They say you never forget your first time, and June 9 remains a seminal day in the history of the McLaren marque. It not only marks the 40th anniversary of the team’s first ever Formula 1 victory but also set the precedent for four decades of grand prix success.
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 – and it quickly got into the winning habit.
Bruce himself won first time out with the new M7A chassis at the non-championship Brands Hatch Race of Champions event, but it was at the Belgian Grand Prix, held on June 9 1968, that the marque first tasted glory in a full World Championship event.
And the wins kept coming: after Bruce’s landmark victory in Spa, team-mate and fellow New Zealander Denny Hulme was first past the chequer at the Italian and Canadian Grands Prix later that same year.
While the philosophy within the team remains the same – to exist to win races and World Championships – Formula 1 has changed immeasurably.
Then and now
* The workforce in 1968 comprised fewer than 30 people, two of whom work for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes today. Tyler Alexander travels with the team as a systems engineer and Ray Rowe works as a gearbox mechanic. In 2008, there are 1115 people based across three facilities at Woking, Brixworth (Mercedes-Benz HighPerformanceEngines) and Stuttgart (Mercedes-Benz Stuttgart). The partnership between McLaren and Mercedes-Benz has been in existence since October 1994, and has yielded 54 Grand Prix wins and three World Championships.
* The M7A had no more than 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.
* 86 drawings were involved in the creation of the M7A. This year’s Vodafone McLaren Mercedes MP4-23 was the result of more than 4,600.
* Two pages of technical regulations guided the designers in 1968. The 2008 FIA Technical Regulations consist of 60 pages. The Sporting Regulations comprise a further 43 pages.
* While the nature of the circuits on the calendar has changed considerably, M7A still developed around 450bhp and achieved a top speed of 300km/h. In low-downforce trim on a high-speed circuit, MP4-23 will reach around 345km/h.
* In 1968, Bruce and Denny travelled to 12 races spread over four continents. This year, Lewis Hamilton, Heikki Kovalainen and the entire Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team will race at 18 circuits in five continents.
1968 Belgian Grand Prix
* Following McLaren’s debut at Monaco in 1966, it took only 24 races for the team to win its first Grand Prix at Spa on June 9 1968.
* Bruce became only the second man to win a Formula 1 race in a car bearing his name. He followed the example of triple world champion Sir Jack Braham who won in a Brabham BT9 at the 1966 French Grand Prix.
* As he crossed the the line, Bruce was not aware he had won the race. When he returned to the pits, which in 1968 were located at the bottom of the breathtaking Eau Rouge, a BRM mechanic said, “You’ve won, didn’t you know?” Bruce later recalled: “It was about the nicest thing I’d ever been told!”
* In 1968 the Spa-Francorchamps circuit was considered a legendary and brutal track, feared and respected in equal measure by the drivers. In its original incarnation it was 14.080km/8.749miles in length. The 28-lap race saw Bruce cover 394.240km/244.972 before crossing the line.
* For 2008, the circuit is now around half its original length at 7.004km/ 4.352miles, but still remains one of the greatest and most formidable challenges for the drivers.
Team Statistic – 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 covering 18 nationalities