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McLaren 50

Maurice Hamilton September 13, 2013
McLaren turned 50 at the start of September © McLaren
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No pun intended, but 50 years is a long time in anyone's book. McLaren have just published theirs; 'McLaren: 50 Years of Racing', a project in which I was privileged to play a part. Talk about a wonderful excuse to drift down memory lane and discover what motor racing was - and is - really like on the inside.

Since the nuts and bolts of McLaren's history are covered in minute detail by several excellent books, we decided to make this one different by having team members past and present tell the story in their own words. More than 40 interviews bring the pages to life with memories and anecdotes.

I had dinner with Wally Willmott, Bruce McLaren's first mechanic; lunch with characters such as Ray 'Tex' Rowe, a member of the original team and still working at the McLaren Technology Centre today.

Charting the progress of Bruce McLaren Motor Racing Limited through various guises to the team you see today also marks the massive change in F1 itself and the way things are done. Some of Bruce's regular columns, ghosted by Eoin Young for 'Autosport' and magazines world wide, would give today's authorities an apoplectic fit.

Bruce describes how they found a fuel leak not long before the start of a Can-Am sports car race in Canada in 1967. The rubber bag tank needed replacing and there was no alternative but to drain the car; easier said than done when trying to dispose of 50 gallons in a hurry. Pumping out Gulf petrol faster than they could get rid of it, the crew filled every hire car and vehicle they could find. In the end, and with time pressing, to use Bruce's words: 'we simply tipped it over the fence'.

Health and Safety this may not have been but it worked, Bruce powering the big V8 onto the track 40 seconds after the race had started, the prelude to a fantastic charge into second place. That was good enough because the event was actually won by the sister car driven by Denny Hulme.

Charting McLaren's history brings a reminder that the team is unique in having won in Can-Am and at Indy and Le Mans, as well as more than 180 Grands Prix. Naturally, F1 occupies the majority of text as we cover the significant milestones and embrace a great opportunity to find out more about winning titles with Fittipaldi, Hunt, Lauda, Prost, Senna, Häkkinen and Hamilton.

But this book is not solely the domain of champions, a chapter on Räikkönen and Montoya revealing great affection for Kimi and, surprisingly perhaps, JPM. Indeed, Phil Prew's recall of engineering Montoya in 2005 when he beat Räikkönen in a head-to-head at Interlagos is a superb synopsis of the Colombian.

Apart from reading and writing about great names and frequently amusing moments, another enjoyable task has been finding photographs that have not seen for a long time - if at all.

One of my favourite images had always been a cockpit shot of Bruce, taken at a CanAm race in 1968, published in a book not long after and never seen since. For some strange reason, I remembered the photographer's name was Jacques Jangoux. Perhaps if he had been called Jim Smith, I might not have enjoyed the sense of recall.

Another advantage of such an unusual name is that it was easy to Google. I discovered a photographer of that name working on native cultures in the South American jungles. It turned out to be the very man. He remembered the photo, but had no idea where the film or transparency might be located. A few weeks later he came back triumphantly; the transparency had been found in a fridge. We had our photo - and more besides from Jangoux's unique collection.

A photographic mission such as this had myself, McLaren's Steve Cooper and our editor, the estimable Paul Fearnley, enjoying the equivalent of a day in a motor sport sweetie shop as we plundered the Getty Archives and the fantastic work of Rainer Schlegelmilch. How space was left for 60,000 words, I'll never know.

A lasting impression created by so many interviews is one of genuine affection for this team and the McLaren name. If that has been conveyed within these pages, then it should stand as a tribute to a team worthy of celebrating and surviving 50 years of ups and downs in a tough but truly fascinating business.

Maurice Hamilton writes for ESPN F1.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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A veteran journalist in the paddock, Maurice Hamilton has been part of the Formula One scene since 1977 and was the Observer's motor racing correspondent for 20 years. He has written several books as well as commentating on Formula One for BBC Radio 5 Live
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Maurice Hamilton writes for ESPN F1. A veteran journalist in the paddock, Maurice Hamilton has been part of the Formula One scene since 1977 and was the Observer's motor racing correspondent for 20 years. He has written several books as well as commentating on Formula One for BBC Radio 5 Live