship sports car, the McLaren F1, with its unique “1 plus 2” layout. The idea of modifying an F1 single seater to be able to cash in on the incredible G-forces produced by such a racing car then pops into the minds of some McLaren engineers and Western marketing people.
One of the graphic designers of the McLaren team at the time, Andy Blackmore, then produced a drawing of two white and red F1 seats, because the British team at the time was sponsored by Marlboro.
Once the project was approved by senior management, design work began, overseen by Gordon Murray who was then the technical director of McLaren Cars. After the main route is confirmed, Murray then hands over to Barry Lett who completes the design of the two chairs.
For Murray, it was important and necessary that this car meet the safety standards of the FIA in terms of frontal impacts, impacts and protection of the driver’s head from his passengers.
So it was decided that instead of simply lengthening the monocoque and making it stiffer, McLaren would produce an entirely new hub, which was shorter and included a side shell to provide more protection in the event of an impact.
Other cars such as suspension, fins, cockpit, standard Mercedes-Benz V10 FO 110G engine displaced by three liters and six-speed semi-automatic gearbox will not change.
Since the car was only going to do a few laps at a time, there was no need for him to have a regular gas tank. Therefore, the capacity of the fuel tank was reduced by two thirds and the passenger, sitting behind the pilot, was placed in the place where this tank used to be. The passenger was certainly sitting higher, which raised the center of gravity of the car, but at the same time gave a better view.
When finished, the McLaren MP4-98T is only 150mm longer than the single-seater MP4/12 and weighs 600kg.
A two-seater tuning is performed by the F1 team’s young test driver, Darren Turner, at the Brands Hatch circuit on May 27, 1998. Turner drove alone, without a passenger.
Later, the two-seater was sent for several laps during the official Grands Prix. Selected guests such as Murray Walker, Max Mosley, Jan Ullrich, Juan Carlos King of Spain, Erja Häkkinen, Michael Douglas, Alberto Tomba and Andrei Medvedev, and the winners of various competitions have the pleasure of riding in this two-seater chair with impressive performance .
During the British Grand Prix, Martin Brundle set a time of 1’36” at the old Silverstone circuit, compared to Mika Häkkinen’s McLaren position time of 1’23”271. It is said that with a very light passenger, Brundle would later achieve the fastest lap times that would qualify the two-seater McLaren for the Grand Prix. But that remains to be confirmed.
Several pilots let themselves go, happily, for the joy of being an F1 taxi driver. So Brundle, Niki Lauda, Olivier Panis, David Coulthard, Turner and Chris Goodwin (McLaren test driver) shook their passengers on the most beautiful circuit in the world. Between 1998 and 2001, McLaren would introduce the joy of F1 to 151 lucky passengers.
All drivers praised the two-seater’s handling, emphasizing that its perfect balance gave it the same feel as a single-seater F1.
Released in 1998, only one example of the McLaren MP4-98T was produced and remains the property of McLaren at the Team’s Technical Center in Woking, England.