We celebrate McLaren’s 50 years in F1
What might Bruce McLaren think today were he to take a tour of the steel-and-glass architectural extravaganza that is the McLaren Technology Centre? He’d probably be stunned that Formula 1 has come so far, so fast, since he first led his team to a grand prix start at Monaco, in 1966 (though he would also be delighted that the Austin 7 in which he began racing still takes pride of place in the MTC’s ‘Boulevard’ entrance walkway).
McLaren’s first grand prix wasn’t the most auspicious: Bruce qualified his M2B tenth, almost three seconds off the pole time of Jim Clark’s Lotus 33, and his race lasted only nine laps before he had to retire because of an oil leak. But it was the start of something very big indeed. Within two seasons McLaren were race winners – Bruce becoming only the second man to win a grand prix in a car bearing his own name, in Belgium. By the end of that year, 1968, they’d won two more and finished second in the constructors’ championship.
Since that debut, 50 years ago, McLaren have won 182 GPs, second only to Ferrari, who, with an extra 16 seasons of competition, have 224. For the record, McLaren have also won eight constructors’ titles and produced seven world champions, who have taken 12 titles between them. But McLaren are about much more than stats; they represent so much of the essence of F1, that it’s impossible to imagine the sport without them.
As we note in our ‘great rivals’ feature on page 62, they’re as vital to the soul of F1 as are their great Italian peers in Maranello. Twin buttresses of the sport, McLaren and Ferrari have been central to its narrative for almost five decades. They gave us Hunt vs Lauda; Senna vs Prost (round 2); Häkkinen vs Schumacher and Hamilton vs Massa – each of them battles for the ages.
While McLaren haven’t been front-runners since 2012 and it’s impossible to overlook the trials of 2015 (their least competitive season since 1980), McLaren are an organisation “with winning in their DNA” as CEO Ron Dennis might put it (for more from Ron turn to our exclusive ‘Long Interview’ on page 34). And they’ve endured far worse than a mere loss of speed. Bruce’s death in a sportscar testing accident at Goodwood in 1970 would have finished a lesser team. Instead, those who survived him, including Teddy Mayer, Alastair Caldwell and Tyler Alexander, dusted themselves down and carried on: ‘Because Bruce would have wanted it.’
So it’s with caps doffed that we dedicate most of this issue to celebrating McLaren’s 50 years in F1, confident in the knowledge that while form is temporary, class is permanent – and that McLaren will return to winning ways, because they have always been a class act.
As an F1 team, they sometimes seem impenetrable, untrusting of outsiders, wary of those who might seek to damage the inner circle. Get to know them a little, though, and McLaren are revealed as a team of warmhearted racers, utterly dedicated to competition. Safe to say, then, that while Bruce might be bowled over at what McLaren have become, he’d soon feel right at home.