It started to allow a Works Driver to race his own cars and use his own equipment, as many drivers did. However, it has been almost sixty years, and a team set up by a former Cooper works driver has won The Constructors Title Eight Times and the World Championship Twelve Times. Not bad for a young man from New Zealand. This is the History of McLaren.
Bruce McLaren was a Works Driver for the Cooper Formula One Team, where he had won three Grand Prix for the team and came second in the 1960 Formula One World Championship. McLaren wanted to compete for Cooper in the Tasman Series, a series of races in his native New Zealand and Australia. While Cooper was happy to oblige, they would insist he uses F1 Spec engines, which had a lower fuel load than the Tasman Series allowed. His solution was to use custom Cooper cars under his own name.
And Bruce won the series as Mclaren’s teammate, Tim Meyer, would die in an accident in Tasmania during practice. With business partner Teddy Meyer, the brother of McLaren’s teammate in the Tasman Series, the team was formalised and became Bruce McLaren Motor Racing in 1964. The team would then enter the Formula One World Championship in 1966 after McLaren (who was still driving for Cooper) decided to focus solely on his own cars.
As a new team in Formula One, it is fair that the early days would not mean instantaneous success for these Young Turks. While scoring their first point in the British Grand Prix, the Robin Herd designed M2B was ultimately hampered by poor engine choices and possibly general naiveté about running their very own Formula One team. After the first two years of getting to grips with being a team, Bruce McLaren would finally race with a teammate for the 1968 season (having raced solo for his first two years. His teammate was Denny Hulme, the defending Formula One World Champion from Brabham. Robin Herd’s new car design, the M7A, would use a new engine, Cosworth’s DFV, soon to be the standard for Formula One racing.
Combining two experienced drivers, a new car and this engine would make up for those early years, as Bruce McLaren would take their maiden win in Belgium in 1968. Denny Hulme won the Italian and Canadian Grands Prix later in the year, helping the team second in the Constructors’ Championship. Their success would not seemingly continue until 1969’s Mexican Grand Prix, while an experiment with Four Wheel Drive would go nowhere during testing at Silverstone.
The Hunt for Gold
1970 would be a watershed year for the team. Tragedy would strike when Bruce McLaren died while testing the M8D Can-Am Car. The loss of the team’s founder would shake the team, but it would not fall apart. Teddy Meyer would now head the team and seek to fill the role as leader of the team. By 1973, the team had a new car, the M23, which would race for four years, taking wins in Sweden (for Denny Hulme), Britain, and Canada (The Latter Two for Peter Revson in his only career wins for F1). 1974 would be the F1 Season that saw Emerson Fittipaldi win his second world championship and his first for McLaren. Hopes of his Third World Championship would ultimately not be satisfied, as Niki Lauda would beat Fittipaldi in 1975.
Fittipaldi had left the team in 1975, as did teammate Jochen Mass. This would lead to perhaps one of McLarens most famous signings, James Hunt. The playboy, devil may care attitude of Hunt made him a risky investment for McLaren. Those who watched the film Rush will know the story, but Hunt did win the 1976 World Championship, despite the heroic return of Niki Lauda, following his near-death experience.
In the seasons between 1977-1981, the team would have one of its downturns in fortune. Lauda dominated the 1977 season for Ferrari; Hunt was fired in 1978. His replacement, Ronnie Peterson, would die in an accident in the Italian Grand Prix and be replaced by John Watson. This era saw the team’s fortunes reduce and fall down the grid with some terrible cars.
1981 would see the team merge with Ron Dennis’s Project Four Formula Two Team (though in the end, it was, effectively, a takeover) and a new car design. And quite an important one too. With the new team came new investment and the innovative idea of a car with a Carbon Fibre Monocoque Chassis. This car was the MP4 and would signal a turning in fortunes for the team. But that was half the story.
TAG, you’re it!
1983. A new turbocharged engine, supplied by TAG, would be the beating heart of the McLaren Team. Having come out of retirement in 1982, Niki Lauda was now racing for his former rivals and joined Alain Prost in 1984. This would lead to a gold streak for the team. Lauda would win his third World Championship in 1984, while Prost won his first two in 1985; when McLaren won their third Constructor’s Title, and 1986 respectively. McLaren was back. A challenge by Williams in 1987 put a momentary stop to their dominance, but this was to change in 1988…
The Power of Dreams
Williams had the Honda Engine in 1987. That helped them win and beat McLaren. In 1988, Williams lost their engine supplier to McLaren, who would again dominate Formula One. The First McLaren-Honda era is often regarded as the best for the team, as it also coincides with the era of Aryton Senna, the team’s new signing for 1988. The Prost and Senna duo, and their rivalry, has been covered to death by many F1 pundits and Historians, but from the perspective of McLaren, it can be said that this period was one of their most dominant. 1988 saw Senna win his First World Championship for the team, and the Constructor’s Championship, which they retained in 1989, with Prost as the World Championship winner, combined with the 3.5 litre Aspirated Engine that Honda developed.
All in all, there was a four year run of Championships for the team, both World and Constructors. Ultimately, this streak would end when Williams would beat them with their dominant FW14B Car.
Change and Evolution
4 years as dominant champions came to an end in 1992. Losing to Williams in 1992 and the loss of Honda as their engine supplier saw the team use Customer Ford Engines in the 1993 World Championship. The team did have some success in 1993, with Senna’s 6th Monaco win, but 1993 to 1995 had a slightly weaker McLaren team against a Strong showing from Williams in 1993, 1996, and 1997, and Benneton in 1994 and 1995. Senna would depart McLaren after the 1993 World Championship, but he did last the whole season. His teammate in 1993, Michael Andretti, would be replaced after a dismal performance in Formula One. His replacement would be McLaren’s test driver, who we will discuss in greater detail shortly.
1994 would see Ford replaced with Peugeot engines for a single year, despite Lamborghini engines in pre-season testing. By this time, Martin Brundle was driving for McLaren, alongside said Test Driver. However, a new era would begin in 1995, with Mercedes becoming McLaren’s Engine Supplier and beginning the era of McLaren Mercedes.
Flyin’, Stylin’, Profilin’
1995 was a false start for this era. Brundle was replaced by Nigel Mansell in 1995, making an ill-advised return to Formula One. Simply put, he lasted two races; he couldn’t fit in his car and was replaced by Mark Blundell. It didn’t help that the car was rubbish, the MP4/10 being uncompetitive. 1995 saw David Coulthard become a Driver for McLaren, alongside the former Test Driver, Mika Hakkinen. 1996 saw similar issues with no wins for the new era of McLaren-Mercedes, which to newer fans may seem surprising. Though, going on a tangent, I will say that new F1 teams/cars/engines very rarely hit the ground running. There are at least 20 teams that went through a massive change or reshuffle for every Brawn GP but didn’t make the cut on their first try.
Luckily, McLaren would end a 3-year streak of not winning, with David Coulthard winning the 1997 Australian Grand Prix. McLaren-Mercedes were getting back into it. Both Coulthard and Hakkinen between them won three races in the 1997 season. And then 1998 came…