Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis
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Giorgio Piola's F1 technical analysis

F1’s iconic cars: The McLaren M23 by Giorgio Piola

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F1’s iconic cars: The McLaren M23 by Giorgio Piola
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Co-author: Matthew Somerfield
Mar 12, 2019, 7:39 PM

In our last deep dive into Giorgio Piola’s treasure trove, we cast our eye over Ferrari’s 312. But it was 1974 rivals McLaren and Emerson Fittipaldi that prevailed, running out the eventual winners in a less complex but far more compliant car.

Next year will be Giorgio’s 50th year in the sport – having covered over 800 GPs, he’s one of the longest serving journalists to ever grace the F1 paddock. This gives him a unique insight into the ever-changing landscape of the sport and perhaps, more importantly, an uninterrupted vision of the physical transformation the cars have undergone.

  • For more details about Piola's work, and prints available to buy, click here.

The McLaren M23’s lifespan, much like many cars of the era, actually stretched across four years and continued to serve customer teams for another year still. It put drivers on the podium no fewer than 38 times and led to 16 victories, as the car was extensively modified throughout the early ’70s.

The 1973 season showed that the car had what it took to win, recording three race victories, but it was the arrival of 1972 world champion Fittipaldi who’d left Lotus to join its ranks, that made the difference. This also came with a new sponsorship deal from Texaco and Marlboro that bolstered their budget but made life difficult with current sponsor Yardley.

To placate them all, McLaren ran three cars throughout 1974, with Mike Hailwood, David Hobbs and Jochen Mass all taking their turn at the wheel of the Yardley entry, while Fittipaldi and Denny Hulme drove the Texaco-Marlboro entries.

Perhaps the most interesting and perhaps overlooked aspect of that 1974 season was the development battle that raged on between McLaren and Ferrari.

More from Giorgio Piola:

Join us as we take a look through these changes thanks to the incredible archive of drawings created by Giorgio during that time period. A feat that was made much simpler back then, with teams much more open, even giving Piola time and space in their garages for him to take photographs and sketch the various aspects of their cars, as can be seen below.

Giorgio Piola with Alain Prost, McLaren MP4/2 car at 1984 Brazilian GP

Giorgio Piola with Alain Prost, McLaren MP4/2 car at 1984 Brazilian GP

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

McLAREN M23 DEVELOPMENT GALLERY

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McLaren M23 rear suspension

McLaren M23 rear suspension
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Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Some of the rear suspension anti-dive options that McLaren had available to them during 1974. The main image was a solution used by Mike Hailwood, more often than not, whilst the lower left inset offered another solution and the lower right inset shows the adjustability at the lower pick-up point.

McLaren M23 front wing, Monaco GP

McLaren M23 front wing, Monaco GP
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Photo by: Giorgio Piola

McLaren ran what became known as a ‘winklepicker’ nose at the non-championship Race of Champions at Brands Hatch, and both the Spanish and Monaco GPs. Named due to the nosebox sections distinctive shape, it more importantly gained a wider wingspan, increasing front-end downforce. The flag winglets mounted on the forward part of the wing and highlighted in the image above were a novelty for Monaco though and didn’t feature at the other two races.

McLaren M23 experimental rear wing

McLaren M23 experimental rear wing
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Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The team tested an experimental low-slung rear wing in Belgium, France and Germany.

McLaren M23 airbox on engine

McLaren M23 airbox on engine
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Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The revised inlet trumpet layout coincided with a new engine cover and tall airbox design that Fittipaldi first trialled at the Dutch GP.

McLaren M23 front suspension and brake duct

McLaren M23 front suspension and brake duct
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Photo by: Giorgio Piola

A new, much larger, front brake duct was fitted to the M23 at Zandvoort, as the team looked to improve cooling.

McLaren M23 airbox

McLaren M23 airbox
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Photo by: Giorgio Piola

McLaren redesigned the bullet-style airbox at Dijon, taking advantage of the now narrower airbox collector and inlet trumpets.

McLaren M23 rear suspension

McLaren M23 rear suspension
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Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The team revised its suspension layout later in the season, adopting twin parallel links, rather than the triangular wishbone previously favoured. Having seen the inboard pick-up points fail at round 10, Brands Hatch, the team appeared with stronger Magnesium pick-up points at the next round in Germany.


The M23 was an uncomplicated and relatively reliable runner, powered by Cosworth’s DFV V8, and the team focused much of its effort on getting the car setup for the individual circuit characteristics they’d come across at each GP.

In an extract from AUTOSPORT, from September 19, 1974, Hulme gave an incredible insight into how Emerson Fittipaldi’s arrival, test regime and ongoing setup work had given him the edge. Imagine a driver saying this about his team and teammate today…

“At the end of 1973 when McLaren decided to sign up Emerson, he said that he wanted a lot of experience in the car and as the team was very happy to have him to do all the testing. I went home to New Zealand and left Emerson to carry on with the sorting at Paul Ricard and various other circuits. Consequently I had nothing to do with the '74 version of the car. The first time I drove it was at Buenos Aires in Argentina.

“As you know, I won there and there and the car performed very well in the race. Argentina is a particularly smooth sort of a circuit and the car was very good in the slow corners and not very good in the fast ones. But just before the race I adjusted the front wings and the car didn't understeer so much in the big fast corners down the back straight. One by one I passed everybody until I arrived in second position. Then, of course, Carlos [Reutemann] struck his bad luck, but for me it was a very good race.

“Then we went on to Sao Paulo and Interlagos and there the car was the most terrible thing I have ever driven. It was really a bad car. I couldn't understand why I was so much slower than everybody else. I think some of it was due to the way the car had been set up, because Emerson had made all the tests, and some of it was due to the tyres and the way they were working.

“In South Africa I remember that it felt reasonably good and I thought I would go a lot quicker. We actually changed the car and made it into a medium wheelbase set-up as opposed to having The long-wheelbase arrangement. We'd been extremely rapid the year before with the same set-up. Well, we had a lot of problems and in desperation the night before the race we just changed the car completely. We went back to the long wheel-base, changed the nose, etc. During the race morning's unofficial practice the car felt quite good and I hoped to have a good chance of a result. During the race, however, it wasn't to be. The car understeered and oversteered, with a lot of vibrations from the tyres and various other things.

“At Jarama I became quite happy with the car. At long last we had had enough practice time and the twisty circuit was consistent enough for me to make the changes and find out the direction in which to go. Prior to that, the M23 had been set up rather as Emerson had wanted and, obviously, he has some completely different techniques. I have always been lucky to have driven in teams, like Brabham for instance where however Jack set the car up, I could drive it.

“When Revson came to McLaren he could drive my car and I could virtually drive his. Now, as for Emerson, he has completely different ideas and techniques. He likes to drive it more on the throttle with the tyres sliding, whereas I'd sooner have it slightly understeering. So the contrast is completely different.

“After the Spanish Grand Prix I felt a bit happier having adapted to the new car. Maybe I should have done some of the testing, but I was enjoying my holidays! Since then, however, I've been scratching around in midfield with a car which has a lot of problems. We had tyre vibrations at various times and I haven't finished where I think I ought to have finished.

“For some reason I've come across various cars during the race which I've not been able to get by. I can lap much quicker than them but I haven't got the necessary edge in traffic. Therefore it doesn't allow me to overtake without putting myself in a very dangerous position. I think I’ve been around racing long enough to know when it’s better to back off and finish than end up in a heap of junk at the side of the race track.

“I felt very 'happy with the car at Dijon. To me it was working very well, probably better than any other car on the track, but I needed a clear track every lap to make any upward progress. I'd elected to run a lot of wing on the back to get the necessary speed onto the pit straight. But once I got halfway down the straight the wing of course became a problem.

“The M23 has, of course, changed during the year, although it's difficult for me to explain. At Brands Hatch we had another revised car - the same chassis but with different suspension.”

“As for Mike's Yardley M23, he and Phil Kerr set the car up differently from the Texaco Marlboro McLaren. Their car was very good on odd occasions. They are a one-man band, so they concentrate only on Mike’s car, whereas with two cars in a team like us, you must divide your attentions between what Emerson has and I have. This creates certain problems.

“Emerson is obviously the number one. He is near the top of the world championship and the usual things seem to happen, I don’t have the T-car when I need to. They sit and wait for Emerson and every time I drive Emerson's car I think it's a bucket of shit. I can't drive the way he drives consequently Emerson's T-car is really no good for me.

“The other day I drove Emerson’s car, it really was terrible compared to my car. I really need a T-car whereas I don’t have a T-car, Mike has a T-car and I have nothing. I get what Emerson's left over. As for the anti-squat problems we’ve encountered, this stems back from the fact that I know what tyres I want. But this year I haven't tested at all with Goodyears, si I haven't come across a tyre that I prefer. Lotus, Emerson and Jody have done the testing. I've always said that with the M23 we mustn't muck around with the front tyres but improve the rears, although I seem the only one to feel this need.

“All through the year Goodyear always improved front tyres and I can't drive with an oversteering car. I need better rear tyres. So, because the car was oversteering all the time, we needed to do something about the anti-squat characteristics. We put on the anti-squat and, for me, it made no difference if it was "up" or "down."

“The problems still existed so my car has the radius arm in the proper designed position. I have never lifted mine "up" all through the season, whereas Emerson and Mike have had it "up" or "down" nearly all the time. I could never tell the difference 'if it was "up" or "down" so I left it in the standard position at Zandvoort and because I was a little bit faster, they changed Emerson's car to my configuration. From then onward we have done away with all this anti-squat.

“During this year, at same circuits, I tried the short-wheelbase set-up while at others I chose to try the long one. Emerson had said that during testing, the long-wheelbase was quicker down the straight. The reason the car's faster is because the wing is farther from the engine, so maybe the air is clearer over the wing. This is the only reason we run the long-wheelbase set-up.

“I think that now Goodyear have produced a better rear tyre, the front is probably okay. I think that's what the big change has been about because I screamed at all of them at the beginning of the year to change the front tyres which were then perfectly good for Ferrari. Niki liked it. Then around Zandvoort, I found the tyre which I said was "fantastic” Niki liked it too. It was a smaller diameter. Now everyone has gone back to this smaller front tyre which they were going away from! Now, after Monza, I'm very happy with tyres and the car”

Denny Hulme, McLaren rides back to the pits on the sidepod

Denny Hulme, McLaren rides back to the pits on the sidepod

Photo by: Sutton Images

And check out how young Giorgio looks in this photo as he interviews Hulme around this era!

Giorgio Piola with Denny Hulme

Giorgio Piola with Denny Hulme

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The battle for championship honours went down to the last race in 1974, with McLaren and Fittipaldi utilizing the M23’s predictable handling, superb preparation and better reliability to overcome Ferrari advances. Over the course of the next few seasons the pair would fight tooth and nail for over championship titles, as the development and driver battles continued to rage.

In fact, while preparing this article he remembered a fantastic anecdote of when he was stood in the Ferrari garage, within earshot of technical director Mauro Forghieri and quipped about how he wished the Ferrari might get some of its rear bodywork damaged out on track in order it be removed when it came back. Knowing that Piola wanted to sketch the oil tank that was buried beneath, Forghieri immediately called over one of the mechanics and asked him to remove the body panel in order that Piola could get what he needed. Different times, indeed.

You can now own a piece of this story too, as a collection of posters showing off Giorgio Piola’s magnificent illustrations have been made available for you to own. The Ferrari 312B3-74 from this collection is a full car cutaway, which took approximately 30-40 days to complete at the time, such is the depth of detail on offer: https://www.giorgiopiola.com/amr_en/prints

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About this article

Series Formula 1
Drivers Denny Hulme , Emerson Fittipaldi , Peter Revson
Teams McLaren Shop Now
Author Giorgio Piola
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