McLaren celebrates 50 years in Formula One

Story highlights

Bruce McLaren founded his eponymous race team in 1963

The late New Zealand racer won his first Formula One race with a McLaren in 1968

The McLaren team has now won a record 182 grands prix

The McLaren creative brand also produces sports car, high-tech equipment and cartoons

CNN —  

Bruce McLaren was eerily portentous when he made his famous statement: “I feel life is measured in achievement not in years alone.”

His eponymous McLaren Formula One team celebrates its 50th anniversary Monday, some 43 years after the New Zealander was killed on the racetrack.

McLaren was only 32 years old when he died testing a car for the Can-Am championship but in his short life he broke new ground in motorsport as a popular racer, team manager and forward-thinking engineer.

His legacy races on today as the McLaren race team – winners of a record 182 grands prix and eight team titles in motorsport’s elite F1 series.

McLaren has also powered a stellar cast of seven world champions including Brazilian hero Ayrton Senna, French four-time winner Alain Prost and the 2008 world champion Lewis Hamilton.

But for McLaren, the man, it all began at a kitchen table growing up in Auckland.

“Motor racing was in my blood,” McLaren explained in his autobiography published posthumously on his website.

“How Mum put up with Dad and me with her kitchen table covered in bits and piece of the engine I will never know.”

As a child Bruce honed his racing instincts by holding wheelchair races in the grounds of the hospital where he was recovering from a hip disease which left him with a lifelong limp.

But once fully recovered he had made the transition to cars by the age of 14.

In 1958 he left for England to make his F1 debut at the German Grand Prix in a Cooper-Climax.

During the following season, McLaren became the youngest driver to win an F1 race at the U.S. Grand Prix – a record now held by Red Bull’s record-breaking world champion Sebastian Vettel.

McLaren, who had more on his mind than racing, had also studied engineering in England and in 1963 he established the Bruce McLaren Motor Racing team, initially to build cars to compete in Australia and New Zealand.

His eponymous McLaren marque made its F1 debut on the streets of Monaco in 1966 and two years later McLaren took his orange racer to its first victory at the Belgium Grand Prix.

Name on the nose

The speed of McLaren’s first victory is amazing given that the teams who joined F1 in 2010 are still to win their first point.

“I didn’t know [I had won]!” McLaren said at the time. “It’s about the nicest thing I’ve ever been told.

“I had won a Grand Prix in a car with my name on the nose.”

McLaren would go on to win 181 more races in F1 – more than any other team in the history of the sport.

The current staff at the team headquarters in Woking, England celebrated that winning mentality and fired up some of the team’s historic cars as part of the anniversary celebrations Monday.

“McLaren started as the dream of one man, and it’s since grown to encompass the hopes and dreams of more than 2000 men and women, who work as tirelessly as Bruce McLaren himself once did,” said McLaren Group chairman Ron Dennis.

“[They] ensure that everything we do reflects well when compared with everything we’ve ever achieved.

“Our 50th anniversary provides an opportunity for every single McLaren employee to realize that he or she is an utterly crucial part of an organization with a history and a culture that really mean something.

“Call it McLaren’s DNA… Call it McLaren’s undiminished hunger to win in everything we do.”

The team’s slogan is: “We exist to win,” and it is a mantra often repeated by current McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh, even when the team has struggled to compete with its rivals Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes.

McLaren, who also plan to celebrate their anniversary at the upcoming Italian Grand Prix, do not have a car capable of winning races in 2013.

Appetite for winning

Drivers Jenson Button and Sergio Perez have also not been on the podium, representing a backwards step from the 2012 season when the team ended the season with the fastest car.

Button, however, remains confident the McLaren powerhouse will turn around their F1 fortunes, especially with a significant rule change on the horizon in 2014.

“I firmly believe this team will be great again,” said Button, who has won eight races since joining McLaren in 2010.

“This is an organization you can never discount – their appetite for winning is unlike anything I’ve ever seen and, rest assured, we will be back at the front soon.”

While the team’s founder may have been driven by his racing ambitions the company now does not rely on success in F1 alone.

Dennis, who merged his own race team with McLaren in 1981, has been an influential driving force behind the modern McLaren brand.

The company, which also has Bahraini and Saudi Arabian shareholders, not only competes in F1 but produces luxury sports cars while McLaren Applied Technologies has seen F1 technology cross over in medicine and the military. The team even create its own cartoons.

McLaren may be measuring 50 years since the fresh-faced Bruce McLaren decided to build his own cars and go racing – but the team have followed their founder’s mantra by marking their achievements in more than just numbers.