The McLaren M26 was constructed as a replacement for the aging M23 model. The design was courtesy of Gordon Coppuck who incorporated lightweight designs and technology to reduce the vehicles overall weight. The car was given a narrower monocoque and a smaller frontal area.
Jochen Mass was given the privilege of determining the cars potential during testing sessions. It was discovered that the car suffered from cooling problems which forced Coppuck to redesign the radiator to improve airflow. Further testing and development continued.
The car made its racing debut at the Dutch Grand Prix in the hands of Mass. The team was not satisfied with the car, and further development, mainly to the nose section, was undertaken. The car did not reappear in Grand Prix competition during the 1976 season. Instead, McLaren relied on the aging, yet proven, M23 cars.
The M23 was used for the first few races of the 1977 season. The M26 made its second racing debut at the Spanish Grand Prix. The car was reliable, but it was not an overwhelming success. As the season progressed, so did the car. The cars performance and handling were continued to be improved, resulting in James Hunt to capture three victories. Two other podium finishes were made by Hunt during the year.
McLaren finished the season with 69 points and third in the Constructors' Championship.
For the 1978 season, the M26 was again the teams car. Mass was replaced by Patrick Tambay, whose career had begun with Surtees, and would later include McLaren, Ferrari, Theodore, Renault, and Hass Lola. The McLaren team got off to a promising start, but other team introductions part way through the season, had McLaren loosing ground. Lotus introduced their Type 79, which immediately made the M26 obsolete.
Mid-way through the season, Coppuck performed an extensive redesign on the car, giving it partial ground effects and enlarging the sidepods. It was given smaller wings in both the front and rear, and the suspension was revised. The improvements did not help, and Lotus's dominance continued.
At the conclusion of the season, the McLaren M26 was retired. The McLaren team would not score another victory until 1981.
During the McLaren M26's racing career, it scored three victories and earned a total of 86 points. By Daniel Vaughan | Jun 2007