On March 5, 1981 McLaren Racing introduced the carbon fiber monocoque to Formula 1 in the McLaren MP4/1: it offered an unbeatable combination of strength and lightness.
It had an immediate impact on the series, with driver John Watson winning the 1981 British Grand Prix at Silverstone. It also proved an effective safety cell, with Watson walking away from a dramatic high-speed crash at Monza later that season.
Within a few years, every other Formula 1 team had followed suit, and McLaren's place as carbon innovators was sealed.
On March 4, 2011, John Watson will be re-united with the MP4/1 at Silverstone as he gets the opportunity to drive the McLaren MP4-12C, the latest carbon fiber-based road car from McLaren, and the first to feature an innovative, one-piece molded carbon chassis structure: the MonoCell.
McLaren has consistently innovated in the field of composites technology. Launching the 12C in 2011 means that through industrialization of the production process, it could potentially kick-starts the era of one-piece molded carbon chassis in more cars.
Antony Sheriff, Managing Director at McLaren Automotive, said: "McLaren is a company driven by a passion to innovate. That passion manifests itself in advances in uses of materials and technologies in order to win motor races and produce ground-breaking cars. But only now, almost 30 years to the day when we introduced the first carbon chassis, are we seeing that technology begin to transfer to more mainstream production."
John Watson said: "The MP4/1's safety cell almost certainly saved my life. But I am convinced it also contributed to McLaren getting back to winning ways after a very lean spell. It was hugely exciting to be part of what felt like a revolution and amazing to think that not only did all racing teams follow McLaren's lead, but that McLaren has stuck to carbon so religiously in everything it has done."
The carbon chassis of the McLaren F1 took up to 3000 hours to complete each unit. The bonded carbon chassis of the SLR reduced that time ten-fold. The new carbon manufacturing process developed for the 12C means the MonoCell can be produced in a four-hour cycle. Investing in this process means McLaren Automotive is making carbon a reality to sports car enthusiasts seeking the ultimate in lightweight and safe chassis construction, at a price point more affordable to a wider market.
McLaren's carbon heritage
March 5, 1981: McLaren MP4/1, the first Ron Dennis-era Formula 1 car, and the first Formula 1 car with a carbon fiber monocoque, races at Silverstone.
1993: The legendary McLaren F1 sports car becomes the first road car to feature a carbon chassis. It sets the production car speed record in March 1998 at 240.1mph.
1995: A McLaren F1 enters the Le Mans 24 Hours endurance race and wins on its debut: the last road-based racing car to win at Le Mans.
2009: The last of over 2000 carbon fiber-based Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren supercars is produced at the McLaren Technology Centre. It becomes the most successful car built on a carbon chassis.
2010: The McLaren MP4-12C is revealed, featuring a new one-piece, molded and hollow carbon composite chassis.
2011: January sees the first 12C production car enter the MTC production line as volume production of the carbon chassis begins at CarboTech
2011: March will see the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Formula 1 team compete with McLaren Racing's 200th carbon fiber chassis on the MP4/26.
2012: McLaren Automotive plans to launch its second carbon-based high-performance sports cars