Ayrton Senna’s Lamborghini-powered McLaren
In 1993 McLaren had to switch from Honda to Ford for its F1 engine supply. Unhappy with Ford, McLaren organised secret Lamborghini powered tests at Silverstone and Estoril
Ayrton Senna saw great success at McLaren, winning all three of his Formula 1 World Championships with the British team. His victories are well documented, but what isn’t as well known is that he wanted a Lamborghini engine in his F1 car.
If you could wind the clock back to September 1993 at Silverstone, you would see none other than Ayrton Senna driving an unbranded car. This white racer was a modified MP4/8, but unlike the regular car, this B model was modified to feature a Lamborghini V12 engine instead of the Ford Cosworth.
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McLaren were forced to take the Ford engine for the 1993 season due to Honda pulling out of Formula 1 and ending this successful partnership. Performance was lacking and Senna was unhappy that McLaren’s customer Ford V8 engines weren’t as powerful as the factory Ford engines used by Benetton. Months of negotiations between McLaren’s Ron Dennis and Bob Lutz of Chrysler/Lamborghini lead to a handshake deal and the re-engineering of the MP4/8.
Modified to accommodate the larger engine, the now MP4/8B was tested by Senna and Mika Häkkinen at Silverstone. Lamborghini’s V12 had been supplied to smaller teams with limited success, but this was the raging bull’s chance to prove that it could really succeed with the help of a top team like McLaren.
After some feedback from Ayrton and Mika, engineers worked on the V12 to deliver better mid-range performance. Further tinkering and another test at Estoril in Portugal had McLaren’s star driver convinced. He reportedly wanted the engine in the car for the up and coming Japanese grand prix, but Ron Dennis said no.
Behind the scenes Ron was working on a deal with Peugeot to enter F1 off the back of its recent Le Mans success. Where did that leave Lamborghini? Out in the cold. Ford eventually gave McLaren the same engines as Benetton and the team ultimately won the 1993 season. In 1994 the McLaren MP4/9 was powered by a Peugeot V10 that turned out to be terribly unreliable.
Lamborghini was naturally unimpressed, but it had bigger problems to concentrate on. The company was struggling financially and eventually sold by Chrysler to the Indonesian VPower Corporation in 1994.
The McLaren Lamborghini combination could have seen success, but fate — and Ron Dennis — clearly had other ideas.
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