McLaren stands poised for a buoyantly optimistic 50th anniversary season as it celebrates its 50th birthday over the coming months, highlighting a superb record of achievement which is sure to resonate across the race tracks of the world. Looking back to the team’s debut under the 'Bruce McLaren Motor Racing' banner in the 1963-64 Tasman Championship it was no surprise that the new organisation was quick to raise the tempo and diversity of its commitment across increasingly broad horizons.
Ironically, BMMR was only established out of Bruce’s frustration over the Cooper team, for whom he was driving in F1, failing to initiate his own plans to build a specially modified car in which to compete specifically in the Tasman contest. Charles Cooper, the authoritarian founder of the Cooper company, believed that one of their standard F1 cars would be more than capable of doing the job. With that in mind, he vetoed Bruce’s plans and thus forced Bruce to go it alone. Looking at it all in an historical perspective, this was the key catalyst which was responsible for underpinning the advance to the situation of pre-eminence now enjoyed by McLaren as a whole. A situation which would lead to the best only just being good enough for Bruce, his colleagues and successors over the years that followed.
Success in the Tasman series made it inevitable that Bruce would follow his own personal ambition, moving his team into F1 in anticipation of the new 3-litre regulations which would replace the 1.5-litre rules for the start of 1966. For many teams, the change of rules meant they were faced with a spell of technical innovation, using pretty much any power unit available. In McLaren's case this meant relying on 2-litre BRM V8 and the Italian Serenissima V8 during 1966, then the BRM V12 in 1967 before the Cosworth DFV V8 became the preferred engine of choice for most of the grid. McLaren duly began winning in F1 on a regular basis from the 1968 non-championship races at Brands Hatch and Silverstone - and once established it was a habit they worked hard not to break.
Of course, the team momentum received a tragic touch on the brakes in June 1970 when Bruce McLaren was killed testing one of his Can-Am machines at Goodwood. It was a tragedy which cast ripples across the entire sport such was the affection and high regard Bruce McLaren was held in by all his friends and rivals on the international scene. Yet it was a testimony to Bruce’s ability for forward planning that the team continued in both F1 and Can-Am with distinction, and continued the development of their Indycar programme which would result in McLarens winning the prestigious Indy 500 on four separate occasions during the 1970s.
Meanwhile, McLaren's reputation in F1 was burnished by the arrival of the Gordon Coppuck-designed M23 in time for the 1973 season. With side-mounted water radiators and distinctively thin nose section, it certainly seemed that McLaren had taken a leaf or two out of the rival Lotus 72 design book. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, a fact made clear by the fact that Emerson Fittipaldi and James Hunt stormed to the world championship in 1974 and 76 respectively at the wheel of the M23.
Yet success in F1 is historically difficult to sustain. By the end of the 1970s McLaren's fortunes had faded to the point where the team seemed locked in the slow lane and its major sponsors and investors were getting extremely nervous indeed. As a result, title sponsor Marlboro brokered an amalgamation between the team and Ron Dennis's Project 3 organisation which had been winning races for several years in junior formulae. The newly constituted McLaren International organisation scored its first victory in the 1981 British GP at Silverstone.
It was a promising start for the new alliance, but this was only the start of its barnstorming record of achievement. The team always had the best drivers at their disposal with world championships falling to Niki Lauda (1984), Alain Prost (1985, 86 and 89), Ayrton Senna (1988, 1990 and 1991), Mika Hakkinnen (1998 and 1999) and Lewis Hamilton (2008). Quite a record.