At the 1973 South African Grand Prix 1967 World Champion New Zealander Denny Hulme qualified on pole for the first and only time in his entire formula one career which lasted from 1965 until 1974. Remarkably he was driving a brand new Ford Cosworth powered McLaren M23, #M23/1 featured today, that was designed by Gordon Coppuck and which was to replace the Ralph Bellamy designed McLaren M19C.
The design of the M23 was broadly similar to the design of the 1972 turbo Offy powered McLaren M16 which Mark Donohue drive to victory in the 1972 Indy 500, except in the DFV motor of the M23 was bolted into the chassis rather to a sub frame and the side radiators of the M23 were surrounded by a deformable structure to protect the fuel tanks in the side of the chassis.
Denny Hulme came fifth in the 1973 South African Grand Prix which was won by Jackie Stewart driving a Tyrrell 006. At the 1973 Swedish Grand Prix Denny Hulme took the first of the M23’s 16 World Championship race victories, two races later Peter Revson scored the models 2nd victory at the British Grand Prix a feat Peter would repeat at the Canadian Grand Prix towards the end of the season. Despite scoring two more wins than in the previous season McLaren again finished third in the 1973 World Constructors championship as they had in 1972.
For 1974 McLaren again attracted BRM’s sponsor Philip Morris and the Marlboro brand, Yardley having sponsored BRM in 1970 and 1971 prior to joining McLaren for 1972. Peter Revson moved to join the UOP Shadow outfit and was replaced at McLaren by 1972 World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi from Lotus.
Emerson won three world championship races in 1974 on his way to his second World Drivers Championship and McLaren’s first World Constructors Championship, backed up by Denny Hulme who won the first race of the 1974 World Championship season in Aregetina which would be his last prior to retiring from the sport at the end of the season. Chassis #M23/1 was used in the early 1974 season by a third Yardley backed factory entry for Mike Hailwood who joined McLaren from Surtees. Mike ‘the Bikes’ best result was third in the South African Grand Prix which would become his career high world championship result. An accident in Germany at the wheel of another M23 prematurely terminated Mikes driving career, though he would return to motor cycling at which he was a seven time world champion and add two Isle of Man TT trophies in 1978 and 1979 to bring his total to fourteen.
In 1975 Emerson claimed two more championship victories on his way to second in the title behind Niki Lauda in the superior Ferrari 312T which had a more powerful motor and superior handling thanks to a transversely mounted gearbox and the testing skills of it’s driver. Another Surtees refugee Jochen Mass who had teken over Mike Hailwoods Yardley McLaren drive in 1974 replaced Denny Hulme and scored his only Grand Prix victory at the ill feted 1975 Spanish Grand Prix.
James Hunt replaced Emerson Fittipaldi for 1976 and McLaren ended up using the M23 for a forth straight season as they were locked in an epic battle with Niki Lauda for the 1976 title that has been immortalised by Ron Howard in the film “Rush” released earlier this year. On his way to the 1976 World Drivers Championship James won 6 races to become the M23 model’s most successful driver.
By 1977 the M23 was pressed into a fifth season of competition as a works racer before a much modified McLaren M26 was finally brought up to speed mid way through the season, non works McLaren’s were used sporadically in World Championship events until 1978 when rising star Nelson Piquet recorded a 9th place finish in the Canadian Grand Prix on what was to be the M23’s final World Championship appearance.
Tony Trimmer won the British Formula One Championship driving a Melchester Racing McLaren M23 in 1978.
Thanks for joining me on this “Fragrant Debut Pole” edition of “Gettin’ a li’l psycho on tyres” I hope you will join me again tomorrow. Don’t forget to come back now !