Both on and off the track, McLaren has become known as one of the premier motoring companies. They’ve been one of the most successful Formula One teams and have produced some of the fastest road going vehicles today. So where did it all start.
McLaren is a British car manufacturer that was founded by Bruce McLaren in 1963. The New Zealand born racer, car designer and inventor achieved McLaren’s first Grand Prix win in 1968 after the teams first F1 car, the M2B, debuted at the Monaco Grand Prix 3 years earlier in 1965.
As the McLaren Racing Team began to see success in Formula One, it also saw success in other motorsport categories. In 1967, McLaren Racing won five out of six races in the Can-Am series. 1968 saw them win four of six and then the following year the team won all of the 11 races of the season.
1970 saw the death of the teams founder, Bruce McLaren, when his Can-Am car crashed on the Lavant straight just before the Woodcote corner at the Goodwood Circuit in England.
Despite Bruce McLaren’s death, the McLaren racing team continued to see success in the Cam-Am series, F1 and Indianapolis 500 wins in 1972, 1974 and 1976. Teddy Mayer took over the reigns when Bruce McLaren died and led the team to their first F1 constructors’ championship in 1974. McLaren also won the drivers’ championship in 1974 with Emerson Fittipaldi at the wheel. James Hunt repeated the driver’s championship win in 1976.
In 1981, the McLaren racing team merged with Ron Dennis’ Project 4 Racing team. McLaren became the first company to introduce a complete carbon fibre racing monocoque. This was completed with the help of designer John Barnard, who also introduced the first semi-automatic gearbox.
The merger also saw the beginning of McLaren’s most successful era in F1. Dennis took full control of the team and with Porsche and Honda engines, along with drivers Niki Lauda, Alain Prost and Aryton Senna, McLaren claimed seven drivers’ championships and six constructors’ championships. In 1988, Prost and Senna won all but one race, but later Prost left McLaren for Ferrari after tensions rose to boiling point between him and Senna.
Not only did 1988 see McLaren win all but one F1 race, but it also the beginning of a new direction for the racing team, production cars. In August of that year, Dennis and Technical Director Gordon Murry started to develop a new car, the infamous McLaren F1. 106 cars were built with the F1 launching in 1992 and production ending in 1998.
The McLaren F1 went on to claim the record for the world’s fastest production car in 1998, after reaching 240.1 mph. This was only surpassed by the Bugatti Veyron in 2005, when that car achieved a top speed of 253.81 mph.
After Honda withdrew from F1 in the mid-1990’s and Senna moved to Williams, McLaren went through a period of limited success. They went three years without a win.
The racing team were back to form in the late 90’s though. With the help of former Williams designer Adrian Newey, a Mercedes-Benz engine package, a sponsorship from West and driver Mika Häkkinen, McLaren went on to win further championships in 1998 and 1999.
McLaren remained one of the top teams in Formula One in the 2000’s. Lewis Hamilton took the teams latest title in 2008, becoming the youngest driver to win the title at the time and the first British driver to win the World Championship since Damon Hill in 1996.
In the early 2000’s, McLaren also collaborated with Mercedes-Benz to create the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren. The SLR was first presented as a concept at the North American International Motor Show in 1999 and was launched in 2003.
Ron Dennis retired as the team principle in 2009, with Martin Whitmarsh taking over the reigns. Whitmarsh was then pushed out in 2013 after the teams worst performance since 2004.
In 2010, the racing team and production car side of the company split in two. McLaren Automotive was relaunched and McLaren Racing was spun off. The 12C launched in mid-2011 and was the first production car completely designed and built by McLaren since the F1. A Spider model followed in 2012.
Following the success of the 12C, McLaren launched the spiritual successor to the F1 in 2013. The McLaren P1 utilized hybrid power in conjunction with Formula One tech to create one of the fastest, most powerful road cars available. The P1’s main competitors came in the form the Ferrari LaFerrari and the Porsche 918. All three shared similar performance and specs, and they all came within a second of each other around the Silverstone circuit.
After Lewis Hamilton left McLaren Racing for Mercedes at the end of the 2012 season, the racing teams troubles continued. 2013 was their worst season since 2004 and they were relegated to the mid pack, behind the likes of Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari. From 2015, Honda saw a return to Formula One in the form of McLaren using their engines. The team raced as McLaren-Honda for the first time since 1992 at the 2015 Australian Grand Prix.
Further production cars were unveiled in 2014 and 2015 after McLaren announced they would be planning to release a new car every year. The 650S Coupe and Spider models came in 2014, while the sports series 570S and 540C made their appearance in 2015.
Additionally, in 2015 McLaren launched a track version of the P1, the P1 GTR. This was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show and production was extremely limited and only original P1 owners were invited to buy one.
Recently, McLaren has branched into other areas of technology and manufacturing. This include motorized devices for the energy industry and even products for the medical field.
McLaren remains one of the most exciting car and technology companies, with a rich history of success and innovation. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for the company that was founded by a Kiwi racing driver.