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Partnership for Success: TAG Porsche Turbo Engines & Team McLaren

Photos and story by Harry Kennison

In the early 80's it became apparent that if you wanted to win the Formula 1 World Championship, you needed to have a turbocharged engine. Renault had pioneered turbocharging in the mid 70's, but it took the engineering and budgetary might of BMW to be the first to win a championship with a turbo engine. In 1983 the tiny 4-cylinder 1.5 liter (about 81 cubic inches) BMW turbo was capable of producing well over 1,200 horsepower. It took Nelson Piquet to his second World Championship, besting the normally aspirated 3-liter-engine cars fielded by the Ferrari, Williams, and McLaren teams.

Ron Dennis, principal at Team McLaren, saw the turbo "writing on the wall." In 1981 he started shopping for a turbo engine of his own to replace the aging Ford Cosworth V-8 that had been around for 14 years. His search led him to Porsche. It was no secret that Porsche had achieved considerable racing success with turbocharging over the years with their Le Mans racing program. However, the cost of funding the design and development of a brand new turbo engine was more than what Dennis's sizable budget would allow.

Enter Mansour Ojjeh, the son of a wealthy Saudi Arabian entrepreneur. Ojjeh and his company, Techniques d'Avant Garde (TAG), had begun their involvement in Formula 1 as the primary sponsor of the Williams F-1 team in 1979. Their funding was a major factor in securing two world championships for Williams in 1980 and 1982.

Instead of just being a F-1 sponsor, Ron Dennis lured Ojjeh away from Williams by offering him a partnership agreement in his engine deal with Porsche. The two men formed a new company called TAG Turbo Engines in 1982 and unveiled their 1.5 liter six-cylinder turbo engine at the 1983 Geneva Auto Show. Although it was badged as a TAG Turbo, everyone knew deep down it was a Porsche.

The TAG-Porsche turbo was mated with the highly successful McLaren MP4 carbon-fiber chassis designed by the talented John Barnard. The engine made its racing debut at the Dutch Grand Prix in mid-season of 1983 in the hands of the former Austrian world Champion, Niki Lauda. Although it showed considerable promise, several teething problems kept it from making it to the podium in its first season. 1984 would prove to be a different story.

For 1984 Ron Dennis had signed the Frenchman Alain Prost to partner Lauda at McLaren. Unlike the previous year, the TAG-Porsche engine would prove to be nearly bulletproof. These two drivers combined to win 12 of the 16 races, with Lauda taking his third and final World Drivers' Championship by a single point over teammate Alain Prost. Lauda won despite the fact that Prost racked up seven wins to Niki's five victories; consistent finishes are what tipped the scales in Lauda's favor. Their dominant performance also gave the McLaren-TAG Porsche the coveted Manufacturers' Championship.

In 1985 Prost and Lauda continued their winning ways, winning seven of the 16 races with Prost taking the Drivers' Championship and the TAG-Porsche-powered McLaren their second Constructors' Championship.

Following Lauda's retirement, Prost would win four more races in 1986 in the McLaren-TAG Porsche and take the Driving crown for the second straight year. In 1987, the final year of the TAG-Porsche power, Prost added another three victories for Team McLaren.

During its four full seasons of competition, the TAG-Porsche turbo engine powered McLaren to 26 Grand Prix victories including six 1–2 finishes, winning an astonishing 41% of the races entered. All in all, it was not a bad partnership for McLaren, TAG, and Porsche.

 

Driver 1984 Wins 1985 Wins 1986 Wins 1987 Wins Total Wins
Alain Prost 7 6 4 3 20
Niki Lauda 5 1 6
McLaren-TAG Porsche 12 7 4 3 26
Total Races 16 16 16 16 64
Win Percentage 75% 44% 25% 19% 41%
Drivers' World Championship Lauda Prost Prost   3
Constructors' World Championship McLaren-TAG Porsche McLaren-TAG Porsche     2

  Click on any photo to enlarge it

Alain Prost (#7) leads teammate Niki Lauda (#8) in their McLaren-TAG Porsches through the hairpin turn during the 1984 Canadian Grand Prix held at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on the Isle of Notre Dame in Montreal. This would prove to be one of the few races they didn't win that season; however, they did finish second and third.

McLaren mechanics work on Alain Prost's #7 McLaren-TAG Porsche prior to qualifying at the 1984 Canadian Grand Prix.

Three-time World Driving Champion, Niki Lauda.

The Niki Lauda fan club was present and accounted for at the 1984 Canadian Grand Prix cheering him on to his third World Championship.

Niki Lauda, two-time World Champion with Ferrari, powers his McLaren-TAG Porsche through the hairpin in route to a third place finish and valuable points toward the 1984 World Championship which he would ultimately win by 1/2 point over his teammate Alain Prost.