McLaren had more than one reason to hope for a good result in Montreal – the race took place one day before the 40th anniversary of the team’s first Formula One win.
And while victory on the day was not to be for either Lewis Hamilton or Heikki Kovalainen, June 9 2008 was still celebrated as “a seminal day in the history of the McLaren marque.”
The team has put out a press release explaining how Bruce McLaren’s F1 operation made its debut at the 1966 Monaco Grand Prix. But it was not until 1968 that the squad began contesting every race with its own chassis.
New Zealander McLaren won on his first attempt with the new M7A chassis at the non-championship Brands Hatch Race of Champions.
But it was at the Belgian Grand Prix, held on June 9 1968 at the iconic Spa-Francorchamps circuit, that the marque first succeeded in a full World Championship event.
It had taken the team just 24 races to become a winning proposition. Team-mate Denny Hulme also secured victories at the 1968 Italian and Canadian Grands Prix – with a ‘Speedy Kiwi’ logo on the car.
As he crossed the the line, Bruce McLaren was not aware he had won the race. When he returned to the pits, which in 1968 were located at the bottom of Eau Rouge, a BRM mechanic said, “You’ve won, didn’t you know?”
He later recalled: “It was about the nicest thing I’d ever been told!”
The McLaren team said of the anniversary: “While the philosophy within the team remains the same – to exist to win races and World Championships – Formula 1 has changed immeasurably.”
For instance, the M7A developed around 450bhp and achieved a top speed of around 185mph. In low-downforce trim on a high-speed circuit, the MP4-23 will reach around 215mph.
In 1968 Bruce and Denny travelled to 12 races spread over four continents. This year the team will race at 18 circuits on five continents.
McLaren’s workforce in 1968 consisted of fewer than 30 people. (Two of whom work for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes today – Tyler Alexander is a systems engineer and Ray Rowe a gearbox mechanic.) Whereas in 2008 there are 1,115 people based across three facilities in England and Germany.
The M7A had just four people focused on its design, some of whom were also working simultaneously on the team’s Formula 2 and CanAm programmes. McLaren Racing currently has more than 135 engineers in its design team working on the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes MP4-23.
Two pages of technical regulations guided the designers in 1968 as opposed to 60 pages of the FIA’s 2008 Technical Regulations and 43 pages of Sporting Regulations.
Team statistics: Belgian Grand Prix 1968 – Canadian Grand Prix 2008
- 637 race starts (228 in partnership with Mercedes-Benz)
- 158 race wins (54 in partnership with Mercedes-Benz)
- 419 podiums (169 in partnership with Mercedes-Benz)
- 3219.5 points (1,297 in partnership with Mercedes-Benz)
- 137 fastest laps (67 in partnership with Mercedes-Benz)
- Eight Formula 1 Constructors’ World Championships
- 11 Formula 1 Drivers’ World Championships
- 47 race drivers from 18 nationalities