700 and counting! McLaren celebrates GP milestone in Korea
This Sunday sees us compete in our 700th world championship Grand Prix and in the lead up to the race we'll be taking a look at our history through the cars that appeared at race 100, 200, 300, 400, 500, 600 and 700. To mark the occasion and start us off, we asked legendary F1 writer Alan Henry for his assessment of the team.
"At Sunday’s Korean Grand Prix, McLaren will reach another memorable milestone when Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button compete in the team’s 700th world championship Grands Prix - some 45-years since Bruce himself made his debut through the streets of Monte Carlo in the first of the M2B contenders. In between, there has been much in the way of cutting edge technical achievement and epic racing on the part of the organisation which now prides itself on being Britain’s leading F1 team.
"Putting together a succession of journalistic snapshots to catch the mood of McLaren’s achievement over the decades is easier said than done. Making a choice from the myriad memories becomes an intensely subjective process. But for me the moment which stands out in my mind – the day we suspected that McLaren might be something ‘different’ – was the 1968 Race of Champions at Brands Hatch where Bruce won commandingly in the spruce orange liveried M7.
"It wasn’t the fact that here was a victory for that rarest of F1 breeds – the owner driver of a fully fledged constructors’ team - but just how economically efficient and beautifully integrated the design of the M7 really was. It looked, to my eyes at least, tautly efficient in a coolly understated fashion. In a sense, the M7 set the philosophical design benchmark for all the McLaren F1 cars which followed; ‘enough and no more.’
I never knew Bruce; he was killed during the summer of 1970 only weeks after I joined the editorial staff of Motoring News. But he was, and remains, one of that handful of F1 insiders about whom nothing critical is ever said. Yet it is much to the credit of Teddy Mayer – and later Ron Dennis – that the qualities which the New Zealander brought to bear on his fledgling company have been sustained through to this very day. We live in a time in F1 which is much more hard-edged than it was when Bruce was alive. But McLaren as a team continues to garner respect in the most fundamental way possible; through its achievements on the track.
"The team has a diverse history. In 1970, not only was McLaren an emergent F1 force, but they were also taking on Indianapolis oval racing and building Can-Am sports cars. They had to wait until 1974 before the first world F1 world championship came the team’s way with Emerson Fittipaldi and the remarkably effective, functionally elegant M23, an achievement that would be repeated by James Hunt in 1976.
"Meanwhile Texan Johnny Rutherford -“Lone Star JR” – would deliver McLaren victories in the Indy 500 in 1975 and 77 while privateer Mark Donohue’s Penske McLaren won the most famous American motor race in 1972.
"The late 70s were a difficult time for the team as they dropped from the F1 high wire, seemingly bemused and befuddled by the technical intricacies of ground effect aerodynamics. The main sponsor became progressively less amused by this failure to get a grip, but eventually a takeover was brokered which would see perfectionist Ron Dennis take over at the helm. Aided initially by talented designer John Barnard, who produced F1’s first carbon-fibre composite chassis for the team in 1981, McLaren went up a gear. And never really looked back.
"Speeding through the 1980s and 90s there is a dazzling kalaidescope of trackside images which bear witness to just what McLaren has achieved. The long-lived partnership with TAG and Mansour Ojjeh; the remarkable Ayrton Senna; the hugely popular Mika Hakkinen; the loyal, stoic David Coulthard; Niki Lauda and John Watson; Honda and Mercedes-Benz as engine suppliers; the emergence of Lewis Hamilton as the team’s youngest ever protege. The resilient and gifted Jenson Button; so the list seems endless.
"So what is the underlying message we can discern from all this high octane achievement? Firstly, that McLaren are almost always there, at or near the front, pushing, pressing, chivvying away to discover and capitalise on the slightest technical advantage. Secondly, their standards of presentation, whether in pure engineering terms, or the way in which they tackle the fog of war operating on the track or in the pit lane, are always immaculate.
"It’s been a pleasure watching from the touchlines this past 40 years!"