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The Most Infamous McLaren Of All

If there was one major take away I had from 77MM, it was the authenticity of the cars present.

I’m sure we’ve all been to events over the years where someone has brought a replica, tribute, homage or whatever you want to call it of a famous racecar. It’s cool, it’s not something I have an issue with but in someway they do create a sense of mistrust.

I mean, there’s no way that’s actually Ayrton Senna’s 1990 Formula 1 World Championship winning car sat in the corner of the paddock. Surely, a car as significant as this would have security nearby or at least a well defined perimeter around it to prevent anyone from getting close? It definitely wouldn’t be parked underneath an ageing wooden shelter either, right?

Of course, this isn’t anywhere ordinary, this is Goodwood. And yes, this is actually Ayrton Senna’s 1990 Formula 1 World Championship winning car; the McLaren MP4/5B.

2019 77MM - McLaren MP4-5B Senna by Paddy McGrath-2
2019 77MM - McLaren MP4-5B Senna by Paddy McGrath-29

I’ve seen countless faux-Formula 1 cars in my time, but typically they’re contemporary cars used as promotional tools at events to impress people who don’t know any better.

There was an initial sense of doubt when I first saw it, but with the ability to get up close and personal with it, it became apparent that not only was this Senna’s 1990 car, but it was also a car that was involved in perhaps the most infamous first corner incident in Formula 1 history.

2019 77MM - McLaren MP4-5B Senna by Paddy McGrath-18

While I didn’t deduce this from the chassis number of MP4/5B/7 (coincidentally, we spotlighted the earlier MP4/5B/1 in 2011 and it’s interesting to note the subtle changes between the two), it was only when I squeezed around to the right side of the car and the scrutiny sticker became visible that I made the connection. It reads:

FIA Formula 1 World Championship
Date: 18 Oct ’90
Event: Japanese
Team: McLaren
Car No. 27

On its own merits, the MP4/5B was an incredibly succesful car. Designed by Neil Oatley, the V10 Honda-powered car racked up 12 pole positions out of 16 races in 1990, while featuring on the podium 18 times between both Senna and his teammate Gerhard Berger. It handed McLaren a third consecutive Constructors’ Championship (their sixth at the time) and Senna his second world title.

What really makes this car special, was its role in deciding the 1990 drivers’ championship.

Having qualified first, Senna fell behind Alain Prost during the sprint to the first corner. Senna felt at the time that pole position was on the wrong side of the track at Suzuka, and that he was being cheated of a second world title.

Whether this was his ultimate motivation for what happened next is unknown, as both drivers had significant history prior to this, but the outcome was that both cars ended up being buried deep in the gravel, races over, and Senna was crowned world champion.

2019 77MM - McLaren MP4-5B Senna by Paddy McGrath-8
2019 77MM - McLaren MP4-5B Senna by Paddy McGrath-31
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2019 77MM - McLaren MP4-5B Senna by Paddy McGrath-26

While Senna was initially insulted by suggestions that he took Prost out on purpose, he later admitted to Jackie Stewart that his actions were intentional. It was this win at any cost mentality that endeared Senna to so many of his fans both during his life and after his death in 1994. Some would consider his actions in Suzuka ’90 as being one step too far, others would see it as just a case of Senna returning the favour to Prost from a similar incident the season previous.

While it’s perhaps considered cliché at this point to hold Senna in reverence, there’s no question of the significance of MP4/5B/7 and its role in one of the most infamous incidents in Formula 1 history.

And there it was, sat quietly beneath a wooden shelter in West Sussex some 29 years later. Goodwood is such a special place.

Paddy McGrath
Instagram: pmcgphotos
Twitter: pmcgphotos

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