How McLaren won one Formula One title after another with us

From McLaren to Ferrari: Successful F1 teams trusted technology from Ennepetal

John Barnard is considered one of the most influential engineers of Formula One: In the early 1980s he developed the first monocoque manufactured from carbon fibre. A little later, Bernard introduced the so-called bottle neck shape, which is characteristic for modern Formula One bolides even today. But when the British man constructed the MP4/1 for McLaren in 1981, he was faced with a problem.

In the early 80s Barnard trusted a system in which skirting panels made of ebonite abrade so closely to the floor that it creates a vacuum under the car, which push the bolide towards the asphalt – the so-called ground effect. But this system had not matured. Years later, Barnard explains: “At given speeds and curve angles the forces under the car became so strong that the entire car was sucked down, the skirting panels sagged and broke.”

Help came from Ennepetal: “The gas-pressure shock absorbers from BILSTEIN were the best remedy,” Barnard raved. It was the beginning of a highly successful collaboration, which was crowned with three world championship titles. In 1984 Niki Lauda won the Formula One World Championship with the McLaren Tag Turbo and half (!) a point more than his team colleague Alain Prost. In 1985 and 1986 the Frenchman took the title.

In the McLaren team, Alain Prost was also the one who did the basic tuning of the BILSTEIN shock absorbers. Volker Branderhorst, at the time responsible, amongst others, for our motorsports customer support of Formula One, remembers: “I did not often meet drivers that made good statements like Prost did.”

Shortly afterwards, we were involved in another mega trend of Formula One. Initially, our motorsports department and Lotus-Honda developed a semi-active suspension. In 1991 we became the suspension partner of Ferrari. Together with the Italians we developed the active suspension of the Ferrari F1 cars. The pilots Alain Prost and Jean Alesi regularly placed themselves under the first three.

According to legends, the extreme compact shock absorbers were referred to as “marvels” – and Jean Alesi is said to have kept them in his bed at night…