Vodafone McLaren-Mercedes is one of the world’s best known racing teams and has been synonymous with motor sports for over 40 years.
The team has a rich heritage dating back to their foundation in 1963 courtesy of New Zealander Bruce McLaren. McLaren had previously been a driver for Cooper but decided in 1963 to create his own racing team. He teamed up with Teddy Mayer to register Bruce McLaren Motor Racing Limited and they made their debut at the 1966 Monaco Grand Prix. As well as being the team’s founder, Bruce McLaren was also their first successful driver, winning at Spa in 1968. Sadly though, Bruce McLaren lost his life in a tragic accident while testing a Can-Am car at the Goodwood circuit in 1970. The team, however, continued his legacy, competing and winning Formula One races and also expanding the franchise into Indy and Can-AM racing.
McLaren at the races
The McLaren team have had a series of partnerships with companies to stay ahead technologically. The first of these was McLaren-Ford in the 1970s. This era saw the first Formula One Drivers’ and Constructors’ win for McLaren, with Emerson Fittipaldi and the McLaren-Ford M23. Only two years later, Englishman James Hunt took another Drivers’ Championship with the same car.
It wasn’t until 1984 that the team had their next success, winning the Constructors’ Championship and the Drivers’ Championship courtesy of gifted drivers Niki Lauder and Alain Prost. Such was their quality that Lauder finished first in the Drivers’ Championship with Prost a half-point behind in second! McLaren had established a new partnership with TAG for engines and this was the first year of using the TAG Turbo V6 engine in their MP4/2 car. The partnership continued to bear fruit in 1985, as McLaren took both titles, this time with Prost topping the Drivers’ table.
Three years later though and change was the word in the McLaren camp. Having finished second in the 1987 Constructors’ table and only fourth and sixth in the Drivers’ table, Ron Dennis succeeded in attracting the great Ayrton Senna to the team. This year also saw McLaren team up with Honda and their turbo V6 engine. 1988 ended with Senna topping the tables and Prost finishing second, while the McLaren-Honda team topped the Contructors’ Championship. This was to be the start of a true golden era, with a run of four consecutive Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships between 1988 and 1991.
After this, the drivers and the team did not finish top for two years, switching engines first to Ford and then to Peugeot. In 1994, with the Peugeot engine, McLaren did not win a single race for the first time in their existence. By the end of that year, a long-term deal with Mercedes-Benz had been signed.
The Merc Years
Since signing that contract with Mercedes in 1994, the McLaren team have been relatively successful, despite a few teething problems with both engine and drivers. Between 1998 and 2002, McLaren-Mercedes have not finished lower than second in the Constructors’ Championship and had some of the sport’s most famous drivers in the seat of their car. Disappointingly for the team, they have not won the Constructors’ Championship since 1999, nor have they won a Drivers’ Championship since Mika Hakkinen in the same year. This was predominantly due to the phenomenon of Michael Schumacher and Ferrari, who dominated the sport from 2000 until 2004. In 2005 and 2006, McLaren-Mercedes again faltered and the titles were taken by Renault and their driver Fernando Alonso. This obviously spurred Ron Dennis on and he again made a major coup, signing the world champion for his 2007 team.
The move proved a sour experience in 2007 though, as McLaren-Mercedes enjoyed success and controversy in equal measure. They entered the Formula One World Championship with reigning champ’ Alonso and 22-year-old British rookie driver Lewis Hamilton. Everyone was surprised at the way Hamilton took to the Championships. He led through most of the season and was unlucky to finish second in the tables to Ferrari driver Kimi Räikkönen, losing 40 seconds in the final race after a gearbox glitch.
Hamilton’s success was widely reported in the media and he had the support of the whole nation behind him throughout the season. It is rumoured that this did not please his team mate and current world champion Alonso. At the 2007 Hungarian Grand Prix, McLaren and Alonso were penalised after Hamilton was delayed in the pits and prevented from setting a final lap before the end of qualifying. Tensions were high between the two drivers and it was obvious at the end of the 2007 season they would no longer work together. It was therefore no surprise when, on November 2, Alonso and McLaren ended their contract by mutual consent. Further controversy came when McLaren were fined $100m and stripped of all their constructor points for obtaining confidential information about Ferrari’s car. However, some success was to be had, as Hamilton and Alonso finished second and third in the Drivers’ tables respectively.
- Number of races – 631
- Grand Prix victories – 156
- Formula One Drivers’ World Championships – 11
- Formula One Constructors’ World Championships – 8
- Pole Positions – 134
- Podiums – 417
- Double Wins (1-2s) – 44
- Fastest Laps – 135
Formula One Constructor’s World Championships
- McLaren Ford – 1974
- McLaren TAG Porsche Turbo – 1984, 1985
- McLaren Honda Turbo – 1988
- McLaren Honda – 1989, 1990, 1991
- Team McLaren Mercedes – 1998