It was a New Zealander who gave his name to the racing team when he launched Bruce McLaren Motor Racing in 1963. Bruce was a driver for the Cooper team in Formula One winning three Grands Prix with the team and finishing second in the overall 1960 world championship.
With Bruce eager to participate in the Australasian Tasman Series he was disappointed to hear that Charles Cooper, the team boss, was insisting on using 1.5 litre Formula One standard engines. Under the rules of the Tasman series 2.5 litre engines were allowed and Bruce McLaren wanted to take full advantage of this. With this disappointment Bruce McLaren decided to launch his own team. This team that would be called Bruce McLaren Motor Racing ended up winning the 1964 event for Bruce McLaren despite the death of his teammate, Timmy Mayer, who was killed in practice before the final race.
With success with his own racing team Bruce McLaren continued to race his own cars in competitions in the United Kingdom as well as North America. He did enter the Taman series again but did not win. Despite racing his own cars in other competitions McLaren did continue to drive Formula One races for the Cooper team throughout 1965. Realising that the team was past its best, McLaren decided to race his own cars full-time in 1966. Of all the teams still competing in Formula One only the Ferrari team has a longer history in the sport.
It was at the 1966 Monaco Grand Prix that Bruce McLaren made the debut Grand Prix race for the McLaren team but his race came to an unexpected end after an oil leak forced him out of contention. For the next few years McLaren would continue to languish in the lower echelons. It was not that they had poor designs or lack of ambition. It was simply that the engines they were provided with were not up to standard.
For their beginning in Formula One the McLaren team used a car design from Robin Herd with a Serenissima V8 engine and a 3.0 litre version of Ford’s Indianapolis 500 engine. Although the Serenissima V8 would eventually go on to score the team it’s first point in the UK both engines were generally considered inferior and unstable for Formula One.
In 1967 McLaren decided to use the British Racing Motors (BRM) V12 engine but this was not ready in time so the team instead opted for the 2.1 litre BRM V8. Neither the V8 or the V12 brought the team the success it was looking for. Their greatest success with these engines was a fourth place finish in Monaco.
In 1968 Bruce was joined by fellow New Zealander Denis “Denny” Hulme. Hulme was already racing for McLaren in the Can-Am series but wanted to gain experience in Formula One. 1968 would be the year that everything would finally come together for the team. After being the solo Formula One driver for the team since 1966 McLaren would finally have a team mate off whom to bounce ideas. Meanwhile Robin Herd had designed a new car, the M7A which would be propelled by the Cosworth DFV engine. The change in the team’s fortunes was astonishing with Bruce going on to win the Race of Champions at Brands Hatch and Hulme winning the International Trophy at Silverstone. Later in the year Bruce McLaren recorded the team’s first championship win at the Belgian Grand Prix while Hulme went on to win both the Italian and Canadian races. These successes and others helped the team to an overall standing of second in the constructors’ championship.
1969 would see Bruce return to the podium another three times continuing to use the Cosworth engines. This was also the year McLaren experimented with four wheel drive vehicles but the experience proved unsatisfactory. 1970 started brightly enough for the team with second place finishes each for McLaren and Hulme in the first two Grands Prix of the season. However tragedy hit the team in June as Bruce was killed in a crash while testing a new car for the Can-Am series in Goodwood, England.
The following years would see the team plagued by inconsistencies and mechanical problems. In fact it would not be until 1972 that the team would record their next win at the South African Grand Prix with Hulme at the wheel. With his driving partner, Peter Revson, helping him they achieved a further ten podium finishes between them and the team finished third in the constructors’ championship.
McLaren continue to race to this day and continue to produce winning cars and drivers having gone through a series of engine providers and visionary creatives. Engine providers they have used in the intervening years include Mercedes, Honda and Peugeot. Their championship winning drivers include such illustrious names as Emerson Fittipaldi, James Hunt, Niki Lauda, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Mika Hakkinen and Lewis Hamilton.