Even some of the best teams and individuals go through dark periods where the constitution is severely tested. It is these moments that are of utmost in importance for the choices made will, quite possibly, dictate every response in any given situation from that point onwards. The ability get back up and try again makes the difference between those who become the best and those that don't even exist.
After a successful early and middle-part of the 1970s decade, McLaren began to struggle. Thoroughly dominated by the Lotus 78 and 79 ground-effect chassis, neither one of McLaren's cars would challenge for either the Drivers' or the Constructors' Championships throughout the later part of the 1970s. Then, the team would hit its lowest point with what was called the 'ghastly' M28 chassis. This chassis, used during the 1979 season, would only help John Watson score mediocre points. The car didn't have the performance necessary to challenge some of the mid-pack runners, let alone Ligier-Ford or Ferrari. The team needed to do something, and fast.
Gordon Cuppock, who had designed the 'ghastly' M28, would be given another chance to create a winning design. However, even though he had another chance to build a better car, time was not on his side. He would need to make obvious changes in order to improve performance.
Due to the time issue, the M29 wasn't exactly a clean sheet idea. It would borrow heavily from the M28, but it would feature some very important changes that were intended to make the new car better than its predecessor.
Coppuck would start with the same aluminum monocoque bathtub structure to which tubular framing and fiberglass body panels would be attached. In addition to the tub structure, the all-important sidepods were also made of aluminum monocoque construction for lighter weight and greater strength.
While utilizing the same type of structure and tubular framing to attach the engine, the nose was also an evolution of previous McLaren designs. Moving the radiator to the sidepods enabled the length of the nose to be reduced. This made it possible for the aluminum monocoque structure to extend all the way out to the very tip of the nose. This helped to maintain rigidity and cohesion in the design. Smaller tubular framing would be used to reinforce the nose. and nose bodywork, the shaping of the fiberglass bodywork would go through some thorough evolution.
One of the obvious places the fiberglass bodywork would go through evolution would be up near the nose of the car. Aesthetically, the changes from the M28 to the M29 become readily apparent.
The nose on the M28 was based, in part, upon the M26 produced from 1976-1978. The design of the M26 featured what appeared to be one chassis stacked upon another. The aluminum monocoque structure was merely surrounded by a wrap-around piece of fiberglass. The nose, itself, featured a tubular frame covered also by a fiberglass nose.
While this design was improved aerodynamically on the M28, it still was not as efficient a design as possible. This would be one of the first areas to be changed on the M29. While the monocoque structure remained underneath, including the tubular roll-over structure at the front of the cockpit, it would be covered by a much more aerodynamically efficient fiberglass bodywork panel.
The M29 would retain the low-profile, wide nose, like that on the M28, but it would smoothly slope upward as it travelled aft toward the cockpit. This single piece of fiberglass would then sweep upward much more dramatically in order to surround the cockpit.
The most important feature of the M29 was its ground-effects design. Relying upon the ground-effects to provide the majority of the downforce, or aerodynamic grip, a couple of options were available for the drivers and the team for the nose. At the lower downforce circuits, it would be at the driver's discretion whether the car would run with a front wing or not. In the case of the last evolution of the M29 chassis, the front wing would end up being attached to the top of the nose. This would get the wing up out of the way of the air flowing toward the sidepods and underneath the car, which was important for the production of downforce with the ground-effects chassis.
In any case, the front wing was merely a single-plane wing that attached to either side of the nose and was supported by a spar running through the nose itself. This single-plane front wing had a larger camber on its lower-side to help generate downforce providing greater balance at the front of the car.
In an effort to improve aerodynamic efficiency around the nose even further, the front suspension arrangement would go through an evolution as well. The front suspension on the M29 would be a double-wishbone arrangement with a solid upper arm. On the M28, the arrangement was similar, but the coil spring protruded out the side of the car's nose, and therefore, disrupted the airflow toward the radiators in the sidepod and the underside of the sidepods to help with ground-effects production. This would be changed on the M29.
As stated, the M29 featured a double-wishbone suspension. The solid upper arm had a central hinge that would be covered by the contoured fiberglass bodywork, which had a rounded leading edge to help smoothly direct the air over this part of the suspension. This bodywork was much more contoured on the M29 than its predecessor. The leading edge of the bodywork swept outward much more gently than the simple 'wing' shrouds used on the M28.
Underneath the bodywork, and in-board, the solid upper arm was attached to the top of the coil spring and provided the input for the front suspension. This design arrangement went through an evolution so that the coil springs could remain hidden inside, and underneath, the car's bodywork.
Truly a bathtub crash structure, the monocoque structure was deeply channeled out on the sides. This was designed on purpose to adhere to new regulations concerning larger cockpit openings to aid the driver getting out during an accident. Also in accordance with increased regulations, to the driver's front, the monocoque structure rose up over the top of the driver's legs and feet. Many of the designs prior to this time had an open area in the top of the foot box in which the steering column could be readily seen traveling down to connect to the steering rods. In contrast, the M29 had tubular framing that formed the roll-over structure at the front of the car. This tubular structure attached to the top of the aluminum monocoque tub structure.
Due to the rather short nose on the car, there was a short steering column utilized. The steering column was supported directly by the tub structure and attached to a part of the structure in the cockpit. A small instrument panel was made to attach to the tubular structure right in view of the driver.
Readily visible inside the cockpit, the gearshift and line running back to the car's McLaren/Hewland 6-speed manual gearbox ran just to the right of the driver's leg and hip. Otherwise unprotected, the contoured fiberglass bodywork formed the cockpit sides and was the only protection for the driver to the side.
Directly behind the driver's head, serving the same purpose as the roll-over tubular framing in front of the driver, was the tubular roll-hoop. This roll-hoop protected the driver in the event the car rolled. The roll-hoop ran right down inside the monocoque crash structure.
To either side of the driver rested perhaps the most important performance component on the car, with the exception of the engine. In each of the sidepods was either the engine's radiator, or, the oil cooler. Besides cooling uses, the sidepods served another, very important, purpose.
Ground-effects works by trapping air under the car, squeezing it and forcing it out the back of the car. When the air gets squeezed it becomes accelerated, which drops its pressure. This drop in pressure creates a suction that pulls the car down to the track. This suction, or downforce, is reduced any time air is able to escape out from underneath the car. The ground-effects chassis, like the M29, utilized 'sliding skirts', which were simply vertical metal plates that hung on the outside edge and underneath each sidepod. This was another area of specific focus for the M29.
The radiator inlets in each of the sidepods on the M28 were rectangular in shape and rather large. This increased drag around the inlet, but it also lessened the amount of air that could be channeled under each sidepod to increase the efficiency of the ground-effects chassis. This would be refined on the M29.
In height of the inlets were reduced on both sides. In fact, the whole of the sidepod rested lower to the ground and gently sloped upward as it travelled aft. To accomplish the necessary cooling, the radiator and oil coolers were laid down inside the sidepod. This meant the inlet opening could be reduced while the same area of radiator could be used. To further help with airflow into the radiator inlet, slots were cut into the top of the sidepod bodywork. As the air passed over the top of the sidepod it would create a low pressure and would pull air out of the radiator and oil coolers. This suctioning force would also help to draw more air in. This would help to reduce instability to a degree as it would help to eliminate air getting all 'bottled-up' at the front of the inlet opening.
The usefulness of the sidepod didn't stop with the cooling operations and ground-effects. The rear of the car, especially with all of the exhaust pipes, rear suspension, engine and other components, could make for a large drag coefficient. In an effort to reduce this drag and instability at the rear of the car another fiberglass bodywork panel was attached to the top and rear part of the each sidepod. This bodywork consisted of an outer leading edge that directed air over a smooth panel that ran aft covering the area to the side of the engine, including the exhausts and the rear suspension. This provided some way for the air to flow smoothly out the back of the car. In addition to the flat, smooth panel, air was directed toward a contoured 'flip-up'. The tires on an open-wheel car constitute the vast majority of the drag created by the car. The large rear tires on the McLaren were an especially big hindrance to the car. The flip-up helped to direct some airflow up an over the top of the rear wheel, thereby reducing instability due to drag. Even though Coppuck would evolve the M28 and come to introduce the design on the M28, this design implemented right away on the M29 was quite a departure from the very first evolutions of the M28 chassis. The first iteration of the chassis basically only had what amounted to a fence that wrapped around the inside of the rear tire.
While Coppuck was making strides toward a more aerodynamically efficient design, he would choose to leave the engine area totally uncovered with some evolutions of the chassis. On earlier evolutions of the chassis, the entire engine would be covered by a fiberglass engine cowling. All that would remain open would be the top for the induction pipes to extend vertically. Later generations of the chassis would go without the engine cowling altogether. Without the engine cowling covering the sides of the engine banks, it was obvious to see the engine merely bolted to the back of the tub structure when looking at the M29. Instead of the resting within the monocoque crash structure, the engine bolted to tubular mounts that actually made it a stressed member of the car. It was also easy to see the M29 was very much a rear-engined car, instead of a mid-engine design.
McLaren stuck with the venerable 3.0-liter Ford-Cosworth engine. Its 90 degree, V8 was capable of producing 475 hp and turn at 10,750 rpms. In spite of being almost 1300 pounds, the normally aspirated V8 could still push the M29 up over 150 mph in a kilometer and could go from zero to 60 in three seconds flat.
Previous chassis designs by Coppuck that made use of the normally aspirated Cosworth engine also implemented airboxes of many different designs in order to channel and force air into the induction pipes. Since the tall airboxes were banned a couple of seasons prior, many designers played around with many different designs that would implemented throughout the course of a year. The M29 would not use any kind of airbox.
The exhaust pipes for the V8 swept upwards and exited up towards the top of the engine. This helped to reduce the amount of elements running between the large rear wheels and the engine and gearbox.
The rear wheels utilized ventilated disc brakes, just like the front. In an attempt to control temperatures, and to help clean up the area around the suspension members, the discs and the calipers were moved in-board, away from the wheel. This arrangement kept the usually crowded area rather clear. On the M29, the rear disc brakes were positioned back out at the wheels. In spite of this, the rear suspension was rather free of clutter. This was helped by positioning of the exhaust pipes toward the center of the car and up above the suspension.
Lacking the exhaust running between the control arms, the rear suspension was actually quite a clean design on the M29. The rear suspension consisted of a double-wishbone arrangement with the top arm swinging up and down on a tubular hinge. This hinge was actually connected to a machined metal plate that attached to the top of the gearbox. Connected to the upper arm was a single bar that attached to the top of the coil spring and acted as a rocker arm. Attached to the backside of the metal plate that held the hinge for the rear suspension was a small cooler used to reduce the temperatures of the fluid in the gearbox.
Attached to the backside of the gearbox was the car's single-plane rear wing. Greatly cambered on the underside, and deeply contoured on the top, the single-plane wing was fully adjustable. A number of positions in the endplate allowed the angle of the wing's leading edge to be tilted up or down. The deep rear wing used only a single pillar for its support and rigidity.
It was greatly desired the M29 would vastly improve upon the poor performances of the M28. The new car was introduced at the British Grand Prix in July of 1979. Unfortunately, the car didn't qualify all that well; John Watson would start the race from 7th. Watson would finish better than how he had started. Watson would finish the race at Silverstone in 4th and would earn 3 points for his effort. Unfortunately for the team, this would be as good as it got.
The best result the team would have throughout the rest of the season would be at the very next race. Watson would start the race from the 12th position on the grid but would manage to turn that in for a 5th place finish by the end.
Patrick Tambay, McLaren's second driver, would absolutely struggle with the new car. From the time the team would get the new M29 until the end of the season, Tambay would only finish inside the top-ten three times out of seven races. His best finish would be 7th at the British Grand Prix. He would suffer from five retirements. Four straight retirements would be how he ended the 1979 season.
While it would be an improvement in performance over the M28, the M29 would do little to return McLaren to its glory from earlier in the decade. In fact, it did little; to nothing, to lift the darkness. It would be another few years before the team would emerge from the darkness and become one of the most dominant teams in Formula One history.Sources:
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