The McLaren M23 was already a four year old design when Gordon Coppucks successor the lower and lighter McLaren M26 was launched in the summer of 1976.
Unfortunately the development of the M26 was almost immediately stifled as James Hunt in his M23 and the team were waging one of the fiercest championship battles in the history of the World Divers Championship to that point in time.
The M26 did race at the Dutch Grand Prix driven by Jochen Mass in 1976 but it was quickly decided that the design needed serious development that was best postponed until the end of the season.
James subsequently won the 1976 World Drivers Championship. I am not sure why the M26 was not ready for the start of the 1977 championship but the older M23 was pressed into a fifth season of competition and it was not until the 10th round of the 17 race Grand Prix schedule that both front line McLaren drivers James Hunt and Jochen Mass had the M26 available to race.
Nearly a year after it was launched, now featuring a radiator mounted in the nose, the car was competitive and at the British Grand Prix in 1977 James recorded the first of three victories driving the M26 model, not enough to defend his World Drivers championship but a respectable achievement none the less.
James was not known for his testing skills in the same way as the much vaunted Niki Lauda and so it is perhaps no surprise that for the following 1978 season the development of the M26 did not significantly improve performance.
In 1978 the M26 was, like most of the opposition, simply outclassed by the dominant Lotus 79 design which introduced hitherto unimaginably superior handling to Grand Prix racing thanks to the venturi in it’s side pods. Hunt left the McLaren Team to rejoin former Hesketh designer Dr Harvey Postlethwaite at Wolf Racing for the 1979 season.
The car featured in these photographs is thought to be chassis M26/1 which was first raced by Jochen Mass in Holland in 1976. The best result for M26/1 was fourth place scored by Jochen Mass behind winner James Hunts similar model at the 1977 British Grand Prix.
The vehicle is seen here being driven by owner Frank Lyons is expected to take part in this weekends Silverstone Classic race for Formula One cars on Sunday.
My thanks to NZALPA, VINCE H, David Lawson, Tim, Murray, Tony Gallagher, Alan Cox, Pink Snail, David Lawson, hipperson and Geoff Butcher at The Nostalgia Forum for their help identifying the chassis number and driver.
Hope you have enjoyed the Arrested Development edition of ‘Gettin’ a lil psycho on tyres’ and that you’ll join me again for a look at a Fittipaldi in Wolf clothing tomorrow. Don’t forget to come back now !