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Hidden in the details

The devil, so they say, is in the detail.

With that in mind, we trawled the extensive collection of race- and championship-winning Formula 1 cars that line the boulevard of the McLaren Technology Centre for those elusive, hidden details.

Each car is a treasure trove of efficient design and technology, but these were the lovingly created little details that really stood out for us…

1969 Cosworth maintenance sheet


In modern Formula 1, every component is rigorously lifed, inspected and replaced upon reaching a specific mileage. Back in the 1960s, the same approach also prevailed, albeit measured in different ways. This ageing piece of paperwork, used to monitor the usage of our Cosworth DFV engines, vigorously asserts, ‘It is preferable to be un-informed than ill-informed’. We couldn’t agree more.

1974 Emmo signature

1974 M23

A hidden gem. We walk past the historic cars on the MTC boulevard every day, and this little detail had even evaded us until this feature prompted a closer inspection. Scribbled lovingly on the left-hand cockpit of Emerson Fittipaldi’s 1974 championship-winning M23 is his signature. The double world champ signed it during 2015’s Festival Of Speed, when he blasted his M23 up the famous Goodwood hill.

1981 ground-effect venturis

1981 MP4/1

Our 1981 chassis MP4/1 is the only Formula 1 car displayed in the McLaren collection to use ground-effect – harnessing the entire underbody to develop downforce – and for that reason is worthy of closer inspection. These graceful, arcing venturis look more like an Anish Kapoor sculpture or a Zara Hadid building than a piece of F1 bodywork – and that’s pretty cool in our book…

1984 analogue dials

1984 MP4/2

In the modern age, where almost every dash, dial or readout is hi-def and digital (and that includes the bewilderingly complex LCD displays on modern F1 cars), there’s something reassuringly old-school about an analogue dashboard. F1 teams had all migrated to using digital displays by the late 1980s, so this 1984 example was one of the very last used in grand prix racing. We love the vintage embossed Dymo labels too! 

1990 tiny buttons

1990 MP4/5B

Modern F1 steering wheels have been carefully developed and iterated over many years, ergonomically refined by our drivers both at the track and in the simulator. That wasn’t always the case – and it’s hard to believe that the likes of Ayrton Senna and Gerhard Berger could have even pressed these tiny buttons as they were flinging their bucking and jolting V10-powered McLaren-Hondas around in the early ’90s.

1993 squashed Sonic

1993 MP4/8

In 1993, McLaren kicked off a good-natured spar with the Sega-sponsored Williams team as we both wrestled for world championship honours. This squashed hedgehog decal (a reference to Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog) became a fighter-plane-style badge of honour that was applied to the MP4-8 McLaren-Ford whenever it took a grand prix win.

2005 gold plating

2005 MP4-20A

All that glitters is not gold, or so the saying goes. In this instance, that’s not the case – adorning the rear suspension of the MP4-20 is a heat shield made from actual 24-carat gold leaf. It’s the best material for effectively dissipating heat around the rear of the car, which just goes to show that no expense is spared at McLaren when it comes to performance.

2008 extreme shrink-wrapping

2008 MP4-23

We love 2008’s MP4-23 – for a number of reasons. First, of course, because it won the world championship in the most dramatic style ever; second, it represents the absolute pinnacle of aero complexity and sophistication. At the end of the season, the FIA introduced new rules limiting aerodynamic development, meaning this car looks more like a spacecraft that a racecar. Check out these shrink-wrapped suspension shrouds – weird and beautiful!

2011 exhaust

2011 MP4-26

For 2011, with off-throttle exhaust blowing at its peak, our design team created a sophisticated octopus-like exhaust system to maximise the new technology. Unfortunately, it proved too brittle to ever race, resulting in this last-minute fix, which was flown out to the first race without ever being track tested. Inelegant it may have been, but effective it most certainly was – winning us five grands prix aboard the MP4-26.

2015 aero brake duct

2015 MP4-30

Squirreled away inside the rear wheels of the MP4-30 is this trick piece of aero design. The slotted fins turn the air, creating useful downforce just ahead of the influential rear wing and the rear diffuser. It’s a perfect example of how good design will always extract multiple functions from a single component – in this case, using the brake duct as an aero tool.