For the whole time Ron Dennis has been hat the helm of McLaren, from 1980 onwards, the cars produced in Woking have been designated with the alpha-numeric sequence, MP4. The characters are then appended with the chassis number, currently 23 for their 2008 machine. I’ve always wondered why the cars have this sequence of letters and numbers, especially when others are a bit more obvious. Eddie Jordan started to use his initials in his team’s latter years, and Vijay Mallya who now owns the outfit has done the same. Renault simply call it the R and BMW go with the uninspiring F1, Red Bull also refuse to stray too far from convention with their cars named RBR and STR for the two teams. But Dennis’s MP4 designation has roots which explain the original reason as to how he became the team principal and part-owner in one of Formula One’s top teams.
Before Dennis was a team owner, he spent many years working on the Cooper and Brabham cars as a mechanic. Dennis was fairly young at the time, many of his peers at least a decade older. However, he became friendly with many drivers and worked hard to ensure he did his bit to help the cars win. In 1971 though, following the retirement of Jack Brabham, Dennis decided to start his own racing team with friend Neil Trundle. Naming the team Rondel and working out of Dennis’s hometown of Woking, the squad started to mature and by the middle of the decade were enjoying success in Formula Two.
Further twists and turns in the mid-to-late ’70s led Dennis to forming Project Three, and after moderate success, Project Four a few years later. Project Four built on Three’s success, but still Formula One was slightly out of reach for the Briton. Ever the ambitious soul though, Dennis hired John Barnard to design him a Formula One car.
In late 1980, the Marlboro-backed McLaren F1 team were struggling. Poor performance was putting the squad in crisis and something had to be done to find a way out and to improve. Philip Morris executive John Hogan forced McLaren to merge with Dennis’s Project Four, shaking up the F1 team and giving Dennis a return to top-flight racing. Ron essentially became the boss of the merged teams, now known as McLaren International. And with John Barnard designing the next McLaren chassis, Ron decided to name it after his own project, and the company who provided the means and funds for his endeavours to be realised; Marlboro and Project Four. A short time later, Barnard had designed the MP4-1.
Image courtesy of John Chapman.