Corporate Racers

Team founder Bruce McLaren

New Zealanders don’t tend to make the biggest of contributions in sport, but with Bruce McLaren in 1966, the 2nd oldest team in F1 was born. Bruce was a racing driver himself, who drove for the Formula 1 team known as Cooper. With Cooper, he had three race wins to his name and a 2nd-placed finish in the championship in 1960. After a disagreement over which litre-capacity engines to run in a separate racing series in which Cooper was entering, Bruce decided to take it upon himself to start his own team, where he could have the say. The team competed in sportscar racing for their first few years, a very different discipline to F1. However, they were running cars made by the Cooper team and Cooper was on the decline as judged by Bruce. He took the decision to enter the team into F1 and so it was to be.

Jackie Stewart, winner of the 1966 Monaco GP

First steps

The team’s debut race was the 1966 Monaco Grand Prix. Their Montecarlo experience only lasted a meagre 9 laps as an oil leak ended their hopes. Success was rarely on the horizon in ’66, though the team did secure it’s first point in F1 at the season’s British Grand Prix. 1967 saw McLaren using different cars and engines of which none brought victories. A 4th place at Monaco was the best they could manage all year. 1968 saw improved form as the team tool their first victory at the Belgian Grand Prix. The team seemed to be heading upward when tragedy struck. During testing for the Cam-Am series in 1970, Bruce McLaren was killed at Goodwood. Teddy Mayer took over the team which retained the McLaren name and saw the 70s produce 20 race wins and a driver’s title in 1974, delivered by Brazilian Emerson Fittipaldi.

Success wasn't always McLaren's friend

In the (first half) of the 80s

The 80s started as the 70s ended, with generally poor results and a far cry from past glory.  Ron Dennis, team owner since 1980, saw how rival teams were using turbocharged engines in comparison to their own naturally-aspirated powerplants which had been the norm up hntil now. However, McLaren took action and from 1984, saw a change in their fortunes as they used the turbos. Frenchman Alain Prost, who had been with the team in 1980 and scored some points, returned in ’84 after finishing the ’83 season as runner-up to Nelson Piquet. He would finish the season in the same position, but go on the win the next two World Championships. 1987 saw a poor season for Prost and McLaren, however this was as the rival Williams’ team were untouchable with Honda engines and cruised to victory in the championship.  1988 and oncoming years would yield domination and a rivalry which remains among the fiercest in sporting history.

Two of sport's greatest rivals

Senna/Prost

Brazilian Ayrton Senna was signed to partner Prost for the’88 season. With the calculating Frenchman and the passionate Brazililian, as well as the new deal which secured almighty Honda engines for McLaren, the team were a strong bet for the title/ And so it was, as the field was swept aside. From 16 races, the team were on pole 15 times and won 15 times. Even in the one that got away, Senna had been leading with ease, only to collide with a slower cap as he came around to lap him. Tensions began to rise within the team at the Portuguese Grand Prix. From the race start. Prost made the quicker getaway but Senna dived into the first corner ahead. At the end of lap 1, Prost made a move to pass Senna, which Senna swervedly blocked, causing Prost to come hazardly close to running into the pitwall which lined the track at 180mph.  Prost went on to win the race but said of the move and Senna afterwards, “It was a dangerous move. If he wants the championship that badly, he can have it.” Furious at such a dangerous attempt, this comment showed how for the two men, priorities differed as one man was prepared to put his life on the line, whilst the other saw a line which shouldn’t be crossed.  Prost displayed how he felt about Senna’s attitude to other drivers, saying “Ayrton has a small problem. He thinks he can’t kill himself.” This was just the beginning in a year that saw Senna take his first world title.

Team-mates turned into enemies

1989 saw more domination from the team and increased fallout between team-mates. In order to try and calm boiling friction down, Prost claimed to make of an agreement at the Canadian Grand Prix in which whoever of the two drivers was leading the other, the trailing man would not pass the other. With his “pure racing” mantra, Senna ignored this and sent relations with Prost further downhill. Mid-way through the season, a fed-up Prost declared he would leave the team at the end of 1989 to join Ferrari. However, the season finale in Suzuka, Japan, saw Prost block an attempted overtaking move by Senna, causing Senna to run into Prost, Prost had to retire from the race, while Senna manage to return to the track via a chicane, an S-turn, but he took a shortcut through it. This illegal move ended up causing his disqualifcation from the final race, which meant the title went to his bitter rival Prost. 1990’s season was shared by Senna and Prost, now in a Ferrari. It went down to the wire again at Suzuka and everyone wondered if such an event could really happen again. Spectators didn’t have long to wait as entering turn one, Senna, unwilling to even allow Prost through and attack later in the race, kept his line and both drivers crashed, leaving both races finished and Senna prevailing as the new champion. Although little needed to be said to be sure of Prost’s feelings towards the Brazilian, he said after, “What he (Senna) did was disgusting. He is a man without value.”  McLaren would win a further title with Senna and a 2nd place finish in 1992, but Honda left at the end of the season which started a fall from grace over the next few years.

Hakkinen was the new man for '95

The Flying Finn

The team were not truly in contention for the championship again until 1998, which saw the team comprised of cool and calm Finn Mika Hakkinen, with the straight-faced Scot David Coulthard. Team boss Ron Dennis had become particularly close to Hakkinen since an accident at the 1995 Australian Grand Prix which almost claimed the Finn’s life. David Coulthard would later say that although Dennis never openly showed it, he always felt that there was a bond between the two which the team owner and the Scot could never have. Hakkinen took a strong lead early on in the championship,but a combination of bad luck and incidents, coupled with Michael Schumacher and Ferrari saw tht etitle go down to the wire. At the finale in Suzuka, Schumacher suffered a tyre failure, leaving Hakkinen as the first McLaren champion since Senna. The years of 1999 and 2000 saw the rivalry between Hakkinen and Schumacher continue, but this was cut short in ’99 due to Schumacher breaking his leg at the British Grand Prix, missing several races as a result, Hakkinen would win the title in ’99 too, as the final race wasn’t even close, with the Finn romping to a second world title.

The Finn was a two-time champion

Ice cool and Latin fire

The 00s began with Ferrari taking the first five championships, in some years being ran honestly by McLaren, but in others by dominating and leaving McLaren and all other rivals far behind. 2003 was McLaren’s first real challenge. With Hakkinen since retired from F1 as of the end of 2001, Ron Dennis signed another Finn, this one by the name of Kimi Raikkonen. He spearheaded the charge in 2003, and despite having to use an outdated car and suffering many car failures, took the title challenge into the last round. However, Ferrari and Schumacher won again, as they did but in far more devastating style in 2004. 2005 saw the team’s most successful season for some years as Raikonnen and new McLaren boy, the Columbian race-winner Juan Pablo Montoya, won ten races between them. However, it what seemed to now be standard fare, unreliability cost the team numerous times, leaving the championship-rival Renault team and young Spaniard Fernando Alonso to win his first title. Before the season’s start, Montoya injured his shoulder. He has repeatedly claimed that this was during a game of tennis. However, it is known how Montoya has a love of quad-biking and that is the widely-believed version, as Dennis was very against his drivers taking part in “risky activities” and participation could harm one’s employment in the team.  In October 2011 came the nearest there has to be to an admission  to the biking story. When asked about how he would stop Jenson Button getting injured were he to do the world-famous Le Mans 24-hour sportscar race, the current team boss Martin Whitmarsh was told to stop him playing tennis, to which he said “It’s hard to play tennis on a quadbike!”. Back to the mid 00s, following 2005’s title push, 2006 was a battle between Ferrari and Renault, whilst McLaren suffered their first winless season since 1982.

2007 line-up from left to right: Paffet, Alonso, Hamilton, De La Rosa

2007 heralded a new era. With Raikkonen gone to Ferrari and Montoya bringing his ill-relationship with the team to an end, double world champion Fernando Alonso and newboy Lewis Hamilton would be the line-up. In the first deal of it’s kind in F1, Hamilton had been by McLaren since he was 13.  As a 13 year-old in 1995, the barely-teen Hamilton walked up to Ron Dennis, the iron-fisted boss of one the most successful teams the sport has seen, and said “I want to race for you one day, I want to race for McLaren.”  The team provided financial backing in order for Hamilton to drive in racing series’ and this proved to be the right choice. The rookie Hamilton showed no fears, overtaking Alonso at the start of the first race of the season. Alonso finished the race in 2nd, but Hamilton wasn’t far ahead in 3rd, getting a podium on his debut. The following 8 races saw Hamilton rack up podiums in every race, whilst Alonso suffered mixed fortunes, with victories, podiums and finishes off of the podium. Monaco was the 5th race of the year. Alonso led home a McLaren 1-2,but there were rumours that boss Dennis had ordered his drivers to hold their positions and for 2nd-placed Hamilton to stay behind Alonso instead of allowing both men to race each other. At the following Canadian GP, Lewis got his first pole position and his first race win in F1.

Qualifying controversy

A few races later in Hungary and it was into the final few minutes of qualifying. Some of the 10 drivers who were part of the final qualifying session were coming in to the pitlane for new tyres, so that they could do one final run to in trying to set a quicker laptime. Alonso came into the McLaren pitbox ahead of Hamilton, but instead of leaving when his mechanics gave him the green light to do so, he stayed in position. Time was running very short and Hamilton lay in waiting for new tyres. On the pitwall, team members were yelling at Alonso to go, and so he finally did. However, there was not sufficient time left for Hamilton to set another lap, leaving Alonso on pole. Following the session’s end, the race stewards investigated the incident. and judged Alonso to be guilty of unfair blocking, handing him a five-place grid penalty, dropping him from 1st to 6th for the race. Hamilton moved from 2nd to 1st and went on to win the race. The team were banned from scoring Constructors Championship points for the race. Despite both McLaren drivers leading the championship at various points throughout the season and looking as if it was theirs to lose, lose it they did as Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen came from 17 points with a possible 20 remaining, to win his first world championship. The tensions within the team were seen as the contributing factor towards their failed title charge and the relationship between both drivers is still something which is referenced in 2012 when discussing team-mates who may not get on well.

Foul Play

In early 2007, it came to light that there had been an incident which resulted in Ferrari and McLaren team members, as well as McLaren race and test drivers Alonso and Pedro De La Rosa, sending emails between each other and further contact, in which Ferrari Head Of Performance, Nigel Stepney, and McLaren technical director Mike Coughlan, had passed confidential information from Ferrari to McLaren. Such a case of espionage shocked the sport and one of the biggest scandals in F1 history ended when the FIA found McLaren guilty of illegally obtaining performance-enhancing information. The team were fined a record $100M and stripped of all their Constructors Championships points, leaving them bottom of the table and leaving them without any prize money they would have obtained for finishing 2nd as they were without the exclusion.

Contrasting emotions, Lewis Hamilton the champion and Felipe Massa, the runner-up

 

 

2008 was the year of McLaren and Ferrari. The British team had signed Finn Heiki Kovalainen from Renault in place of Alonso. A titanic battle between the teams, saw Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari’s Felipe Massa pick up 5 and 6 wins respectively. One of those was taken away from Hamilton as he was judged to have taken a shortcut at the Belgian GP and was deemed to overtaken the Finn due to that shortcut. The move prompted an appeal from McLaren which was rejected by the FIA. In a season which saw penalties handed out to both the Englishman and Brazilian Massa ramped up his performance from previous years after a poor start, while Hamilton also produced magnificent drives. At the season finale in Brazil, Hamilton clinched the title in an unbelievable final lap in which rain arrived to favour Hamilton in an outrageous piece of fortune.

 

Contrasting emotions, Lewis Hamilton the champion and Felipe Massa, the runner-up

2009's failed challenger

09-’11

2009 started with McLaren off the pace by 2 seconds off the pace. An incident in the Australian Grand Prix which the team’s sporting director Dave Ryan told Hamilton to lie to the stewards, meant the team were handed a suspended three race ban, and Ryan himself sacked by the team. McLaren improved its car to later win the Hungarian and Singapore Grand Prix and went on to finish the season as the 3rd-quickest team. 2010 saw reigning champion Jenson Button partner Hamilton as Kovalainen failed to live up to hs Renault form. The team fought hard against both Ferrari Red Bull but ultimately lost out to Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel. 2011 saw McLaren suffer contrasting fortunes, as Button got many podiums, Hamilton found himself part of many on-track incidents in what he himself called his worst season in the sport. The team were the only real challenger to Red Bull, if there was any, as Red Bull dominated the year.

A winner more often than not

Cold winners

In contrast to Ferrari, McLaren are often seen as rather cold and sterile. Former team boss Ron Dennis hated what he was as celebrity intrusion, the presence of the good and famous in the garage, a place where only team personnel should be. However, since Dennis’ departure in early 2009, new boss Martin Whitmarsh has seen the teem operate on a more out-going and friendly level. The rivalry between McLaren and Ferrari is the biggest of recent years with a lot of history as both fought for championships against each other. McLaren are the 2nd-oldest team still competing and are also 2nd for such statistics as championship wins, race victories and points collected. They are an important piece in the jigsaw of F1 and remain committed to the sport.

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