The McLaren M23 was introduced in 1973 and borrowed design inspired from the Lotus 72 and from their own M16 Indy car. McLaren had separated themselves from most other racing car manufacturers by dabbling in multiple series. The traditional thought was to specialize in one arena rather than spread one's self thin by trying to do it all. McLaren proved they were up to the task by running successfully in four major championships - Formula 1, Formula 5000, CanAm, and Indy. Part of their success was using knowledge gained in one series to benefit the others. By the early 1970's, McLaren had won the Indy 500 and the F5000, CanAm, and F1 Championship.
McLaren entered the F1 Series in 1966 and managed a few wins throughout the first few years. It was not until McLaren married technology from their F1 program to their Indy program that their prospects in the sport changed. Gordon Cuppock took the monocoque of the M16B, the car that won the Indy 500 in 1972, and adapted it to the M19 Formula One car to create the M23.
McLaren began using the car in the third race of the 1973 season. Denny Hulme and Peter Revson drove the car to a third place finish in the constructor's championship. Revson, who had scored two victories, one at the British Grand Prix and the second at the Canadian Grand Prix, finished fifth in the championship while Hulme finished in sixth position with one race victory. Revson went to race for Shadow in 1974. Tragedy struck at the South African Grand Prix in Johannesburg when his suspension failed in his Shadow DN3 and he was killed. This was very unfortunately as his brother had died in a crash in Denmark in 1967. Revson was replaced by Tom Pryce in F1 competition, who lost his life three years later at the same Grand Prix.
In the 1974 the Yardley livery on the M23 was replaced with new sponsorship, Marlboro-Texaco. This would begin a relationship between Marlboro and McLaren that would last for a long time. Emerson Fittipaldi was added to the team to take the place of Revson. In the first two races of the season, the Hulme and Fittipaldi duo were able to score victories for Team McLaren. Fittipaldi went on to finish the season in second place in the world championship. The work by both drivers earned the McLaren team its first constructor's championship title. To add to their successful season, a M16C had been driven to the team's second Indy 500 victory.
At the end of the 1974 season, Hulme retired from competition and was replaced by Jochen Mass. The M23 continued to be used in competition and was still competitive enough to earn Fittipaldi a second place finish behind Austrian Niki Lauda in his Ferrari 312T. McLaren finished in third position in the constructors' championship.
The 1975 season was one of the most entertaining seasons of all time, though controversial. The entire season came down to the last race and the last few laps. The season ended much differently than it began. During the first eight races, Niki Lauda racked up enough points to lead the next closest competitor by nearly double. He had won four races and earned three podium finishes. At Nurburgring, Lauda was involved in an accident that left him burned, bruised, and in no condition to finish the season. He returned to the sport only three races after his accident, still bearing the burns, bruises, and injuries of his accident. He was in no condition to drive, yet he did, though he was not as fast as he was prior to the race. Hunt took advantage of the situation and won four the next six races. The final race was at the Japanese Grand Prix. Hunt was just three points behind Lauda. The day prior to the race, it rained so much that the teams and drivers voted not to race. The organizers of the event felt compelled to give the crowd what they had come to see, so the race was not canceled. Shortly before the race, the rain subsided slightly which made conditions a little more suitable for the drivers. With the accident still fresh in Lauda's mind, he decided to retire from the race. Hunt still needed a fourth place finish to pass Lauda in points and secure the championship. With only a few laps to go, Hunt was in fifth place. Due to the conditions on the track, many racers, including Hunt, had spun and had to battle to regain their positions. With only three laps to go, Hunt was able to move into the third place and secured his championship victory.
The M23 was used again in 1976 but raced for only part of the season, as it was replaced by the M26. By this time, McLaren was focusing all their attention on the sport which was not a good formula for the team. Their luck changed for the next few years in Formula 1 competition and they experienced their worst performance in Formula 1 competition.
The M23 had won 16 victories, one constructors' championship and two drivers championships. In total, 13 examples were produced. By Daniel Vaughan | Jan 2007