This week we saw Sergio Pérez attend his first formal media function at the McLaren Technology Centre ahead of his race debut as Jenson Button’s team-mate. Checo’s appearance in this role broke fresh ground in the sense that he will be the first Mexican driver to compete as a fully fledged McLaren team member since McLaren made their F1 debut in 1966.
Pérez is only the fourth Mexican driver to compete since the inauguration of the official FIA Formula One world championship, following in the wheel tracks of brothers Ricardo and Pedro Rodriguez and Moises Solana. He succeeds Lewis Hamilton in the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes driver line-up and bristled with confidence as he predicted that his stated aim for 2013 was to be competitive in the world championship title race, blending cool confidence with measured realism after a promising 2012 in which his best results were an impressive pair of second places in Malaysia and Italy.
Inevitably, the occasion attracted huge media attention and stood out as a reminder of just how much press and TV attention is generated when one of the major F1 outfits makes a key driver change at this exalted level. In contrast, I well recall world champion Emerson Fittipaldi’s arrival at McLaren was celebrated by a press pack containing photographs of the re-liveried M23 captured for posterity on a local football pitch. It was hardly the pit lane at Monaco or indeed Silverstone, but it was sufficient to get the job done by the standards of the time.
Even though it was more than a fortnight before the official unveiling of the latest Formula 1 McLaren contender on January 31st, the intensity of the occasion was already building up and MTC was buzzing with eager anticipation. Indeed, the very nature of official F1 car launches has evolved dramatically over the decades. This writer’s first recollection of such an event was the 1973 unveiling of the first Yardley McLaren M23. This took place at the team’s then-headquarters in Colnbrook, literally a few feet from the end of the runway of Heathrow airport. For those of us unable to hear what team principal Teddy Mayer was saying above the blast of Boeing 747 exhausts, the media representatives were each offered a ring-bound file containing what was considered to be relevant information. It took only a few moments to work out that one had to hang on to this precious document for dear life lest it b ripped from one’s grasp by the latest development in aviation technology.
Even by the start of 1982, when McLaren pretty much check-mated their rivals by tempting Niki Lauda out of a two-and-a-half year retirement, the unveiling of the McLaren team’s new car for the forthcoming season was a downbeat and self-consciously modest affair with a marquee squeezed between the factory façade and the edge of the road in Pool Road, Woking. As I recall, television cameramen jostled with team personnel for the best view of the Austrian driver who by this stage in his career had already won two world championships.
The residents of Woking stopped and stared at the goings-on organised by one of the town’s biggest employers - which would grow steadily in that role over the years that followed. Not until McLaren moved to a new factory opposite the local railway line at the end of 1987 could the team be said to have located itself at premises suitable for its ambitions and that process of expansion finally reached its zenith when MTC was opened by Her Majesty the Queen in 2004.
We eagerly await the arrival of the 2013 car at the end of this month.