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DECEMBER 6, 2002

The F1 World According to Professor Gordon Murray


Gordon Murray, one of the great innovators of modern F1, who built cars which took World Championships with Nelson Piquet in Brabham-Ford and Brabham-BMWs, and later with Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost in McLaren-Hondas, reckons that Ferrari made one mistake this year.

"Not letting the drivers race."

Speaking during his inaugural lecture as Honorary Professor of his alma mater, the Durban Institute of Technology, the South African recalled particularly the 1988/89 years when "Ayrton and Alain's behavior made me think of school days as I handed out punishments to keep them in check. On more than one occasion I had to play 007 to get to the bottom of things after they misinformed us to try and pull one over the other because they were so absolutely competitive and did everything possible to beat each other. It was very trying to run a team like that, but it gave us real satisfaction to work that way, and kept the punters glued to their TVs because we gave them real racing. That is what it is all about."

Durban-born Murray believes the recent efforts of the sport to 'spice up the show' won't be successful. "The first suggestions were just plain silly - with weight penalties and switching drivers - while the new lot are too little, too late. They won't make a difference - they have not gone far enough by far.

"The big problem is that the regulations put all the critical masses in the same place and restrict aerodynamics, so you cannot have any bright ideas. When we were working in the eighties you could find a second or a 20% downforce advantage by doing something clever. Today, after working non-stop for 220 days in a windtunnel, an engineer shouts "Eureka" if he finds 2% in total. After 220 non-stop days!"

Murray says that his favorite memory of a driver was that of the late Ayrton Senna.

"It is, without doubt, Ayrton's powers of concentration," he says. "The size of the part of Ayrton's brain which controlled his concentration must have been the size of the this room because his concentration was phenomenal. It was a real pleasure to work with him as an engineer because his recall was fantastic and his inputs totally accurate."

Murray now holds full professorial privileges in the Institute's Faculty Of Engineering, Science and the Built Environment, which he believes gave him the necessary rounding to develop his skills.

"More than anything the Natal Technical College, as it was called in my student days, taught me general, all-round engineering skills, which is exactly what I needed. When I worked for Bernie Ecclestone at Brabham in 1971 with only one assistant, a total skills package was vital to design the whole car; later, as staff grew at Brabham and then McLaren, it was necessary to understand exactly what every specialist was doing."

Since his F1 days Murray has designed the Le Mans-winning McLaren F1 road car and is currently involved in the design of the new McLaren-Mercedes road car, which is due to appear in the next year.