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F1: Beyond The Grid

Neil Oatley: designing World Championships with McLaren

Tue Jun 06 2023
  • McLaren has a rich heritage in Formula One, with championship-winning DNA that has been passed down through their cars for over 60 years. Neil Oakley played a key role in designing cars that won world titles for Senna, Prost, and Hakkinen at McLaren and is still involved in F1 as McLaren's director of design and development.
  • Modern F1 cars are difficult to drive and require a scientific approach from drivers who must analyze data and adjust their techniques accordingly. The job of being a racing driver has changed significantly since the late 70s, with modern drivers spending more time analyzing data and using simulators to improve their skills. While some aspects of car design have evolved significantly, Neil's expertise lies in mechanical engineering rather than aerodynamics.
  • Winning is a strong motivation for everyone in the sport, and losing plays on the mind more than winning. The Driver's Championship is more memorable than the Constructors' Championship, despite what some may say. Patrick Head was an instrumental mentor to the speaker during their time at Williams, and gave them responsibility quickly in the design office.
  • Williams' first win at Silverstone in 1979 was achieved with a special aerodynamic setup that included slightly larger wings. Frank's win gave him the credibility he had been craving for 10 years, but wins are remembered in a small way and losses ease away at you. Williams became the team to beat after winning five of the last seven races, which led to rapid expansion and easier recruitment of people and sponsors. The FWA-07 evolved from one season to the next with some regulation changes for '81, including switching from Goodyear to Michelin mid-season, causing problems for Carlos.
  • Carlos Reutemann retired from racing after only two races in the 1982 season, which surprised many as he was still quick and committed. Alan Jones was a tough racer with great car control and physical strength, suited to the high downforce cars of his time. Reutemann may have retired too early and could have stayed on for a few more years. His bickering with Jones at Beatrice was likely due to Walter.
  • Formula One design processes have evolved over time, with wind tunnels becoming more important and data recording for chassis sides becoming prevalent in the early 90s. The speaker worked with Patrick at Williams and later moved to Beatrice to prove their abilities without Patrick's guidance. The F1 team struggled due to a new Cosworth engine that was not as powerful or advanced as other teams, and Ford decided to give the engine to another team the following year. Neil received an approach from McLaren around the same time that it became obvious that the F1 team was not going to continue, so he did not have a long period of uncertainty about his future in motorsport.
  • Athletic Greens has multiple benefits, including supporting gut health, the nervous system, sleep, exercise recovery, and focus. It is easy to incorporate into a daily routine and can improve overall health. The McLaren team in the late 80s was a strong engineering team with talented individuals like Gordon Murray and Steve Nichols. The MP4-4 car was a significant improvement over the previous year's model, with a much faster speed and better performance.
  • Prost changed into his jeans mid-qualifying and leaned on the pit wall to annoy Senna during Portugal 88 qualifying. The tension between Prost and Senna started to bubble over during the race in Portugal 88, which was the first time anything particularly aggressive happened between them. During debriefs, Prost and Senna would not speak to each other, but there wasn't any animosity. McLaren had a strong advantage in the 1989 racing season due to their reliable and powerful Honda V10 engine, which was tested extensively in Japan.
  • Cross has won the World Championship and Hetron's behavior makes it impossible to work with him. There was a collision between Senna and Prost at Suzuka, causing legal issues with the FIA. McLaren's active ride car in 1993 was designed in just two to three months and was ready to run at Silverstone. Senna welcomed the developments on the car, spending hours working with the suspension system to hone it for his driving style.
  • The brake steer system introduced in 1997 by Steve Nichols allowed for better mid-corner to exit speed and was worth around three tenths of a lap time initially, increasing to five or more tenths as the team developed it further. Mika Hakkinen was able to return to his old self as a driver after a serious accident thanks to the support of Ron and the team. McLaren was responsible for the innovative F-dot system that eventually led to the introduction of DRS in F1.
  • Lewis Hamilton's ability to exploit tools given to him was impressive and his sheer speed was evident from the start of his career. Intra-team rivalries in Formula One are driven by competitiveness and animosity grows out of the competitive situation between drivers. McLaren has gone through different periods of success and is currently working to regain competitiveness with a new technical regime and wind tunnel. The team is encouraging younger engineers to use their talents and gain experience in different aspects of engineering. There are now more opportunities for engineers in Formula One as all teams have large engineering departments.
  • Logan Sargent's F3 season with Prima was impressive, and his career has crossed paths with Oscar Piaestri multiple times. Fans believe that if Logan can start stringing weekends together, he has a bright future in Formula One. Logan is praised for his talent, humility, and willingness to learn.