McLaren is one of the most iconic and reputable names in modern
motorsport, and has a track record to match. A total of twenty
titles (twelve drivers and eight constructors) is testament to the
team's famously thorough approach, and the British outfit remains
the second most successful - and second longest serving - in the
sport's history, maintaining an intense rivalry with Italian
Founded by Kiwi racing driver Bruce McLaren in 1963, the team
first ran a series of custom-built Coopers in the Tasman series,
with some success. Having also dabbled in sports cars, Bruce
decided to make the leap to Formula One in 1966. The car was
underpowered, but scored the team's maiden point at Silverstone.
However, the team had to wait until 1968 to be truly competitive
with the Ford DFV engine. At that year's Belgian Grand Prix, Bruce
McLaren became on of the select group of men to win a race for his
own team. Team-mate Denny Hulme scored three victories over the
next two seasons, but the ultimate prize remained out of reach.
Sadly, Bruce didn't have time to wait. McLaren had been
competing (with excellent results) in the Can-Am sports car series,
and when testing the team's new challenger at Goodwood in 1970, the
team's founder lost control and was killed. Rallying under Teddy
Mayer, the team squad a long wait to be competitive once more. The
drought ended at the 1972 South African Grand Prix, and over the
next two years the team scored numerous grand prix victories at the
hands of Hulme and Peter Revson. By now McLaren were ready to hit
their stride, and in 1974 new signing Emerson Fittipaldi took three
wins and gave the team their first drivers' and constructors'
titles. British home hero James Hunt followed it up with a scrappy
second championship in 1976, defeating Ferrari's Niki Lauda by a
single point. Unfortunately the team soon slipped in to decline,
and fell down the order embarassingly quickly during the remainder
of the seventies.
At the start of the eighties, the ailing McLaren merged with Ron
Dennis' Project Four Racing. The first year of the partnership saw
the team finish a distant ninth in the standings with John Watson
and rookie Alain Prost at the wheel, but in 1981 Watson returned
the team to the winner's circle at the British Grand Prix, and
sporadic victories continued in subsequent years. Hiring retired
former champion Niki Lauda proved shrewd, and in 1984 the Austrian
delivered the title for a third time by half a point from team-mate
Prost. It was to be the young Frenchman who then took over the
McLaren challenge, winning two drivers' and a single constructors'
title over the next two years to put the orange and white cars back
at the top of the sport. After a brief interlude by Williams in
1987, the team signed rising star Ayrton Senna to partner Prost in
the unstoppable MP4/4 for 1988. The team won fifteen of sixteen
races (a strike rate which has never been bettered) and Senna the
title. The following year the wins continued, and Prost won a third
championship for the team after an acrimonious collision with the
Brazilian at the final round.
When the relationship between their drivers soured at the end of
the eighties, Prost jumped ship to Ferrari. This meant that Senna
was undisputed team leader heading into the nineties, and he wore
the mantle well. Again fighting Prost for the title, he punted the
Frenchman off at the very first corner in the title-deciding
Japanese Grand Prix, and wrestled back the crown. A third title for
Senna ensued in 1991, as the Brazilian saw off the challenge of the
resurgent Williams team. However, McLaren were soon deprived of
Honda power - and the Grove based squad seized the initiative.
Despite numerous masterful performances, Senna could not compete
with Mansell and Prost as they took the titles back to Grove.
Senna left to join Williams in 1994 (sadly crashing to his death
in the third round at Imola) and the team slipped into
uncompetitiveness, with the first year of a new engine partnership
with Mercedes yielding only two podiums in 1995. Still, the seeds
had been sown for a new era of success, and by 1997 the
newly-silver cars were winning again in the hands of Mika Hakkinen
and David Coulthard. Williams remained the dominant players, but
that stopped in 1998 as the Woking based squad - with the help fo
technical guru Adrian Newey - stepped up a gear to win both titles:
the drivers' for Hakkinen, and the constructor's for the team. It
remains their latest victory in the team's competition, although
Hakkinen did win a second title the following year.
The noughties ushered in a new period of domination by Ferrari,
which had been threatening McLaren's position throughout their two
championship years. With Schumacher at the helm, they finally
overcome the their British rivals in 2000 - and remained dominant
in the sport until 2004, although new McLaren signing Kimi
Raikkonen did manage to take the ageing MP4/17D to within two
points of the title in 2003. The team remained by and large
Schumacher's biggest threat throughout the period, but when
Ferrari's efforts finally foundered, it was the Fernando Alonso and
Renault who came to the fore. Raikkonen again put up a brave title
fight in 2005, but the Spaniard won the first of two back-to-back
In 2007, McLaren signed Alonso - and put him alongside rookie
Lewis Hamilton in a partnership which quickly erupted. The pair
fought bitterly over the title and ended up losing out to the
Ferrari's new star Raikkonen, a pill made harder to swallow by the
team's disqualification from the constructors' championship for
stealing information from their Italian rivals. Alonso left rapidly
at the end of the season, and when the poisonous atmosphere
subsided Hamilton was able to win the 2008 world title by a
whisker, McLaren's first triumph in either category in nine years.
The squad's title defence fell apart in 2009 over a
misinterpretation of new regulations.
For 2010, McLaren lost their Mercedes factory status as the
German manufacturer established their own team and signed returning
former world chamopion Michael Schumacher. In response, they
assembled an all British line-up of 2008 world champion Hamilton
and 2009 world champion Jenson Button, who had finally emerged at
the forefront of the sport having driven the cleverly designed
Brawn BGP001 to title glory. The partnership won five races in its
maiden year, with both drivers challenging for the title until the
penultimate round in Brazil. The following year the team went one
better with six victories (three each), proving the closest
challenger to the dominant Red Bull team, which had risen from the
midfield in the hands of Woking defector Adrian Newey and
extraordinary young hotshot Sebastian Vettel.
For 2012, the team maintains its double world champion line-up
in the hope of preventing Vettel strolling to a third consecutive
triumph. Having not failed to win a race in fifteen years, the team
clearly has the pedigree and the experience needed to launch
another assault on the world title - and the quality of their
drivers and engine package is undisputed. Now the team needs to see
if it can overcome the genius of their former technical director
and produce a machine which enables their two drivers to fight for
the title once more, and potentially bring McLaren their first team
trophy for fourteen long years.
Previously known as the co-founder of F1Lite (a Twitter-only
service), Alex Norton joined PortalF1 as the English language
editor in January 2012.
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