- Early Successes
- Dominance In The 1980s
- Struggles In The 1990s
- The New Millennium
- Current Reality
McLaren is one of the most successful and iconic teams in Formula 1 history. Over its fifty-year presence, the team has enjoyed moments of glory but has also experienced its fair share of lows.
From its debut in 1966, its dominant period in the late 1980s, and finally, to its recent resurgence, McLaren has truly had a rollercoaster ride in the greatest motorsport show in the world. In this article, we’ll take a look back at McLaren’s rise and fall (and rise again) in Formula 1.
McLaren, founded by Bruce McLaren in 1963, is a team with a long and illustrious history in motorsport.
The McLaren team first made its mark in Formula 1, winning the first of its eight constructors’ championships in 1974. Bruce had originally started out racing in the mid-1950s and soon established himself as one of the leading drivers of the time.
His success at the wheel soon transferred into success as a constructor, and the first McLaren-branded F1 car, the M7A, competed in 1968.
Bruce tragically passed away in 1970, but the team continued to forge ahead and build upon his legacy. In 1971, the M19A took the pole position at the Monegasque GP, and two years later, the team won its first race in Belgium.
The first major success for the McLaren team was the 1974 constructors’ championship when Emerson Fittipaldi and Denny Hulme drove the M23 to victory.
It was the start of an impressive run of triumphs for McLaren as they went on to win six more constructors’ championships over the next decade. During this period, McLaren drivers won numerous races, including Niki Lauda’s championship victory in 1984.
At this point, McLaren was already among the most notable teams on the F1 circuit and had cemented its heritage.
Dominance In The 1980s
The 1980s defined an astonishing accomplishment period for the McLaren team in Formula 1, beginning with their first constructors’ championship in 1984.
The success was largely due to their driver Niki Lauda, who won his second world championship with McLaren in 1984.
In 1985, Alain Prost joined the team, and the pair dominated the category. They won fifteen of the sixteen races during the 1988 season, and Prost won his second world championship with the team that year.
The following season was also successful for McLaren, with Prost winning his third world title and the team winning the constructors’ championship for the fourth consecutive year.
The iconic Ayrton Senna was also a protagonist in this golden period, lifting the title once alongside Alain Prost. There were no other words to describe the impact felt since it was total domination by McLaren.
The alliance between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost brought the best driver duo in history and resulted in one of the biggest rivalries ever recorded in the category.
The team continued to be successful in the early 1990s, but their momentum slowly declined as other teams and drivers caught up to them.
Struggles In The 1990s
The 1990s saw a sharp decline in McLaren, with the team experiencing adversities on and off the track.
On the track, McLaren failed to score a single win from 1990 to 1993, only finishing second on one occasion. It was a far cry from the glory days of the previous decade.
Off the track, McLaren was beset by financial difficulties and political infighting, resulting in many management changes. Despite this, the team was able to remain competitive due to a strong engineering department led by Adrian Newey.
In 1994, McLaren finally returned to victory lane with Mika Häkkinen winning three races, including the season-ending Australian GP. Nevertheless, this was not enough to save the team’s fortunes, as they finished a distant fourth in the standings.
The following year saw further struggles, with the team finishing sixth and failing to win any races. 1996 proved slightly better, but still not up to McLaren’s standards of previous years.
McLaren would finally get back on track in 1997 when Häkkinen won his first title. They would also finish runners-up in the constructors’ championship, which marked a significant improvement over the past few years.
The coming two seasons saw continued success for McLaren, with Häkkinen taking a second drivers’ championship title in 1999. With these accomplishments, he isolated McLaren as the greatest winner in Formula 1 history, with eleven drivers’ championships and eight constructors’.
Another striking fact that occurred with McLaren in the 1990s was the end of its long partnership with Marlboro, a cigarette brand, which ended at the end of 1996, giving the team a new look the following year.
However, McLaren would fail to win either in 2000 or 2001. By 2002, the team dropped out of contention after only getting third place in the constructors with 65 points. Eventually, this marked a low point in the team’s history and would set the scene for their eventual redemption.
The New Millennium
In the early 2000s, McLaren had to endure some difficult years as Ferrari established itself as the powerhouse in the category.
In the first five years, the Italian team dominated under the command of Michael Schumacher. Between 2002 and 2006, Kimi Räikkönen was McLaren’s number one driver, and, despite his excellent individual performance, the Finn only managed to become champion in 2007, when making his debut for Ferrari.
After this, McLaren made several changes in 2007. The team signed Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton, brought in aerodynamicist Peter Prodromou from Red Bull Racing, and assembled a car with revolutionary features such as an adjustable ride height and novel suspension geometry.
This year was marked by several internal issues between Alonso, Hamilton and the engineers, and some of them became involved in an espionage scheme.
The Spaniard found out and began to patronise the team, saying that if he didn’t receive the required privileges, he would expose the team, and that’s what happened. Those directly involved were fired, and the team was disqualified and unable to compete for the constructors’ title.
McLaren tasted the victory flavour with Lewis Hamilton winning the 2008 world drivers’ championship, but the tension was still overwhelming.
The scandals persisted to the point that, in the very next year, the head of the team, Ron Dennis, left the position he had held since 1980, giving way to Martin Whitmarsh.
Since 2015, McLaren has gone through some changes. The team signed new drivers, invested heavily in new technology, and made significant changes to its engineering structure.
They decided to swap Mercedes for Honda as engine suppliers, under the expectation of re-editing a duo that worked so well in the 1980s and early 1990s. But in practice, it was another failed move for McLaren.
The 2017 season was poor for the team, recording its worst points haul ever and propelling them to ninth place in the constructors’ championship standings.
A year later, the transition marked some improvements for McLaren, who switched engines again to Renault’s power unit. These changes have paid off as they returned to podium positions regularly during the 2018 and 2019 seasons.
Mercedes returned to McLaren in 2021 signalling a promising future. The team took five podiums during the season that season. It seemed unconvincing, but the team achieved in a single year something that previously took between 2014 and 2020 to reach.
After many years in the fight, McLaren finally returned to higher places with Daniel Ricciardo’s victory and almost a win for Lando Norris at the Russian GP in the 2021 season.
Norris and Ricciardo followed as a duo for 2022. Both were big bets for McLaren, which intends to return to the highest posts after so long waiting. They secured fifth place in the standings, which wasn’t a bad record.
Formation-wise, McLaren has a strong commitment to youth development and worked hard to ensure they are producing the next generation of drivers who will compete at the highest level. Their drivers have won numerous accolades, including two Formula 2 titles obtained in 2020 and 2021.
With the start of the 2023 season around the corner, McLaren will try to perform more consistently, battling for a spot at the front of the grid. This time, the team continues to rely on Lando Norris and brought in rookie Oscar Piastri to fulfil their pretensions.
This promising duo is capable of being dangerous on the track, and McLaren believes that the future is bright with them behind the wheel. Only time will prove their worth, but surely this team is showing a lot of ambition to once again become a force to be tamed.