McLaren ’50 in 50′: History in Belgium

Like Monaco, McLaren have a very successful history at another iconic Formula One race that has been on the calendar since the first world championship season. It has missed a few years on the calendar, but of the 69 Belgian Grand Prix held since 1950, McLaren has won 20% of them. Ferrari have won the most times – 16 to McLaren’s 14.

Belgium will also have an important part in McLaren’s history. It was there, back in 1968, that team founder and driver Bruce McLaren took the team’s first ever victory. Ferrari’s Chris Amon started on pole position, but it was New Zealander McLaren who won the race. He finished 12 seconds clear of Pedro Rodriguez and 39 seconds ahead of Jacky Ickx. Since then the team have won on the iconic Spa-Francorchamps circuit, at Nivelles-Baulers and at Zolder.

Emerson Fittipaldi (1974 – Nivelles-Baulers)

Fittipaldi had won the 1972 race for Lotus and he repeated the feat for McLaren in 1974, six years after McLaren’s first win there. He was also the only driver to have won the Belgian Grand Prix at Nivelles, as the race was only held there twice.  Clay Regazzoni qualified on pole position for the event. Regazzoni’s qualifying time was a full second faster than anyone else. Fittipaldi started from fourth place, alongside Nika Lauda. Regazzoni maintained his lead and Fittpaldi passed Jody Scheckter, who had also started on the front row, to take second place by the end of the first lap. Regazzoni found himself pushed onto the grass by a backmarker during the race, allowing Fittipaldi to pass him for the lead and he went on to win the race. It was not a comfortable victory, however, with Lauda finishing just three tenths of a second behind. Scheckter completed the podium, with Regazzoni finishing 50s off the leaders and in fourth place.

John Watson (1982 – Zolder)

The Belgian Grand Prix weekend in 1982 was marred by the death of Gilles Villeneuve in qualifying for the event. Alain Prost and Rene Arnoux lined up on the front row for the race, with Keke Rosberg and Niki Lauda completing the second row. Eventual winner Watson started from tenth place. Arnoux took the lead from Prost at the start and also lost out to Rsoberg. Arnoux retired from the race early on with a turbo problem and Andrea de Cesaris, who also started ahead of Watson, retired with a gearbox problem. Watson made good use of his harder compound tyres to catch and pass team-mate Lauda. He then set off in pursuit of race leader Rosberg who was struggling with worn tyres. Watson eventually took advantage and took the lead of the race, going on to win – seven seconds clear of Rosberg. Lauda did finish third in the race, giving McLaren a double podium, but his car was found to be underweight meaning Eddie Cheever got third instead.

Alain Prost (1987 – Spa Francorchamps)

Alain Prost was another Belgian Grand Prix race winner for McLaren. He won at Spa-Francorchamps and sparked the start of McLaren’s six year domination at the circuit. The race was stopped after a collision between Phillipe Streiff, who crashed into a barrier, and his team-mate Jonathan Palmer. Both drivers were alright but the broken cars and debris on the track required it to be stopped and it was eventually restarted. Prost progressed to fifth at the restart with the race being led by Nigel Mansell. Mansell and Senna made contact, with Senna trying to pull off an overtake which wrecked both of their races. Mansell was able to continue but later retired. By the end of the first lap Prost was third as he benefitted from the misfortune of the previous race leaders. At the end of the race it was a McLaren 1-2 with Prost winning by 24 seconds over his team-mate Stefan Johansson. They were the only two drivers on the lead lap, with Andrew de Cesaris a distant third.

Ayrton Senna (1988, 1989, 1990 & 1991 – Spa Francorchamps)

Ayrton Senna is the second most successful driver at the Belgian Grand Prix with five victories. He sits behind only Michael Schumacher who won the race six times. Four of Senna’s Belgian Grand Prix wins came when he was driving for McLaren (his first was for Lotus). McLaren dominated qualifying for the 1988 edition of the race, taking their seventh front row lockout in 11 races. Senna had a slow getaway, allowing his team-mate Alain Prost to take the lead. Senna patiently waited and out-braked him going into Les Combes. From there on in Senna led the race and McLaren secured a 1-2 finish, with Ivan Capelli third for March. The Benetton drivers had been third and fourth but were disqualified from the results due to fuel irregularities. 1989 started off with another front row lock-out for McLaren, again with Senna ahead of Prost. After a delayed start due to the weather, Senna this time maintained the lead at the start. It was a lights to flag victory for Senna, winning in difficult conditions and finishing a second clear of his team-mate. Nigel Mansell completed the podium, finishing in third place. With Prost off to Ferrari, Senna had a new team-mate to contend with 1990 in the form of former Ferrari driver Gerhard Berger. Once again McLaren domianted qualifying, with yet another front row lock-out. The race took three starts to get going. At the start Lola Larrousse slid into Nelson Piquet, who in turn hit Mansell’s Ferrari. The Ferrari hit the barrier nose-first and blocked the track. The two Lotus drivers then collided after trying to find space on the track. Further around the lap Satoro Nakajima came to a halt, as did Emanuele Pirro and Nicola Larini. The race was unsurprisingly red flagged. At the re-start, Senna once again maintained his lead but it did not last long as the race was stopped again, this time because of a heavy crash at Eau Rouge involving Paolo Barilla. The third re-start proved to be the final one and Senna continued at the front until the chequered flag. He finished three and a half seconds clear of his former team-mate Prost, and 28 seconds ahead of Berger. Senna’s final Belgian Grand Prix victory came in 1991. This race is also famous for featuring the debut of a certain young Michael Schumacher. McLaren did not enjoy their usual dominating qualifying they had gotten used to at Spa, but Senna still landed himself on pole with Berger in fourth. Senna led the race until the first round of pit-stops, when he lost out to Mansell, who later retired from the race. It also looked like Senna may be out when his engine cut out but he found a gear and managed to continue racing. He took advantage of another engine failure – namely race-leader Prost’s – and retook the lead of the race. He headed a McLaren 1-2 with Berger finishing about two seconds down on his team-mate. Piquet took third.

David Coulthard (1999 – Spa Francorchamps)

After a dominating few years, McLaren had to wait eight years for their next Belgian Grand Prix victory. It was David Coulthard’s team-mate, 1998 world champion Mika Hakkinen, who took pole position for the race. McLaren returned to their Belgian Grand Prix form with a bang – another front row lock-out for the team. The pair made contact at the start, with Coulthard forcing his way into the lead. He continued on to win the race with Hakkinen finishing in second place. He ended up ten seconds behind Coulthard, who was half a minute ahead of third placed man Heinz-Harald Frentzen.

Mika Hakkinen (2000 – Spa Francorchamps)

It was Mika Hakkinen’s turn for victory in 2000, having had to finish second to his team-mate in 1999. He qualified on pole position (“we got it right,” he said after qualifying) with seven tenths over Jarno Trulli and Jenson Button. Michael Schumacher qualified in fourth place and Hakkinen’s team-mate was in fifth. The race was started behind the safety car due to the wetness of the track after rain in the morning. When the race finally started properly (sans-Safety Car) Hakkinen pulled out a lead. Schumacher put pressure on the Finn and the McLaren driver had a spin, causing him to take to the grass and for his lead to be erradicated – Schumacher took the lead. On the run up to Les Combes, Hakkinen got a good run at the Ferrari driver, but Schumacher pulled across to cover him. A lap later, however, it was a different story. Backmarker Ricardo Zonta was in the middle of the track and, as Schumacher took to the left to overtake him, Hakkinen stormed past on the right and retook the lead of the race. His winning margin was just over a second, with Schumacher’s brother Ralf finishing half a minute down in third.

(If you have never seen the classic overtake before, please follow this link…)

Kimi Raikkonen (2004 & 2005 – Spa Francorchamps)

Kimi Raikkonen has won the Belgian Grand Prix – twice for McLaren and twice for Ferrari. His first victory at Spa for the McLaren team was in 2004. He qualified tenth on the grid, 3.4s down on pole sitter Jarno Trulli. In the opening stages of the race he made contact with Felipe Massa as he looked to progress. After an early safety car, Raikkonen was already into fifth position. By the sixth lap Raikkonen had passed his team-mate, David Coulthard, for third place – now running behind Trulli and Fernando Alonso. By lap 18 he had the race lead. After a pit-stop he rejoined the race in second place but soon was leading once again. He finished the race in first place, taking McLaren’s first and only victory of 2004. He was three seconds clear of Michael Schumacher and a further second ahead of Rubens Barrichello. His 2005 race win there was much more straightforward. He was second to Juan Pablo Montoya in qualifying, giving McLaren another front-row lock-out in Belgium and won the race a huge 28 seconds clear of Alonso with Jenson Button in third.

Lewis Hamilton (2010)

Lewis Hamilton started the 2010 Belgian Grand Prix in second place, behind Mark Webber. He instantly took the lead as Webber dropped down the pack. In the early stages he led a McLaren 1-2 after Jenson Button fought past Robert Kubica and defended from Sebastian Vettel. Hamilton successfully navigated an early safety car and, while there was drama behind, Hamilton was largely untroubled at the front. The rain started falling with less than ten laps remaining and Hamilton slipped into the gravel. He kept the car going and made it to the pits for intermediate tyres. Kubica finished third. Hamilton did win the 2008 Belgian Grand Prix on the track but a post-race 25 second penalty for gaining an advantage for cutting a chicane gave Felipe Massa the recorded victory.

Jenson Button (2012)

Jenson Button took a commanding victory in the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix, after qualifying on pole rescued him from a first corner melee that claimed his team-mate Lewis Hamilton. The accident, triggered by Romain Grosjean (he received a race ban for it), took out Fernando Alonso and Sergio Perez as well, with Pastor Maldonado and Kamui Kobayashi also involved. The Sauber driver had to continue the race with a hole in the side of his car. Button finished the race a convincing 13 seconds clear of Sebastian Vettel and a returning Kimi Raikkonen.

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