McLaren ’50 in 50′: The Journey

Bruce McLaren once said:

The luck thing – really there’s no such thing as good luck. It’s good preparation and hard work.

It is certainly not luck that led McLaren to be the company they are today, growing from the humble beginnings of Bruce McLaren Racing Ltd. 50 years on McLaren as a racing team have won a number of championships (not just in Formula One), McLaren as a manufacturer have designed and created some of the most iconic road cars ever, and McLaren as a group have developed technologies which have become an integral part to many sectors.

Reflecting on McLaren’s 50th anniversary, Ron Dennis, summarised the following:

McLaren started as the dream of one man, and it’s since grown to encompass the hopes and dreams of more than 2000 men and women, who work as tirelessly as Bruce McLaren himself once did to ensure that everything we do reflects well when compared with everything we’ve ever achieved.

It has been quite a journey in the last 50 years, just like these past 50 days have been a journey for me. While collating all the information for the 50 posts I learned a lot and rediscovered forgotten memories. In the past 50 days we’ve looked at the men who have led McLaren – Bruce McLaren, Teddy Mayer, Ron Dennis and Martin Whitmarsh. We’ve looked at McLaren F1’s 19 race winners, from Bruce himself to John Watson, and from Gerhard Berger to Jenson Button. Seven men have won the world championship for McLaren including Emerson Fittipaldi, Ayrton Senna, and Lewis Hamilton, while the team have had great success at certain races such as in Belgium, Monaco and in Great Britain.

Of course, with only 50 days to play with, it means A LOT of McLaren’s history has not been covered. Key team personnel, or other countries in which they have been victorious, and drivers who have not won races. That is not to say they are not an important part of the McLaren journey, there just wasn’t time in this particular instance.

2013

2013 has been a difficult for McLaren in Formula One. Taking the wrong direction at the start of the year has resulted in them scrapping for fifth place in the championship and not finishing higher than fifth during the year. It has been a baptism of fire for new recruit Sergio Perez. Without a podium or win in sight, it looks set to be their worst season as a team for a while. Of course, it has not always been plain sailing for the Woking-based squad, but somehow they always seem to salvage something in the past couple of decades. A brief overview of their past 23 years (1990 – 2013 inclusive, unless stated otherwise) in Formula One shows this:

Total wins: 102
Total podiums*: 192
Points finishes (from 811 starts): 507
Retirements**: 213
Average championship position***: 2.4
Winless seasons***: 4
Podiumless seasons***: 0

* additional to wins
** not including races where retirement came in last 10%
*** excluding 2013 which is still in progress

It is difficult to quantify a year as the ‘most disappointing’ for McLaren. Is it a year full of retirements? Is it a year with no wins or podiums? Is it 2007 when they were excluded from the championship? McLaren have endured winless seasons before and bounced back, and there are still four races from which they can achieve a podium. It’s all part of the journey.

What next?

McLaren have plenty coming up in the future, as the group continues to grow. For example…

  • In Formula One they are reuniting with Honda, as the Japanese company will be supplying their engines once again, starting in 2015.
  • McLaren Electronic Systems are providing the electric motor, transmission and electronics for the brand new Formula E series, due to launch in 2014.
  • McLaren Applied Technologies has establised a HQ in Singapore.
  • McLaren Automotive has established itself in China with the introduction of appointed retailers in Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu and Guangzhou.
  • McLaren Automotive also revealed today that the first delivery of the McLaren P1, which goes from 0-100km/h in just 2.8 seconds, has taken place.

The future looks bright for McLaren and, after 50 years of success both on and off the track, here’s to another 50 years on the McLaren journey!

You can catch up with all fifty posts here!

McLaren ’50 in 50′: Jenson Button

Jenson Button is McLaren’s most recent race winner in two ways. He won last year’s Brazilian Grand Prix, making him the last McLaren driver to stand on the top step of the podium. He is also the 19th driver to win a race for McLaren and, unless Sergio Perez wins one of the last few races, he will remain the most recent race winner for them until next year at least.

Button joined McLaren in 2010, fresh off the back of his first world championship, which he won driving for Brawn GP. Button joined 2008 champion Lewis Hamilton at the team making it an all British, back-to-back champions line-up. Victor of the McLaren Autosport BRDC Young Driver of the Year award in 1998, Button got his first taste of Formula One testing a McLaren in 1999. He became a race driver for Williams in 2000, giving him over a decade of experience in the sport.

Button’s route to Formula One is a standard one – started karting when he was young, and progressed through single seater championships. In 1991 he won all 34 races in the British Cadet Kart Championship, impressing from the get go. British Formula Fords was his first port of call in single seaters, and he won that in his debut year by 15 points. British Formula 3 followed and he finished the year in third place. He tested for McLaren and Prost and was involved in a shoot-out with Bruno Junqueira for a vacant seat at Williams.

Button finished eighth in his first year with Williams, finishing in the points on six occaions. Despite impressing, he was dropped by Williams in favour of Juan Pablo Montoya, so he joined Benetton. He had a lacklustre season in 2001 before finishing seventh in 2002. Button’s long relationship with Honda started when he joined BAR for 2003. He had his best season to date in 2004, finishing on the podium on ten occasions and scoring points in all but three races. He finished the year in third place – the closest challenger to the Ferrari duo of Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello. 2005 was so-so and at the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix, Button was awarded for all his perserverence over the years. He won in tricky conditions, ending his long spell without a win. He had to wait until 2009 to win again, however, but by that stage it was worth the wait.

After Honda pulled out of the sport, the team was bought and rebranded Brawn GP, with former Ferrari man Ross Brawn at the helm. With a major technical and regulation shake-up mixing the order up, Brawn GP and Red Bull Racing moved to the fore. Button won six of the first seven races in 2009, demonstrating the domination of Brawn GP. That proved to be all his victories for 2009 after the latter half of the season was spent consistently scoring points but not podiums. The early domination, however, was enough for Button to win the championship and Brawn GP, with Barrichello’s added success, became the constructors champions.

Button joined McLaren in 2010, replacing Heikki Kovalainen. He ranks joint eighth in terms of all time wins list, winning eight races (joint with Nika Lauda). In 2013 he became the de facto number one after Hamilton’s departure. He is regarded a consistent pair of hands, after his vast amount of experience. He finished seventh in his first race for McLaren but won in Australia, the second race of the year. He was in contention for the championship but ultimately fell at the last hurdle and finished fifth. In 2011 he came second to a dominant Sebastian Vettel and finished fifth in 2012. He has started 72 races for McLaren and has eight wins, 17 additional podiums, and 58 points finishes in total. 2013 has been a difficult year for the team and as yet the podium has alluded them. McLaren have not officially confirmed their 2014 drivers, but it is widely considered Button will remain. He is the most experienced current driver on the grid and, with another regulation shake-up and new engines coming into play, the McLaren team will hopefully progress to challenging at the front once again.

McLaren ’50 in 50′: Heikki Kovalainen

Finnish driver Heikki Kovalainen was confirmed as a McLaren driver in December 2007. He joined the team after an impressive debut season driving for Renault. He finished seventh in the championship with 30 points, nine more than his more experienced team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella. He was with McLaren for two seasons before moving on to the team now known as Caterham.

Kovalainen’s racing career started in karts in 1991 when he was nine years old. In 1999 he was runner-up in the Finnish Karting Formula A series and went on to win championships in 2000. In 2001 he moved to single seaters and the UK, competing in British Formula Renault for Fortec Motorsport. He ended the year in fourth place with two wins, two poles, three fastest laps, and placed as the best rookie. He also travelled to Macau for his first F3 race were he finished eighth. In 2002 he came third in the British F3 championship with five wins, three poles and three fastest laps. World Series by Nissan was next up in 2003 and 2004, finishing second at his first attempt and winning it at his second. In 2004 he also took up a test driver role with the Renault F1 Team and won the Race of Champions. Further work with Renault as a test and reserve driver, and runner up in GP2 in 2005, led to Kovalainen being given his Formula One debut in 2007.

Team Principal Flavio Briatore classed Kovalainen’s debut race as “rubbish” after he finished outside the points. He picked up a couple of points from the next few races but it was a fourth place at Canada that turned his season around. Kovalainen ended the year with 11 points finishes, including seven in a row. He held off fellow Finn Kimi Raikkonen to finish second at the Japanese Grand Prix. As Renault welcomed back Fernando Alonso for 2008, Kovalainen secured his vacant seat at McLaren.

Points in the first three races was a positive start for Kovalainen. He out-qualified his team-mate in Malaysia, but they were both demoted for blocking in qualifying. He fought back to finish third, taking his second podium in Formula One. Throughout the year he often matched Lewis Hamilton for outright pace, and out-qualified him on 10 occasions. Kovalainen’s average qualifying position in 2008 was an impressive 3.8 (compared with Hamilton’s 3.6) while it dropped to 10.8 in 2009 after McLaren’s disappointing start to the year. The first pole position for Kovalainen was at a wet British Grand Prix, five tenths clear of Mark Webber. Kovalainen’s race engineer told him over team-radio “you’re on pole by half a mile – that’s half a second to everyone else”. His first win also came in 2008, making him McLaren’s 18th race winner. After both Hamilton and race leader Felipe Massa had problems, Kovalainen was in the right place to take advantage and win.

Kovalainen’s future was uncertain going into the winter and, at an event held at Mercedes Benz World he still claimed to not know if he would still be with McLaren in 2010. He entertained fans, driving his car around the track and signing autographs. It was subsequently revealed Jenson Button would be replacing him at McLaren for 2010. Kovalainen left McLaren with 18 points finishes, three podiums (including one win) and two fastest laps. He joined Caterham (then Team Lotus) but was left without a drive for 2013. Here’s hoping he can get back on the grid for 2014!

McLaren ’50 in 50′: The Cars

Earlier this year McLaren announced that, in line with their 50th anniversary celebrations, they would be releasing 100 limited edition McLaren 50 12C and 12C Spiders. The revised cars have been produced by McLaren Special Operations, the branch of McLaren Automotive that is responsible for bespoke projects. The 50 12C comes in one of three colours, once of which is the heritage McLaren Orange first seen on the Can-Am cars in the 60s and 70s. Throughout their 50 years, McLaren have been responsible for creating a range of iconic cars, for the track and road. Here is a quick look at just a few of those cars from McLaren’s history and future:

The M23

McLaren’s M23 debuted in 1973 when Denny Hulme, Peter Revson, Jody Scheckter, and Jacky Ickx were driving. It finished third in its maiden year before going on to win a championship in 1974, with Emerson Fittipaldi piloting it to success in the Drivers’ championship as well. In 1975 it finished third, in 1976 second and third again in 1977. Designed by Gordon Cuppock, the M23 featured improved weight distribution and wider wings.

McLaren F1

Defined by many as the definitive sports car, the McLaren F1 was the group’s first production after McLaren Cars (now McLaren Automotive) was established. Bruce McLaren had dabbled in road car production in the 60s, producing one prototype of the 5.7 litre Ford engined McLaren M6 GT, but it had never taken off. McLaren, who became the first F1 team to produce a carbon fibre chassis, transferred what they had learnt in Formula One to develop the F1. It was unveiled in 1992 and launched in 1994 at the price of £540,000.

M8D

McLaren’s M8D was thrust into the spotlight in the most tragic of circumstances. While testing the car at Goodwood, a piece of the rear came loose and caused Bruce McLaren to crash at high speed. He lost his life but the team carried on, believing it to be what he would have wanted. Denny Hulme, Peter Gethin and Dan Gurney took the wheel of the car and between them won nine out of ten races in the season to become undisputed Can-Am champions. There was no better way to pay tribute to Bruce and the car has gone down in history of one of McLaren’s most iconic.

The car was fired up at the McLaren Technology Centre as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations:

The MP4-4

1988 saw McLaren adding Ayrton Senna and Honda to their line-up, joining Alain Prost. The MP4-4 dominated the year as McLaren won 15 out of 16 races with 15 pole positions as well. Their only non-win of the year was at the Italian Grand Prix. The team won the Constructors’ championship, while Senna and Prost battled it out for the Drivers’ championship. Senna came out on top. It was the start of a dominating phase for McLaren as they went on to win three more championships on the trot (and three driver titles). It is deemed, by many, McLaren’s greatest ever car.

McLaren P1™

McLaren’s most recent road-car, the McLaren P1, was officially unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show this year. Ron Dennis said of the P1: “Twenty years ago, with the McLaren F1, we raised we raised the supercar performance bar. With the McLaren P1™, we have redefined it once more.” Jenson Button drove the car at Goodwood, as well as arriving at this year’s MP4-28 launch behind the wheel of a P1 complete with test livery. The car is widely anticipated, as a successor to the McLaren F1, and will cost £860,000. It has been designed to be the best driver’s car on the road and the track. The car went into production at the start of October.

You can watch the car in action here:

 

 

McLaren ’50 in 50′: Kimi Raikkonen

While many drivers spend years working their way through single seater championships, such as Formula 3, GP3 and GP2, Kimi Räikkonen (The Iceman) took a much more direct route. He got his debut with Sauber in 2001 with just 23 single seater races under his belt. His signing was met with concern, with many questioning whether he was ready after so few races. Peter Sauber said at the time: “We are taking a risk, but it is a controlled risk. When I see how cool Kimi is approaching Formula One racing, I do not think there is a danger. We know that it will take Kimi time to find his feet in Formula One, once the racing starts, but our expectations of his long-term potential are very high.” And he was right.

Like most drivers, Räikkonen started karting at an early age. In 1999, when fellow Finn Mika Hakkinen was winning his second world championship, Räikkonen was winning the Formula Renault UK Winter series. In 2000 he continued in Formula Renault UK and became champion for Manor Motorsport. In September of that year Räikkonen was granted a test with Sauber at Mugello, completing 29 laps on day one. Further tests in Jerez and Barcelona ensured Räikkonen had completed enough laps to be granted a superlicence, despite his lack of experience. At the 2001 Australian Grand Prix, Räikkonen made his Formula One debut, scoring a point. The story goes that he was asleep 20 minutes before the start of the race and had to be woken up. He finished the year in tenth place with nine points. Räikkonen was quickly signed up by McLaren, to replace the departing Hakkinen, and it was in 2002 he started his five year relationship with the team.

Lining up against experienced team-mate David Coulthard, Räikkonen impressed from the get-go with McLaren. Achieving his first podium at the Australian Grand Prix, he finished the year in sixth place with 24 points. This included podiums at the European, French and Japanese Grand Prix. In 2003 he went head-to-head with Michael Schumacher for the championship. Nine podiums and his first Formula One victory put him in a good position, but ultimately poor reliability cost him and he ended the year two points shy of Schumacher’s points tally. 2004 produced a mixed bag of results and he ended the year in seventh place. In 2005 Räikkonen was back in contention for the world championship but again reliability problems cost him. Seven wins and five further podiums were his reward, when the car made it to the end of the race, but he still finished 21 points behind Fernando Alonso. 2006 proved to be Räikkonen’s last year with McLaren. It was a season with no wins for the team, but he took six podiums. He departed for Ferrari in 2007 where he became champion.

Räikkonen left McLaren with nine wins – joint fifth in McLaren’s all time wins list, ironically with his favourite driver James Hunt. He also left the team with 26 podiums. Räikkonen has established himself in Formula One as quite a character. The story of him being asleep 20 minutes before his first race gives an insight into him. Reports of his karting career describe his steering wheel breaking in the middle of a race, but him continuing. In 2006, when Schumacher was receiving a presentation from football legend Pele on the grid in Brazil, Räikkonen reported to Martin Brundle at ITV that he missed it because he was “having a shit”. Räikkonen has always been one for saying it as it is. If he retires from a race because of a mechanical problem, his explanation will usually never be more than “the car was broken”. He has won an allegiance of fans for telling it as it is. Winning his first title in 2007, and challenging since his return with Lotus, Peter Sauber has been proven right by taking a risk on Räikkonen!

McLaren ’50 in 50′: History in Hungary

Of the 19 races in 2013, McLaren have won 16 of them at one stage or another. Wins in Bahrain, Korea and India have as yet alluded them. In terms of number of wins, Hungary ranks in the top five, behind the big guns of Monaco, Belgium, Great Britain, and the US. First held in 1986, McLaren are the most successful team at the Hungarian Grand Prix, with 11 victories to their name. The first of these came in 1988 and the most recent was in 2012 when Lewis Hamilton won for the third time.

In the early days of the race it was a happy hunting ground for Williams, with the team securing a number of front row lock-outs in qualifying, getting numerous podiums and winning seven races in 12 years. From the late 90s, however, McLaren started to edge ahead in the statistics and are now the most successful constructor there, in terms of wins and podiums. They have 22 podium finishes in Budapest, including their 11 wins, as well as eight pole positions and five fastest laps. Ferrari and Williams are not far behind, however, with seven and six podiums respectively, with Williams leading the fastest laps tally with nine in total.

Ayrton Senna and Lewis Hamilton are the most successful drivers for McLaren around the Hungaroring. Senna won the race in 1988, 1991 and 1992 while Hamilton was successful in 2007, 2009 and 2012. Hamilton’s 2007 victory came under a shadow, however, after he refused to let team-mate Fernando Alonso through in qualifying. The Spaniard retaliated by staying in the pit-box longer than he should and subsequently ruining any chance Hamilton had of completing another lap. Alonso was demoted on the grid and Hamilton started from pole and went on to win. Another McLaren driver with more than one Hungarian Grand Prix victory is Mika Hakkinen (1998 & 1999), as he won the race on the way to his two world championships. Kimi Raikkonen won it in 2005 while fellow Finn Heikki Kovalainen took his one and only Formula One victory there in 2008. Last, but by no means least, is Jenson Button who won in 2011.

Both Button and Hamilton are also race winners at the Hungaroring for other teams. Button’s maiden Grand Prix victory came in 2006, driving for Honda while Hamilton took his first win with his new team – Mercedes – at this year’s race. The Hungarian Grand Prix could well be on the calendar through to 2020, so who knows how much more success McLaren and its drivers can enjoy there!

McLaren ’50 in 50′: Lewis Hamilton

We’ve all heard the story about a young boy who confidently approached McLaren Team Principal Ron Dennis at the 1995 Autosport Awards, telling him that he would one day drive for McLaren. That young boy was Lewis Hamilton, of course. Just three years later Hamilton was signed up by McLaren as part of their Young Driver Programme and so began a 14 year partnership.

Hamilton, like many others, started racing in karts. Aged ten he won the British Karting Championship and STP Karting Championship. In 1996 he won the Champions of the Future series and also became Sky TV Kartmasters Champion and Five Nations Champion. He continued to impress, winning most things he entered. It was in karting that he encountered current team-mate Nico Rosberg for the first time, as they partnered each other back then as well. In 1998, after he was signed up by McLaren, he won both the European and World Karting championships.

He moved to single seaters in 2001, first racing the British Formula Renault Winter Series, before progressing to a full Formula Renault UK season in 2002 driving for Manor Motorsport. He won three races and finished on the podium seven times and by the end of the year he was third in the championship. The following year he won it with ten wins and 13 podiums. Formula 3 beckoned after that and he went on to win the Formula 3 Euro Series in 2005. Hamilton joined GP2 for 2006 with ART Grand Prix. Hamilton fought hard through the year, including an impressive fight back in Turkey when he spun and dropped to the back of the field, and beat Timo Glock to the championship. On November 24 2006 it was announced that Hamilton would be joining Fernando Alonso at McLaren in Formula One.

Hamilton’s debut season in Formula One is certainly one that won’t be forgotten in a hurry. Qualifying fourth for the first race of the year, Hamilton wasted no time in passing his team-mate. Alonso got back past him but a third place was an impressive debut for the Brit. Four second places in a row followed and at the sixth race of the season Hamilton took his maiden Formula One win. He backed up the Canadian Grand Prix victory with another win a week later at Indianapolis. Two further third places on the trot, in France and his home race at Silverstone, meant that Hamilton had nine podiums from nine starts – highly impressive for a debut. A wet European Grand Prix was his first finish outside the points (and off the podium), but he soon got back to familiar ground with a win in Hungary and points in Turkey. Second place in Italy, fourth in Belgium, and a first in Japan added to Hamilton’s points tally and secured his position at the front of the championship. The Chinese Grand Prix was a turning point when he stayed out on his tyres just too long, and retired when his car got beached in the gravel on the entrance to the pits. He ended the year tied on points with Alonso and missing out on the championship by just a solitary point.

After Alonso’s departure, Hamilton was joined by Heikki Kovalainen for two seasons. Hamilton fought with Felipe Massa for the title in 2008 and an overtake on Glock, with whom he had been battling for the GP2 championship, at the last corner on the last lap was enough to secure it by one point. Five wins and five further podiums was enough for Hamilton to become McLaren’s next world champion. In 2009 McLaren struggled with the car at the start of the year, but in the second half they came to the fore and Hamilton picked up two race wins and three further podiums. He finished ‘best of the rest’ behind the Brawn GP and Red Bull drivers. In 2010 and 2011 he won three races and in 2012 he won four. His final race win for McLaren came at the inaugural Austin Grand Prix. He was leading the Brazilian Grand Prix until an accident with Nico Hulkenberg forced him to retire.

Hamilton announced his contract with Mercedes towards the end of September, bringing an end to his time with McLaren. He likened the move to leaving home for the first time, and seeing what else is out there. He left McLaren with 21 victories, 28 further podiums and a 74% finishing in the points record. He holds the record for most consecutive podiums from debut and most wins in a rookie season. From the moment he approached Ron Dennis and said that one day he wanted to drive for his team, Hamilton has displayed his ambition and dedication. During his six seasons with McLaren he enjoyed considerable success, and one world championship, who knows what the future will hold!

In terms of his time as a McLaren driver he was the seventh driver to win a world championship for them. He was the seventeeth driver to win a race for them and he lies third in their all time winners list, behind only Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost.