F1™ competitors are always seeking to gain an extra advantage over their rivals and that quality is stamped deep in their DNA, extending to every aspect of their operation. In this respect McLaren has been at the cutting edge of technology and presentation ever since they entered F1™ in 1966 and a brief stroll through any contemporary paddock, factory or pit lane will testify to the overwhelming reality that anybody taking their eye off the ball will be left behind in no time at all.
My memories from my fledgeling years as an F1™ journalist in the early 1970s were forged at a time when the sport was undergoing an ever-accelerating process of evolution. We thought the F1™ factories of the time were pretty impressive, although I well remember going to the launch of the McLaren 23 in the early weeks of 1973 at the team’s lair in Colnbrook, and being startled to find that it was pretty much at the end of one of the main runways at Heathrow airport. Watching early 747s skimming the McLaren rooftop was certainly as instructive as it was scary!
Over the years that followed, McLaren’s headquarters moved several times; first to Boundary Road, Woking, then Albert Drive in the same suburban metropolis, and finally to its current home at the McLaren Technology Centre (MTC). Albert Drive was right oppposite a busy railway line and I well recall Ron's office was the first place I had ever seen computer operated window blinds which automatically adjusted themselves against the amount of sunlight at any time of the day. Although those early venues look fairly basic by the standards of the present headquarters - opened by HM The Queen in 2004 - you can discern an underlying strand of development commensurate with the standards of the day.
McLaren were always trend-setters, not content to follow where others trod a path, but setting the route for themselves. That would become particularly noticeable from 1980 when Ron Dennis became the team’s majority shareholder and the intensity of their effort went up another gear.
It was the same in the paddock. In those distant F1™ times there was no FOCA organisational disciplines to insist that a team lined up its transporters in inch-perfect echelon. Mechanics just arrived at the gate, say at Silverstone, to lay claim for what would be their temporary real estate for the following three or four days. And the paddock radiated a friendly informality far removed from its Fort Knox image which makes entrance as demanding as the Bank of England for all but the very rich, well-connected or those working on the inside of the sport.
In that connection the 1973 British GP at Silverstone sticks in my mind, not just because it was a particularly successful day for McLaren, or the fact that the team entered three cars, but for the fact that this was the first time I reported on a world championship grand prix for Motoring News. For the record this was the start of my career which has endured for 658 races at the time of writing. And during that time I suppose I got as close to the McLaren team as most journalists could manage during that period.
Of course, the paddock was a delightfully informal place to be at that time. After the working day was done the team mechanics often cooked their own evening meal on barbecues brought along for that very function. Some would sleep in the transporter and the only concession to the cars’ safety was pushing them inside some makeshift plastic awning erected alongside the transporter. But it all seemed great fun at the time. Nobody at all could have envisaged how things might change over the next couple of decades as F1™ went truly global.]
It was the same in the pit lane. Silverstone was regarded as extremely modern in having a separate outer pit wall so the competing cars were no longer left as vulnerable prey to be caught, billiard-style, by a wayward competitor spinning out of Woodcote. That was the idea, anyway. Until Jody Scheckter, well stoked up and making a bid to win the race at the wheel of a third works McLaren M23, executed a massive spin which, in turn, triggered a multiple shunt involving ten cars.
Still, at least there was a worthwhile consolation for McLaren with their American throttle jockey ‘Champagne’ Peter Revson dodging the debris to take a well-deserved victory. Poignantly, Revson never made it to the next British GP as he was killed testing in South Africa the following spring. Some people reckoned he was the best American F1™ driver of all time.