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Forty years of McLaren in F1


One of the most enduring New Zealand sporting legends, celebrated a milestone this winter.

In May 1966, on the 28th to be exact, the 28-year-old Bruce McLaren entered the first-ever McLaren Formula 1 car in a world championship Grand Prix, at Monaco.
Forty years on, Kimi Raikkonen was challenging for the 2006 Monaco GP lead when a small wiring loom fire forced his McLaren MP4-21, out of the race. His teammate Juan Pablo Montoya finished second, securing McLaren’s 388th Grand Prix podium.
Bruce McLaren was a young and ambitious Aucklander who went to Europe and created what became a world-beating team. McLaren Group chairman Ron Dennis, who started out as a Formula 1 mechanic, says McLaren is historically the most successful team in Grand Prix, despite Ferrari’s claims.
McLaren has won 19 world championship GPs, more than any other team in the formula’s history.

Monaco 2006 was McLaren’s 603rd Grand Prix since 1966. In 40 years, it has taken 122 pole positions, 148 wins, 40 one-two finishes, 126 fastest laps, 11 drivers’ championships and eight constructors’ titles.

Ayrton Senna won 35 Grands Prix and three drivers’ championships in MaLarens, Alain Prost took 30 wins and three titles, and Mika Hakkinen scored 20 victories and two championships.

“Over the years I’ve been asked many times why we didn’t change the name of the company,” Ron Dennis said at Monaco. “The answer is simple. I like to think we’ve proved that the McLaren brand is now greater than any one individual. I’m not terribly wrapped up in statistics or anniversaries but there’s no denying that over the past 40 years we’ve won a lot of races. We haven’t won enough, though.”

Bruce McLaren would scarcely have been fazed by the advances in Grand Prix racing or the sophistication of today’s MP4-21 with its seven forward gears and chassis of moulded carbon fibre honeycomb composite incorporating front and side impact-resistant structures.

Bruce had formed his team in 1963 but it was three years before a McLaren Formula 1 car raced, and five years before a McLaren won a Grand Prix. In 1966 three mechanics drove to Monte Carlo in a heavily-laden American station wagon towing the McLaren M2B F1 car on an open trailer.

The M2B’s chassis made from a composite material called Mallite and was fitted with an overweight and underpowered 3.0-litre Ford quad-cam V8 engine developing around 300bhp. It was a relatively untried downsized version of Ford’s 4.2 litre Indianapolis V8.

Bruce planned on running two cars with Chris Amon in the second. However, with limited resources, the team had just two engines ready, and Bruce needed a spare.
New Zealander Howden Ganley, who went on to race Formula 1 BRMs, was one of the three mechanics on the long drive to Monte Carlo.

McLaren had the noisiest car at the meeting and qualified 10th out of 16 cars. With the Hilborn fuel injection system and straight-through exhausts, the V8’s ear-shattering noise echoed off the buildings of Monte Carlo.

Bruce started well and was sixth when an oil cooler came loose on lap 10.
His legs and feet were drenched in hot oil, and the luckless M2B was retired.
Realistically the first McLaren GP car was uncompetitive: its engine and gearbox alone weighed as much as Jack Brabham’s entire car.
The McLaren was painted white with a dark green stripe, not because Bruce liked the colour scheme but because the car was a prop for John Frankenheimer’s epic movie, Grand Prixm which starred James Garner.

Frankenheimer used the 1966 Formula 1 season as the backdrop to the film that won three Academy Awards.

When the mechanics returned from Monaco to McLaren’s headquarters at Colnbrook, manager Teddy Mayer, told them not to unload the car. “You’re taking it to Modena (in Italy) tonight,” he said.

A tired Ganley refused and handed in his notice on the spot. New Zealander Wally Willmott and American Charlie Scaran headed for Italy where a light and compact Serenissima V8 was fitted to the M2B.

That engine ran its bearings at the Belgian Grand Prix, but powered the car to sixth in the British GP, giving McLaren his first-ever world championship points in a car bearing his own name.
“It could be yesterday,” American Tyler Alexander said at Monaco this year. Alexander is now the only original team member who worked on the M2B four decades ago.

He came to New Zealand in 1964 for the Tasman Cup series with the McLaren-modified Cooper-Climaxes raced by Bruce and American Timmy Mayer.
Alexander was mechanic for Mayer who was tragically killed during practice for the final Tasman round at Longford in Tasmania in February that year.

Alexander continued to be a key figure in the McLaren team, with heavy involvement in both Formula 1 and CanAm sports car racing in North America.

Robin Herd who had been working in the aerospace industry designed the 1966 M2B. He came up with what was reckoned to be the stiffest Formula 1 chassis of its day.
Sadly, McLaren won only one world championship F1 race in his own car – the 1968 Belgian Grand Prix. He died two years later practising a McLaren sports car at Goodwood.

Bruce had an unspectacular 1966 F1 season, finishing 14th on points, a far cry from second behind Brabham in 1960 and third in 1962.
Part consolation was his 1966 Le Mans win in the Ford GT40, but the real significance of that year was the launch of the Formula 1 team which still bears his name. 

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