The F1 cars that never raced

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Alexander Wurz, McLaren-Mercedes MP4/18, 2003A new book, “Unraced”, takes a look at some of the most recent F1 cars that were built yet never saw the start of a Grand Prix.

It’s full of interesting tales from teams that collapsed to cars that were just too radical to be made reliable.

Here’s four of the most interested F1 cars that were ready to race yet never made the grid.

McLaren-Mercedes MP4/18, 2003

McLaren’s MP4/18 (pictured above) is one of the most celebrated recent cases of a car that never raced.

Desperate to close the gap to Ferrari in 2003, the team elected to start the year using a development of their 2002 car, dubbed MP4/17D, and charge designer Adrian Newey with creating a radical successor, the MP4/18, which they hoped would leap them ahead of Ferrari.

Newey produced a car that drew breaths of astonishment for its radical aerodynamics. The frontal area of the nose section was especially narrow and caused the car to be dubbed ‘anteater’.

But it had more serious problems as the side impact structure failed the FIA’s crash tests. It also suffered some unplanned crash tests as both test driver Alexander Wurz (pictured) and racer Kimi Raikkonen suffered enormous shunts in the MP4/18.

Reliability was also a problem with the narrow side pods impeding heat rejection from the 3.0 litre V10 engine.

If all these problems weren’t enough to dissuade McLaren from racing the MP4/18, the continued success of the interim car banged the final nail in the coffin. Raikkonen was challenging Michael Schumacher for the championship, and that was not to be risked on a wholly unproven car.

But the MP4/18 heavily influenced the next generation of McLarens. That began inauspiciously with the disastrous MP4/19, but a revised ‘B’ version of the car turned the team’s fortunes around and won a race in 2004.

Lola-Ford T97/30, 1997

Lola-Ford T97/30, 1997Lola had made F1 entries on earlier occasions but their 1997 bid may have killed off any desire to return again. Early in the 1990s the chassis builder created the T95/30, built to 1995 specifications, which intriguingly had no airbox on its engine.

The team slated a return for 1997 and created the T97/30, which was wholly conventional in its appearance. The team made it to the first race but then discovered just how shockingly slow the car was: In qualifying, Vincenzo Sospiri qualified at 1’40.972 – 11.6s slower than Jacques Villeneuve’s pole position time.

Under the 1997 rules this meant that neither car failed to qualify, as all drivers had to lap with 107% of the pole position time.

The team packed up for the next round at Brazil, but then came the news that the anticipated backing from Mastercard had fallen through and there was no money left.

Thus the T97/30 never raced. But if it had, it should probably have competed in F3000 instead – and even then it probably wouldn’t have won.

DAMS GD-01, 1995

Erik Comas, DAMS GD-01, 1995The DAMS team’s F1 project in the mid-1990s was an optimistic attempt to bring a new French team into F1 at the time when the two remaining French outfits – Ligier and Larrousse – were struggling.

The GD-01 suffered from the same uncertainty in the F1 regulations around 1994 and 1995 that gave Lola headaches with their T94/30. It was a very conservative car with ample cooling, unadventurous aerodynamics and an off-the-shelf Cosworth V8 engine.

Over the winter of 1994/5 Larrousse found itself in trouble and a tie-up with DAMS was mooted to allow Larrousse to use its cars. But the two outfits failed to agree terms which was the death knell for both their F1 ambitions – Larrousse was gone and DAMS never made it into F1, but it remains a competitive force in GP2 and A1 Grand Prix.

Dome F105, 1996

Dome, F105, 1996After Honda withdrew from its role as an engine supplier in 1992 speculation grew that it would shortly return as a full-time entry. Various prototype Honda F1 cars were run in the early 1990s (which are also featured in “Unraced”) but those projects were canned.

In 1996 Dome (pronounced ‘Doh-mu’) began testing its own F1 car and, as it featured a Mugen-Honda engine, suspicions were aroused that this would be Honda’s return to F1. Suspicions was rife – Japanese tyre manufacturer Bridgestone was preparing to enter the sport in 1997 and Goodyear were concerned about giving Dome their tyres in case Bridgestone got their hands on them.

One-time F1 racer Marco Apicella and Shinji Nakano (who would make his F1 debut in 1997) tested the F105 in 1996. But late that year their only car caught fire while testing at Suzuka. Although the driver escaped as there were no marshals nearby the F105 was destroyed.

Lacking the budget to build replacement, Dome’s hopes of racing were crushed. Another unraced F1 car was consigned to the history books.

“Unraced” is published by Veloce. Don’t miss our review of the book this Sunday. See here for details on how to stay up-to-date with the latest from F1 Fanatic.

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