MCLAREN vs FERRARI
Why it made Ron weep at Monza
Times change. Great sporting rivalries define eras that eventually pass and fade into memory. And yet the rivalry between Mclaren and Ferrari – often vicious, always fascinating – has long outlived those people who set it in motion.
What is it that makes this rivalry so compelling? Why is Mclaren vs Ferrari so much more engaging than, say, Red Bull vs Mercedes? Why, when you study the grandstands at any grand prix, do fans wearing Ferrari or Mclaren merchandise vastly outnumber those flaunting allegiance with others?
Part of it is because they are the heavyweights, the undisputed giants, and when they meet on track it is a rumble in the jungle rather than a scuffle in the suburbs. Not only are they the most successful teams in the sport’s history (see sidebar overleaf), each has a distinct personality, at odds with the other and yet, like yin and yang, their strengths and weaknesses almost interlocking.
Bruce Mclaren was a quick and skilled driver, perhaps not in the same league as his contemporary, Jim Clark, but he was entrepreneurial, engineering-minded and a natural, inspiring leader. Likewise Enzo Ferrari was no Rudolf Caracciola, but he was a proven race-winner before he turned his hand to team management, and he successfully built his eponymous team in the chilly economic climate of the immediate post-war years. Each had suffered ill health in their formative years: Ferrari nearly succumbed to the Spanish Flu, while Mclaren walked with a slight limp after contracting Leggcalvé-perthes disease at the age of nine.
And yet when the white and green Mclaren M2B appeared at Monaco half a century ago, in May 1966, its creators must have seemed an unlikely nemesis for F1’s most legendary team. The Scuderia had weathered the might of Alfa Romeo and Mercedes in the 1950s and remained on the field after those organisations had been forced to withdraw. Bruce and his cadre must have barely registered on Enzo’s radar.
What the M2B did embody was fresh technical thinking, and over the next five decades Mclaren would prove to be a force for innovation in F1. Perhaps they even spurred Ferrari to break new ground themselves, because in the 1960s Enzo’s philosophy that the engine was the most important element of the car continued to define the team’s approach. He had reluctantly accepted that the engine was better located behind the driver than in front, but he still regarded chassis design and aerodynamics as inferior sciences and means to an end.
Mclaren had arguably pioneered wings on single-seater race cars in secret testing with the M2A development car in 1965, and the M2B featured the first composite monocoque with its Mallite balsa-andaluminium sandwich construction. Though operating from makeshift facilities – a rented unit in Colnbrook, under the Heathrow flight path – Mclaren were incredibly inventive and productive. Once Bruce had