As you read this, some time on Saturday April 20th l shouldn’t wonder (for that’s the date on which I’ve filed it), Jenson Button and Checo Perez will be reflecting on their prospects of recording McLaren’s first victory of the 2013 Formula 1 season, but sadly they’ll be privately conceding that their chances of achieving it in Bahrain are pretty slim.
Having said that, I firmly expect them to increase McLaren’s run of consecutive points finishes to 62 this weekend. That extraordinary and record-breaking run was begun at the 2010 Bahrain Grand Prix, which means that, ever since Jenson arrived at McLaren, the team has never yet suffered a points-free Grand Prix. By any measure that’s a truly remarkable achievement.
It’s odd, therefore, that McLaren has never won a Bahrain Grand Prix. The first Grand Prix ever run on the flat but sinuous Sakhir circuit was held in 2004, in which year McLaren won only a single race, the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps, and the two McLarens retired from that year’s Bahrain Grand Prix on lap eight (Kimi Raikkonen; engine failure) and lap 51 (David Coulthard; pneumatics failure). The race was won by Michael Schumacher, in a Ferrari, which it’s fair to say was a reasonably common occurrence in those days.
Pedro de la Rosa drove a storming race that contained as many lurid spins as it did stunning overtakes.
In the following year, 2005, the race was won by Fernando Alonso, in a Renault, but the fastest car was arguably the McLaren MP4-20, yet as I say victory still eluded the Woking outfit in Bahrain. Kimi finished third, beaten by not only Fernando but also by Toyota’s Jarno Trulli, but Pedro de la Rosa, who was deputising in the other MP4-20 for the injured Juan-Pablo Montoya, drove a storming race that contained as many lurid spins as it did stunning overtakes. He ended up fifth at the flag, having driven the race’s fastest lap in the process.
By extraordinary coincidence, Kimi and Pedro finished third and fifth for McLaren in the 2006 Bahrain Grand Prix too – which prompts me to ask all you Formula 1 train-spotters a question: on how many other occasions have the same two drivers in the same team’s cars finished in the same two positions in the same Grand Prix in two consecutive years? I don’t (yet) know the answer to that question, but I’ll have a think about it.
McLaren failed to win the 2007 Bahrain Grand Prix, too, but super-rookie Lewis Hamilton put his MP4-22 on the front row, alongside pole-man Felipe Massa’s Ferrari, and finished second in the race too, just two seconds behind Felipe. But let’s not even talk about the 2008 race, in which McLaren finished only fifth (Heikki Kovalainen) and 13th (Hamilton). Please forgive me also for drawing a veil over the 2010 race (Hamilton, fourth; Kovalainen, 12th).
In 2010 Lewis was third, and Jenson seventh; in 2011 the race wasn’t held; and last year Lewis was eighth, and Jenson retired on lap 56 with an exhaust failure; not great.
Of the four races to have been run on the lavishly appointed Yas Marina circuit, McLaren has won one, in 2011.
The other Grand Prix held regularly these days in the Middle East, the Abu Dhabi race, has been kinder to McLaren. Of the four races to have been run on the lavishly appointed Yas Marina circuit, McLaren has won one, in 2011, courtesy of Lewis.
That strike rate of 25% equates almost exactly to McLaren’s all-time strike rate, as a matter of fact. For, of the 726 Grands Prix the team has started since its inauguration in 1966, it has won 182: a strike rate of 25.07%.
That’s pretty extraordinary, and bears repetition: over the past 47 years of Formula 1 racing, McLaren has won more than one in four Grands Prix that it’s started in that time.
Moreover, in 390 of those 726 Grands Prix, at least one of McLaren’s drivers has stood on the podium – that’s a heady 53.72%.
Anyway, I digress. Please forgive me. We were talking about Grands Prix held in the Middle East, of which as I say McLaren has won only one, in Abu Dhabi, in 2011. But, prior to the current era, in which as I say Grands Prix are held regularly in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi, the closest semi-regular non-European Grand Prix venue to the Middle East was Morocco, the most westerly of all North African countries, with coastlines on the Atlantic Ocean as well as the Mediterranean Sea.
McLaren never won a Moroccan Grand Prix either, but it can be forgiven for that, for the last one took place in 1958, at Ain-Diab, near Casablanca, five years before Bruce McLaren founded Bruce McLaren Motor Racing Ltd. The race was won in a Vanwall by Stirling Moss, who says he doesn’t want to be played by a gay actor should a film be made about his life and times, and who says that women lack the necessary mental aptitude for Grand Prix racing, but who’s otherwise a thoroughly good chap and is to my mind the greatest driver of them all.
The 1958 Moroccan Grand Prix was the 11th and final race of that year’s Formula 1 World Championship, and, before the race started, Stirling had an outside chance of becoming World Champion. The World Championship leader was fellow Englishman Mike Hawthorn (Ferrari), who had 40 points, and Stirling lay second, with 32. The points-scoring system was different in those days, but Stirling’s requirement was simple: he had to win, with fastest lap (which annexed a point in those days), with Mike third or lower.
In the event Stirling duly won, and recorded the fastest lap, but Mike finished second, winning the World Championship by a single point, 42 points to 41.
Most British Formula 1 fans remember the race for the Moss-versus-Hawthorn World Championship battle.
Most British Formula 1 fans remember the race for the Moss-versus-Hawthorn World Championship battle, and for the fact that Mike’s second place made him the first Brit to win the World Championship, which milestone he wrenched from Stirling’s grasp as described above. In truth Mike was a very good driver, but Stirling was a very great one. There’s a difference there, a very considerable one, and it remains a minor tragedy and a significant stain on the history of Formula 1 that the points-scoring systems of Stirling’s era never accorded him the World Championship he so richly deserved, despite his 16 Grand Prix victories from just 66 Grand Prix starts.
But British Formula 1 fans should remember the 1958 Moroccan Grand Prix for another reason, too. Mike had taken pole position, with Stirling second, and the third-fastest qualifier was Stirling’s Vanwall team-mate Stuart Lewis-Evans, another Englishman.
In the race, Stuart’s engine suddenly seized, sending his Vanwall careering off the track at high speed. His car immediately burst into flames, causing horrible burns to poor Stuart’s body. He was air-lifted back to England, but died in hospital in East Grinstead (Sussex) six days later, aged just 28. He was the fourth man to have been killed in Grand Prix racing that year.
Stuart’s manager and best friend was Bernie Ecclestone, who was in Morocco the day Stuart sustained the injuries that would kill him and is in Bahrain today, as I write, on April 20th 2013. Had he lived, perhaps Stuart would have had a great racing career, for he was an excellent driver. Had he lived, indeed, perhaps Stuart would have been with Bernie in Bahrain today, for they really were the best of pals.
Had he lived, indeed, perhaps Stuart would have been enjoying his day in the desert sunshine, maybe raising a glass of bubbly with his old mate Bernie, for today would have been his 83rd birthday.