The Spanish driver was one of many to have driven a privateer M23 in the autumn of its long life, entering eight grands prix with the marque in the middle of 1977, and starting only two.
De Villota’s first McLaren start came in his first race of 1977, the Spanish Grand Prix, held at Jarama. Driving an Iberia Airlines-sponsored car, he lined up 23rd of 25, but ahead of six further non-qualifiers. Only 14 cars went on to finish the race, with Emilio trailing home 13th, some five laps adrift of the leaders.
There then followed four fruitless appearances before he again qualified for his second, and last race – the 1977 Austrian Grand Prix, at the mighty Osterreichring. De Villota qualified last – still out-pacing four non-qualifiers – and duly finished last.
He would fruitlessly attempt to qualify for two further races aboard a McLaren before returning again in 1982, this time aboard a March, to fail to qualify for a further five grands prix.