The finale of our four-part #BeBrave history moves from our rich heritage to our fearlessly forward and brave 2018. From the noughties until now, we've experienced a wealth of brave moments both on the F1 track and in brave new worlds such as Indy 500, Daytona 24 and beyond.
1. Brave Scot
David Coulthard was a valued member of the McLaren team for nine seasons, always giving his all. Perhaps nothing summed up the Scot better than the way he responded after a plane crash that sadly cost the life of two pilots in May 2000.
“Four days after the crash I drove for McLaren in the Spanish Grand Prix. I paid my respects to the pilots at a press conference beforehand. It was a weird feeling talking about them. I had no relationship with them; I shook their hand when I got on the plane and that was it. I qualified fourth and finished second in the race behind Mika Häkkinen and ahead of a very determined Michael Schumacher. This is a result I am very proud of.”
2. The Iceman cometh
There was no certainty that McLaren would pounce on Kimi Räikkönen after his incredibly impressive rookie year at Sauber. After all, the team had been eyeing up F3000 star Nick Heidfeld before it signed the mercurial Finn to replace double World Champion Mika Häkkinen. It was another bold step for the team – but he quickly proved to be a wise choice.
“Kimi was somebody who would get strapped into the car and just give it total commitment. That’s all you can ask from a racing driver. From that perspective, he was the perfect sportsman.”
“He didn’t want to conform too much. We tried to turn him into something he was never going to be. He was a brilliant driver, but he wasn’t someone you’d put in a suit and stand up in front of people. We were very corporate about everything. Some drivers can deal with that and others can’t.”
Dave Ryan, team manager
3. MP4-18: too brave
Adrian Newey pulled out all the stops when creating the MP4-18 for the 2003 season, pushing the limits with a complex design as McLaren sought ways to beat the then-dominant Ferrari. Ultimately the car proved too fragile, and after testing problems it never actually raced – but it provided valuable lessons for the future.
“MP4-20 took a lot of its basic design from MP4-18A, because we had faith in it. We knew we had been too aggressive with the 18A, but that didn’t make it a bad car. It made the choices wrong, but it didn’t make the philosophy wrong”
4. Hot Colombian adds spice
Ron Dennis always tried to be a step ahead of the game, especially in the driver market, and he proved that once more in 2003. Sensing that Juan Pablo Montoya was frustrated at Williams, he pounced, signing him in the middle of the season – despite the fact that the irrepressible Colombian would not be free to join McLaren until 2005.
“It’s like everything, timing is really important, and the timing was good at that point. So we got the deal done. It was done early, and I thought it was the right decision. McLaren, like Williams, had a lot of history. And to be able to be of that history was really nice.”
Juan Pablo Montoya
“You can have the fastest car in the world, but if you don’t have the best drivers, then you’re never going to win. In 2005 I think we found the two best drivers: Kimi and Juan Pablo.”
5. By royal appointment
The McLaren Technology Centre was a result of years of planning by Ron Dennis, who had long wanted a base for the company that would set new standards. Formally opened in May 2004 by Her Majesty the Queen, the MTC was a breath-taking gamble, reflecting both the team’s past, with its displays of successful cars and trophies won, and its future.
“Every time I go to MTC I get the driver to pull up at the front so I can walk down the Boulevard. It’s so good to see these cars and get a sense of what McLaren is all about. The MP4/4 from 1988 is the most beautiful racing car I’ve ever seen.”
6. A casual chat on the podium
In 2005 Ron Dennis again showed his commitment to hiring the best drivers – and where possible stealing them away from McLaren’s main rivals. An impromptu conversation with Renault’s new World Champion Fernando Alonso in Brazil soon led to serious negotiations, and in December it was announced that the Spaniard would join the team in 2007.
“I achieved my lifetime ambition with Renault this year and I felt that it was time for a new challenge. To become part of a team with such a desire to succeed and passion for performance is a dream come true for any driver. It will be a new beginning for me. I will be sad to leave Renault, but sometimes possibilities come along which are just too good to miss."
7. Lewis comes out fighting
Ron Dennis took a huge gamble when he signed up ambitious teenaged karter Lewis Hamilton. The plan was to take the youngster through the ranks, and turn him into a Grand Prix driver. No one expected McLaren to be bold enough to launch him to F1 without first serving an apprenticeship in a smaller team. But that’s exactly what happened in 2007 – and he more than proved to be a winner from the start.
“My relationship to McLaren was different to the other drivers they’ve had. I’d like to think I’m like the seed from McLaren. The other drivers came from somewhere else, but I grew with McLaren. I was a seed in an empty pot and Ron added the soil and water.”
“Lewis’s raw talent was immediately apparent, as was his level of desire – he knew he wanted to be a Formula 1 driver from a very early age, and it was that strength of conviction that set him apart. What makes him so special is his relentlessness. He will not give up, he will bounce back. That’s an inspirational quality for the mechanics and the engineers.”
8. The last of the last of the last
In 2008 a season of hard work and toil from Lewis Hamilton and the whole McLaren organisation came into focus on the last corner of the last lap of the last race in Brazil. Lewis and the team never gave up, and after a rollercoaster afternoon he beat the odds to snatch the fifth place he needed to win the title – kickstarting an evening of celebration.
“I remember towards the end of the night I just sat there at the side. A song came on, ‘We are the Champions,’ and I just saw all the team members, my mechanics, my engineers, the catering, the bosses, my dad, everyone was just so happy and I could just sit there and take all that in. It was a feeling that you can’t really put into words, to see how happy you’ve made everyone, and how much they’ve put in, and how satisfied they are. That was really my present, just seeing all that.”
“The frightening thing was how you work so hard to make that moment happen – and then you realise how ephemeral it is. Almost immediately, it seemed, I was on a plane back to the UK. I wanted to get back to the factory to make sure that, despite the celebrations at the circuit, everyone in this organisation knew how relevant and how close it had been.”
9. A double-champion line-up
McLaren made another bold move on the driver market at the end of 2009. Jenson Button won the World Championship for Brawn GP, but he wasn’t yet committed to staying with the team under its new Mercedes identity for 2010 – and if you snooze, you lose...
“Two things come to mind when thinking of McLaren: they’re an exceptional team, and you know that when you step into their car you have a chance of winning. They were the reasons why I made the move from Brawn.”
10. From last to first
Jenson put in some storming performances during his time at McLaren, but none was more memorable than the 2011 Canadian GP. A nightmare race, including a clash with team-mate Lewis Hamilton, saw Jenson drop to the back. However he didn’t give up, and set-up changes under the red flag and inspired driving propelled him to a famous last-lap victory.
“Once he got going we pretty soon realised that he was outperforming everybody else. None of us dared think that he was going to win the race, but as it progressed you began to see that there was a chance. The way he drove those last five or six laps, overtaking Schumacher and Webber I think, and then chasing down Vettel on the final lap and actually pushing him into a mistake, was fantastic.”
11. A return to Honda
With the new turbo era fast approaching and Mercedes now running its own team McLaren’s strategy was to find a new manufacturer partner. In May 2013 the team confirmed that it would reunite with Honda from 2015, evoking the glory days of the Senna/Prost era.
“You’ve got to start by putting yourself in a position where you have the best engine available. That’s what we’ve done for the approaching years. We had a great partnership with Mercedes, but we intend to hit the ground running with Honda.”
12. Magnussen gets his chance
Brilliant form in the junior categories earned Kevin Magnussen support from McLaren, and for the 2014 season the Dane was fast-tracked into an F1 seat. He got off to a flying start in Australia, but ultimately it was to be a year of frustration – and when Fernando Alonso became available, he had to step back to a reserve role.
“Melbourne was very special. Getting to F1 was amazing, doing it with the team you always dreamed of is even more amazing, and to actually stand on the podium in your first race is such a massive experience. It also meant that the rest of the season was more tough, because having that first result raised expectations, and not being able to come back and do the same again was disappointing.”
13. The right Stoff
McLaren had already demonstrated its bold policy of taking a chance on the best young talent by promoting proteges Lewis Hamilton and Kevin Magnussen, and for 2017 – after a one-off as a reserve the previous year – the team gave Stoffel Vandoorne a full-time F1 drive. It was a tough baptism, but the Belgian showed great potential.
“I’m still one of the lucky 20 drivers that is on the grid in F1, with one of the best teams in F1. Even though the results now are not what we are hoping for I think there are still positives to take for the future. I think now we are just going into every race not really knowing what to expect. I think we just need to be opportunistic, work with the package we have, try the best we can, and benefit from the opportunities that come our way.”
14. The Indy adventure
It began with a casual chat over dinner with team boss Zak Brown, and it became one of the biggest motor sporting stories of the year. Fernando Alonso’s Indy 500 adventure with McLaren may have ended with a frustrating retirement, but his efforts captured the imagination of fans around the world.
“It was a great experience, obviously very new for me, many things there. Very intense because as I had to learn many things from zero, so it was definitely a good way to stop this year in F1 for a couple of weeks, and start from zero in something, and learn from the beginning. That was the first thing that I wanted to try. Try to be competitive in a completely new car, new series. I am always searching for this kind of motivation.”
“There were so many pieces, and if any piece didn’t come together, it would have fallen apart. It was very difficult, because it was a very complex deal over a very short period of time, that took total co-operation. But all the pieces fell into place. It wasn’t more bad news, it was, ‘Look at this great news.’ As one of the articles in an Indy paper said, ‘Fernando and McLaren won everything but the race.’”
15. Going with Renault
McLaren’s partnership with Honda was supposed to be for the long term, but in a difficult 2017 season the team began exploring alternatives. Making a fresh start with Renault was a big call – especially in purely financial terms – but the team exists to win, and finding performance was the priority.
“I think it’s good for us, and I think it’s good for Honda. Don’t forget, they could be great competitors. I’m happy that they’re staying in the sport. Sometimes things just don’t work out between partners. It’s like irreconcilable differences in a marriage or something. I think it’s the right decision that we go our own ways. As a team, we’re looking forward to a change.”
16. Fernando’s first 24 Hours
The Indy 500 gave Fernando a taste of life outside F1, and in January he was released for the Daytona 24 Hours, where he was partnered by team protege Lando Norris. A Le Mans outing had long been rumoured, and McLaren has now surprised everyone by allowing the Spaniard to run a full WEC campaign with Toyota in 2018.
“This year, I have the chance thanks to McLaren to race for the win at Le Mans. It is a big challenge – much can go wrong – but I am ready, prepared and looking forward to the fight. In no way will this challenge take away from my main target of Formula 1 with McLaren. In 2018, my aim is to be competitive at every Grand Prix, and I feel sure that we are closer to achieving that.”