F1 » Vodafone McLaren Mercedes


Team History

Inspired by the achievements of fellow antipodean Jack Brabham, Bruce McLaren began constructing his grand prix cars in 1966. Although never quite good enough to win the world championship in their creator's lifetime, the McLarens proved competitive, taking both McLaren himself, and team-mate Denny Hulme, to race wins - a legacy continued through to the current day.

The company also built sportscars, which proved altogether more successful, winning the Can-Am series in America before McLaren lost his life in a testing accident in 1970. Control of the company passed to McLaren's partner Teddy Mayer, but it took a couple of years before the team would challenge for the title again.

The M23 chassis proved to be the first McLaren capable of winning the Drivers' and Constructors' titles. In the hands of Hulme and new team-mate Peter Revson, the car had shown promise in 1973, but it took the youthful genius of Emerson Fittipaldi to finally take the crown the following year. This success also marked the first year of a long-standing relationship with Marlboro.

Fittipaldi ran Niki Lauda's Ferrari close in 1975, before the Brazilian left the team. His replacement James Hunt promptly retook the crown for McLaren in 1976, but was fortunate to benefit from Lauda's fiery Nurburgring accident.

Although Hunt battled gamely against Lauda in 1977, the golden McLaren era of the mid-70s was waning. Several barren years followed before the team merged with Ron Dennis' Project Four outfit in 1980, and was renamed McLaren International. From this point on, all McLaren chassis would bear the MP4 prefix.

The partnership's first race win came the following season, when John Watson dominated at Silverstone. Always at the front of technical innovation, this McLaren victory was the first for an all carbon-fibre chassis.

From this successful start, McLaren continued to dominate much of the 1980s. Niki Lauda took the first McLaren-Project Four championship title in 1984, and was followed by Alain Prost in both 1985, '86 and '89, and Ayrton Senna in 1988, '90 and '91. The highlight of the Prost-Senna years was the complete domination of the 1988 season, in which the team was only denied a clean sweep by Senna's Monza accident with Jean-Louis Schlesser.

Powered by TAG-Porsche and Honda engines for much of its triumphant period, McLaren struggled when the Japanese company pulled out at the end of 1992. Although Senna continued to take unlikely victories with customer Ford units, championship success was a distant dream. Nevertheless, McLaren continued to duel with Ferrari as the most successful team in terms of race wins during this period.

With Peugeot engines proving a disappointment in 1994, McLaren switched to Mercedes power for 1995. Nigel Mansell signed for the team, but contested just two races before turning his back on F1 for good.

Although the first McLaren-Mercedes car was poor, the combination grew in strength. Despite the end of its association with Marlboro, the team finally broke back into the winner's circle at the first event of 1997 in Australia. Two further wins - at Monza and Jerez - provided much optimism after a difficult season.

The 1998 evolution chassis proved to be the best of the year. The driver combination of Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard lapped the entire field en route to a controversial, staged victory in Australia, and continued to dominate most races. The team eventually captured its first championship for seven years, as Hakkinen held off the challenge of Michael Schumacher and Ferrari, the Finn producing a Schumacher-esque performance at the Luxembourg GP to turn the title tide his way.

It was more of the same for McLaren in 1999, with the same driver, car and engine combination being retained. The team promised radical advances on the MP4-14 and it appeared likely to continue the pace set by its predecessor. The team, however, counted without Michael Schumacher's Ferrari and a number of errors from both itself and its drivers en route to taking the championship to the wire. In the end, Hakkinen won a second crown, but not before twice throwing his car off the road while unchallenged. Coulthard suffered more bad luck, and bowed out of the title race two events early.

Despite the struggle of 1999, McLaren was happy to keep another unchanged line-up in 2000. Mercedes produced another new, lighter engine, and the MP4-15 proved fast in testing.

Simply put though, there were few occasions when the MP4-15 had the number of the Ferrari F2000 and Michael Schumacher rarely let either of the Silver Arrows have a clear run. Hakkinen performed one of the most daring overtaking moves ever seen en-route to victory in Belgium but there would be only three other victories for the Flying Finn who was not able to secure a hat-trick of driver's titles. Coulthard survived a plane crash in the week prior to the Spanish Grand Prix although both pilots were killed. Despite an emotional victory at Silverstone and further triumphs in Monaco and Magny Cours, the Scotsman once again failed to threaten for the World title and found himself playing back-up to Hakkinen before the year was out.

The 2001 McLaren arrived relatively late and both drivers expressed their concerns over reliability in the run-up to Melbourne. Any chance of beating Ferrari and Schumacher would require a strong, reliable car - and neither Hakkinen nor Coulthard got it.

The Scot proved to be Schumacher's chief rival, and looked to be on course to give the German a run for his money prior to Monaco. He even out-qualified the master in the Principality, but was then let down on the grid and spent much of his race struggling to pass a stubborn - but entirely justified - Enrique Bernoldi. Two points were valuable - but not enough to save the championship.

From that point on, the McLaren championship challenge slipped, and Schumacher was able to take the crown by Hungary in August, while the Woking team was also not helped by rumours and wrangles surrounding an alleged move to Jaguar for technical director Adrian Newey.

Hakkinen took two wins in 2001 - the same as Coulthard - but was never asked to back up the Scot as Coulthard would have been told to do in aid of the Finn.

Not that Hakkinen was often in a position to help his team-mate, for a lacklustre year prompted speculation of retirement. A last-lap exhaust failure in Spain further knocked the Finn's motivation and, despite romping to victory in both Britain and the USA, Hakkinen duly announced that he was to take a year out in 2002, a decision that eventually led to his retirement.

Taking on board Hakkinen's belief that 'to win, you gotta get the Finn', Ron Dennis promptly snatched rising star Kimi Raikkonen from under the nose of Ferrari, and also took the courageous decision to move to Michelin rubber for 2002.

The year though by McLaren's high standards was not good, third in the Constructors' behind both Ferrari and Williams was disappointing, and what was worse, the team never looked to have the legs of the F2002. Coulthard took the outfit's only win, triumphing at the Monaco GP and Raikkonen would have won in France, if it wasn't for oil dumped on the track 5 laps from the end, that caused the Finn to go wide and allow Michael Schumacher to take the chequered flag first.

All-in-all the MP4-17 was not a bad car, it was more let down by the Mercedes engine, and Michelin tyres, which were compromised as they had to be developed with both McLaren and Williams in mind. By the season end though, Dennis' squad were considered to be at least back on terms with Williams, and many thought they had pulled ahead.

For 2003, McLaren had a much more successful season, despite the fact they ended up using the MP4-17D throughout the year - the ill-fated MP4-18 never raced.

Kimi Raikkonen took the battle for the drivers' crown down to the final round in Japan, so despite their car difficulties they still showed strongly. In total the Finn scored 91 points - two less than eventual champion, Michael Schumacher, winning in Malaysia and adding a further nine podiums to his tally by the season end.

David Coulthard in contrast though struggled, the Scot never really got to grips with the new one-lap qualifying format, and he slumped to seventh in the drivers' series, notching up 51 points - 40 less than his team-mate. His best result came in the first round, when he won, but only two other podiums came his way, and before the year was out, it was revealed that Juan Pablo Montoya would take his drive in 2005.

McLaren again ended the year third best in the constructors' on 142 points, compared to Williams' 144 and Ferrari's 158.

The following season saw little change at the Woking squad, both Raikkonen and DC remained, as did third driver, Alexander Wurz, and test driver, Pedro de la Rosa - who was signed by Ron Dennis' squad back in April 2003.

The new MP4-19 was launched early, the first 2004 car to make its track debut as its shakedown came in November, when DC gave it its first run at Valencia. Testing though was not good and, on the whole, the car was off the pace compared to its rivals.

Few would have predicted though that 2004 would be so bad for the Woking team and, in the first half of the season, it scored just 17 points. It wasn't until the MP4-19B was introduced at the French Grand Prix that things turned around, the highlight of the year without doubt the Belgian Grand Prix, when Raikkonen triumphed.

In total, the team scored 69 points during the season, but still ended up fifth in the constructors' table behind Williams, Renault, BAR and Ferrari - the latter scoring 193 more points.

Montoya duly arrived to partner Raikkonen for 2005, with Dennis claiming to have the strongest pairing in F1. Coulthard departed for Red Bull Racing, where he enjoyed greater personal freedom, leaving the 'fire and ice' partnership to try and restore McLaren's position at the top of the table.

While the MP4-20 made a solid start to the season, it wasn't until Bahrain that it recorded a podium, and its engine looking frail when halting a runaway Raikkonen at Imola.

Further failures blighted the Finn's qualifying efforts, regularly costing him ten grid places as the result of revised engine rules stipulating that powerplants had to last for two whole meetings, and contributed to the growing gap between the McLaren man and eventual champion Fernando Alonso. The Finn had to settle for second place overall three races from the end of the year, while Montoya, who missed races at the start of the year with a 'tennis-induced' shoulder injury, placed fourth.

Despite that, the MP4-20 eventually showed that it was the fastest in the field, and allowed Raikkonen and Montoya to rack up ten race wins, although that was only good enough to give McLaren second in the teams' table after its slow start to the year.

The same race line-up remained in place for 2006, but Dennis had already caused a stir in Woking by announcing that Alonso would arrive in 2007, along with Ferrari sponsor Vodafone. With the pressure on - although Raikkonen remained tipped for a Ferrari berth in 2007 - the two main drivers had it all to play for to win favour in the team.

The MP4-21 ran reasonably well in testing, but queries surrounded the frailty of the mandatory 2006 V8 engine, which ran only briefly in the interim MP4-20 before being temporarily replaced by the V10.

Hoping that history wouldn't repeat itself in what was shaping up to be one of the more competitive F1 campaigns in several years, McLaren began the year with strong results from both Raikkonen and Montoya, but knew that it was suffering from the joint decisions to cut engine power and reintroduce tyre changes during races. The former required a rethink in terms of aerodynamics and weight distribution, while the latter saw the MP4-21 fail to generate sufficient heat in its Michelin tyres, putting the team behind both Ferrari and Renault for much of the year.

Raikkonen continued to score points whenever he finished but, all too often, was the victim of mechanical failure when well-placed. At Monaco, he appeared set for victory, only for the car to break, and similar occurrences dotted through the year saw McLaren go winless for the first time in a decade.

Montoya was in no position to help following the USGP as, having triggered a first corner shunt by collecting his team-mate, he departed for NASCAR. Pedro de la Rosa beat fellow tester Gary Paffett and, at the end of the season, GP2 champion Lewis Hamilton to the seat alongside Raikkonen but, a Hungaroring podium aside, was never a potential racewinner.

At Monza, Raikkonen was duly confirmed as Michael Schumacher's replacement at Ferrari for 2007, while Hamilton got the nod over both Paffett and de la Rosa for the ride alongside now double world champion Alonso.

2007 could and should have been a great year for McLaren, but ultimately the Woking-based concern missed out on both the drivers' and constructors' titles.

On-track the MP4-22 proved a good car and while the Ferrari F2007 was probably fractionally quicker, it didn't have as good reliability. In the end though, the rivalry between Alonso and Hamilton, who was sensational in his debut year, proved to be destabilising.

Fernando became increasingly paranoid as the year went on and less and less pleased that he wasn't given preferential treatment, something he felt he deserved as a double world champion.

By the end of the season he and Dennis weren't even on speaking terms and it was no surprise when McLaren confirmed in November that the two would part company, a 'joint decision' said to be in the 'best interests' of all concerned.

The relationship between Alonso and Dennis reached the point of no return at the Hungarian GP in the summer, when in the wake of the F1 spying row, Alonso allegedly, threatened to reveal incriminating e-mails which showed the team was in possession of confidential Ferrari documentation to the FIA, unless he was given outright number 1 status. Dennis however contacted the FIA directly to inform the governing body of the Spaniard's claim, with the e-mails then playing a key part in the team being found guilty by the World Motor Sport Council - with a punishment that saw them thrown out of the constructors' championship and hit with a $100million fine.

The season was not all bad though and the team won eight races in total - four apiece going to Alonso and Hamilton. Both also ended the year with 109 points, just one less than Raikkonen, who snatched the drivers' title at the season finale, the Brazilian GP. Lewis ended up taking the runners-up spot though on the count-back as he had more second places.

Hamilton’s debut year was just unbelievable and he would - and probably should - have taken the drivers' crown in his rookie season. He had a poor end to the year however and crucial problems in China and Japan cost him.

In Shanghai Hamilton's determination to win from the front proved detrimental, as self-induced tyre wear saw him slide into the gravel while making his pit-stop. There was no rescue and the Briton posted his only DNF of the year. He could still have clinched the crown with fifth place in Brazil, but an early gearbox problem left him with too much to do, eventually coming home seventh as Kimi swept to the title.

A post-race fuel protest promised to move him up the two positions he needed, but Hamilton magnanimously insisted that he did not want to win the title that way. In the end, the protest was thrown out and he had to settle P2 overall.

With Alonso now gone, Lewis will assume the role of team leader in 2008, and he will be joined by Heikki Kovalainen, who also had an impressive debut year in '07, but with Renault.

The spy row also came to an end in December after McLaren issued a formal apology admitting that more Ferrari information had infiltrated the team than had at first been realised or revealed.

Following on from that the FIA moved to end the spy row once and for all and duly declared that the WSMC hearing schedule for February - which was to examine whether McLaren's 2008 car incorporated any Ferrari confidential information - should be cancelled.

McLaren could now concentrate on developing the MP4-23, although three key areas of development, rumoured to have been influenced by the Ferrari data, were abandoned.

Rumours also circulated that Dennis might be forced out and that Mercedes, which owns a 40 per cent stake in the team, were not at all pleased with the embarrassment caused by the spy row. Dennis, however, vowed to stay on, perhaps determined to see protégé Hamilton claim the title.

The team shrugged off further controversy as the FIA shunted it to the end of the pit-lane pecking order by guiding Hamilton to victory in Melbourne, but knew that it was in for another tough season as Ferrari claimed the next four races. A fortuitous Monaco victory – aided by a wheel-damaging clash with the barriers at Tabac – preceded back-to-back successes in Britain (another emphatic wet weather performance) and Germany (where he overcame his team’s error in not pitting under the safety car), keeping Hamilton firmly in the championship lead. More controversy followed as Hamilton was stripped of victory at Spa, but the Briton maintained the upper hand to the end, escaping further bad weekends at Monza and Fuji to win in China and allow himself to finish fifth – albeit with mighty drama – in Brazil.

Team-mate Kovalainen, meanwhile, suffered the majority of McLaren’s early season misfortune, including a scary accident while on course for possible victory in Spain, and was clearly not as at home with the MP4-23 as Hamilton. He had but one podium to his name by the time he was handed a maiden F1 victory in Hungary, and could do little about Sebastian Vettel at Monza, despite starting alongside the German and in a supposedly superior car. Engine failure also scuppered a possible win in Japan, but seventh in the standings was not what Heikki or the team had expected.

Both drivers remained for 2009, although it was clear early on that Hamilton was going to struggle to defend his title. The new MP4-24 was well off the pace and when the field headed to Hungary for the tenth race of the year, the defending champion had managed to score just nine points. Hungary would be a turning point as he took a first win of the year and followed it up with another success under lights in Singapore, but fifth in the championship was far less than the Briton had hoped for.

Kovalainen fared even worse and failed to make it onto the podium all season, with his best finish being fourth in the European Grand Prix. A disappointing twelfth place in the championship standings was enough to seal his departure from the team as McLaren brought in Jenson Button as his replacement for 2010.

Off-track it wasn't the easiest of years for new team principal Martin Whitmarsh, who had taken over from Ron Dennis after he elected to step back from his role as team principal. Having been found guilty of misleading stewards after an incident in Australia, Hamilton was disqualified from the race and the team was given a suspended race ban.

The signing of the defending champion Button for 2010 was a sign that McLaren was keen to move forwards and launch a championship challenge, but the Brit wasn't able to defend the crown he had won twelve months earlier with Brawn GP. Despite some questioning the wisdom of moving into a team apparently built around Hamilton, Button impressed early on with two wins in the first four races. While he didn't win again before the season was out, Button remained in contention for honours until the penultimate race of the year although being taken out by Sebastian Vettel at Spa had all but ended his hopes.

Hamilton was overshadowed somewhat by Button in the early stages of the season as he didn't take his first win of the year until the Turkish Grand Prix in May - although win number two quickly followed in Canada. A further victory in Belgium was the only bright spot in a wretched run through August and September where he retired three times in four races and although he stayed in contention for the title until the Abu Dhabi finale, Hamilton was forced to settle for fourth place.

Button and Hamilton remained alongside each other for 2011 as McLaren pinned its hopes of the new MP4-26, although the car would prove to be no match for the new challenger from Red Bull.

The race pace of the car was its strength and helped Button to finish inside the top six in every race bar Britain and Germany - where he logged his only two DNFs of the season. Three victories over the course of the season helped him to finish second in the standings behind Sebastian Vettel while his drive in Canada - where he came from the back of the field in mixed conditions to steal victory from Vettel on the final lap – is one that will live long in the memory.

Hamilton also won three times but for the first time, he was beaten in the standings by his team-mate after a campaign that included a number of uncharacteristic incidents from the Brit. Having been given a penalty by stewards in Monaco for a clash with Pastor Maldonado, Hamilton hit out at race stewards and was later forced to apologise. Another clash in Canada, this time with team-mate Button, saw Hamilton forced to retire and there were further clashes later in the year with Kamui Kobayashi at Spa and Felipe Massa in Singapore, Japan and India saw his relationship with the Brazilian take a hit.

Both Button and Hamilton have high hopes that the MP4-27 would be a championship contender in 2012 and things looked get when the pair finished first and third in the opening race of the season in Australia. The pair then locked out the front row in Malaysia with Hamilton on pole, only to miss out on challenging for victory when rain arrived on race day.

Leading the drivers standings after three races, things then took a turn for the worse, with Button managing just seven points in the following six races and Hamilton failing to make it onto the podium again until he took his first win of the year in Canada.

Hamilton then got taken out of the European Grand Prix and both drivers struggled at Silverstone before upgrades introduced in Germany allowed Button to take a podium finish – albeit with Hamilton retiring with a mechanical failure.

Hungary saw Hamilton storm to victory while he also won in Italy and the USA – by which point news had broken that he would be leaving at the end of the season to move to Mercedes. The 2008 title winner could also have won in Singapore and Abu Dhabi had it not been for mechanical failures, while a clash in Brazil with Nico Hulkenberg meant his final race for the team ended in disappointment when a possible win was on the cards.

While Button won in Brazil, to add to a success at Spa after Hamilton was one of the drivers taken out in first corner shunt, it wasn’t enough for McLaren to take second in the constructors’ championship as it was beaten to the runner-up position by Ferrari.

It meant the team was left to reflect on what might have been if it had been able to extract the speed that was clearly in its car on a more consistent basis, and if it had been able to avoid some of the reliability issues that would ultimately cost it dear.

For 2013, Button will take on the mantle of team leader alongside exciting young Mexican Sergio Perez and after another season without a championship title, there will only be one aim for the Woking-based team.

© 1999 - 2014 Crash Media Group

The total or partial reproduction of text, photographs or illustrations is not permitted in any form.