Statistics can be made to prove pretty much what you require them to prove, but there is no doubt whatsoever that the 2012 season has been a memorable chapter of the team’s 50 year history. Vodafone McLaren Mercedes won seven of the season’s 20 races and although this did not match their best seasons in the record book it’s another reminder of the marque’s confirmed position as one of the sport’s titans.
Make no mistake about it, since Bruce’s M7 nipped past the chequered flag to give the elegant orange liveried M7 its maiden victory in the 1968 Belgian GP at Spa-Francorchamps, winning has been enshrined in McLaren's culture. The first world championship – and Emerson Fittipaldi’s second – came in 1974 and was followed by the extrovert James Hunt’s title success two years later. But it was not until control of the company passed into the hands of Ron Dennis that the team began its wholesale assault on the record books which would endure to this day.
Dennis quickly established himself as one of the most far-sighted and imaginative operators who opened the door to bristlingly imaginative technology and flawless presentation, always prepared to go the extra mile to gain an infinitesimal edge over his team’s opposition. He was also consistently willing to sign up some of the most formidable driving partnerships, always subscribing to the philosophy that two world class drivers were better than one paired with a journeyman. This philosophy spawned alliances which included Prost/Lauda, Prost/Senna and Senna/Berger.
Take the 1982 world championship season, when Ron Dennis announced that Lauda was going to be team-mate to John Watson. Lauda just had the edge over the talented Ulsterman, although got a taste of his own medicine two seasons later in 1984 when Watson was replaced by Alan Prost and McLaren’s star seemed to be burning ever more brightly. Watson invited to close the office door behind him to make way for the talented Frenchman who had come so close to winning the 1983 title for the Renault squad.
McLaren prospered in the years that followed too, Lauda winning the title for the third time. But ironically, it was former driver Watson who first put his finger on what Senna had in mind. Drawing on his own experience as Niki Lauda’s team-mate, John offered the view that the best way Ayrton could deal with Prost was by stealth rather than engineering a series of head-to-head confrontations. Senna listened politely – and he was polite – and then surprised Watson by telling him he very definitely had other ideas. It was the first signal that the alliance between Senna and McLaren would be something new, vibrant and exciting on the F1 scene and would shape the manner in which the Woking-based team operated for years to come.
Fast forward through the McLaren history books to 2012, and although a championship win remained elusive, it has nonetheless featured all the hallmarks of yet another vintage year. In Hockenheim the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes pit crew set a new pit stop record of just 2.31 seconds, the shortest time an F1 car has ever been stationary during a tyre change. The Brazilian Grand Prix was a record 62nd front-row lock-out and 155th pole position in Qualifying, and when Jenson crossed the line on race day it was McLaren’s 182nd Grand Prix victory. Since 1966 has no other constructor had more wins. Bring on 2013.