You took control of McLaren
in the early 1980s. The team had already won world championships in 1974 [with Emerson Fittipaldi] and 1976 [with James Hunt] and was an established contender, despite having faded somewhat from 1978 onwards. What were your thoughts regarding McLaren
at that time?
Well, it's difficult for me to comment with a great deal of impartiality. Also, of course, I was busy running my own race teams during the late 1970s – my teams were running in Formula 2 and Formula 3 and were building and racing ProCars for BMW
– so there wasn't a lot of time for me to reflect on what was happening in Formula 1, even though it was resolutely my target to get into grand prix racing in the not-too-distant future.
McLaren had won world championships with Emerson Fittipaldi in 1974 and James Hunt in 1976, they then failed to get to grips with ground-effect technology, had a few mediocre years, but were down rather than out. However, I understood what McLaren
could do when they had a strong car, as had been demonstrated by the strong performances of the M23 in the hands of both Emerson and James.
In terms of Bruce McLaren
himself, I didn't really know him, as our paths didn't really cross, but, of course he and I were in F1 at the same time. I started at Cooper's in 1966, the same year he brought Bruce McLaren
Motor Racing Ltd into F1 – so I like to think there's a nice symmetry there.
You implemented an incredible amount of change during your first few years at McLaren
– not least the introduction of the sport's first fully carbonfibre chassis. What was your approach to F1, competing and winning during those years?
I was always and I still am relentlessly competitive. When I came back to F1 in 1981 I wanted to do my own thing and I had no interest in following the established convention.
That approach may have seemed brave – or foolhardy – but, as with most things at that time, it was born of necessity. There was no time to step back and conduct any detailed analysis of the situation. Within the first few months of working with John Barnard, he convinced me that an all carbon monocoque would work and I had faith in our ability to get it done. So we just pushed ahead.
Once we'd established the team and tasted some initial success, I think I was able more effectively to quantify what had set us apart – the standards of preparation, the focus on the detail – and we already had a head-start on the opposition to maintain and refine that mindset. So the 1980s were really about a singular approach – find the very best elements, and make them successful through endless preparation, analysis and research. There was no secret – it was just huge ambition backed by a lot of hard work.
That era of the McLaren
story is fondly remembered now, but what was it like from the inside?
Busy! People forget that we were still a pretty small operation back then. In the 1980s, before we moved to Albert Drive, we were still operating from Boundary Road, which you just wouldn't believe could be an F1 team's headquarters if you saw the size of it today. But at that time it was setting new standards.