Between mid 1984 and December 1988 I was extremely privileged to be a part of an incredible organisation known as McLaren International and the Formula 1 team it ran. The latter was entered as Marlboro McLaren TAG Turbo. During that time I had the role of Sponsorship Co-ordinator which entailed me in the main looking after the sponsor’s interests both on and off track and ensuring they received value for money. It also meant travelling to all of the Grand Prix each year and in 1988 balancing the interests of Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna in the same team! (There has been much said and produced on that particular relationship, but truly not everything is as written/shown…so, more of that subject one day perhaps…)
During that period the team changed from TAG Turbo to Honda Turbo power units which from time to time changed the teams title slightly, but to those in and around the team, we were affectionately known as ‘The Red and Whites’ – clearly from the picture, you can see why! For the records, yours truly is on the back row, seventh in from the right and Matthew Jeffreys, (more of whom later) is again, on the back row, ninth in from the right. This was the 1984 line up with Lauda and Prost as Drivers that won the World Championships that year – ah, happy days
Working with leader Ron Dennis, design gurus John Barnard and Steve Nichols and with Drivers Alain Prost, Niki Lauda, Keke Rosberg, Stefan Johansson and the legendary Ayrton Senna the team was full of inspired men and women who I worked alongside as colleagues and frankly, the experience was almost like a drug to me and quite simply I could not get enough of it. Importantly, it taught me the importance of hard work, commitment and teamwork where trust is everything. It was also incredible fun…
The years have passed quickly it seems. For me, McLaren was followed by a successful spell spent at Williams in the 1990′s where again I worked with Alain and Ayrton, Mansell, Hill and Coulthard, but the experiences and memories from those McLaren times have if anything grown stronger and fonder above almost everything else. Much of what I learnt in those heady days seems to grow more relevant to business as each days passes and I frequently use my Formula 1 experiences in the work I present citing McLaren and its undying pursuit of perfection as examples to others seeking to better their own organisations.
By way of further background information to this post, former McLaren employees like to keep in touch and one of those people is ex McLaren design office man Matthew Jeffreys who served McLaren from 1979 to 2005. Matthew like me and many others still burns a candle for his McLaren years and the time he spent there and in May last year he invited me to attend an event he was organising at The Brooklands Motor Museum, which linked to a visit organised by the team late Founder Bruce McLaren’s Sister Jan, (who now runs The Bruce McLaren Trust) was intended to get some of the real old hands, such as Bruce’s first ever employees together with more recent and still serving employees, ex Drivers, Directors of the business and the likes of yours truly to generally enable us to talk about ‘the good old days’ and meet up again. The event was a great success and this year’s gathering to be held on September 11th prior to the Goodwood Revival weekend is heading towards being nothing short of spectacular.
So I hear you ask, what is behind the heading of: The benefits of being ‘A McLaren Old Boy’? Well, it’s simple really:
I had last year and indeed have again this year, the honour of hosting the evening and interviewing many of those present as I did at Brooklands last year in an impromptu way. This year will require a little more planning and scripting as Drivers such as former McLaren and Ferrari star Stefan Johansson will be present along with Brett Lunger who not only drove a private McLaren, but is one of the unsung heroes who pulled three times World Champion Niki Lauda from his burning Ferrari at the Nurburgring in 1976. Nico Prost, Son of four times World Drivers Champion is attending and is applying firm but gentle pressure to ‘Dad’ in order that he too can meet up with old and not so old friends.
Last year 81 British GP Winner John Watson revealed how he survived an enormous accident at Monza thanks to the carbon fibre designed chassis of one of John Barnard’s early creations, Tyler Alexander, once a Director of McLaren and an almost idolised figure in motor racing for his experience heaped praise on the many people in the room for their commitments over the years to the team and former GP Driver Howden Ganley and Bruce McLaren’s third only ever employee told us how it was in ‘those days’ compared to life in today’s ‘super teams’ that make up the Formula 1 grid.
The list goes on and on; Susie Dunbar, Bruce McLaren’s former PA who used to go to the office wearing Hot Pants, Italian Driver Bruno Giacomelli who drove a McLaren in the 1970′s, and Pauline Hailwood the wife of motorbike racing legend Mike Hailwood were present. Gretta Hulme, the wife of ‘The Bear’ Denny, George Langhorn – ‘Mr Paintshop’ (the man who paints and directs the painting of the iconic racing cars and has done so since the 70′s)…..it is an enviable list from history to the current day.
This year with Matthew driving the event forwards, and with yours truly in the background making contact with old friends, sponsors and Drivers alike, the event will run to a capacity of 230 people. Once again Jan McLaren will be making the trip from New Zealand with some 20 former McLaren employees and family members, the late James Hunt’s two Sons Freddie and Tom will be present along with wife Sarah.
Former McLaren motor home pairing Bob and Shaune McMurray along with ex factory man Leo Wybrott will be making the trip from New Zealand also. Former Team Co-ordinator Jo Ramirez will be present and hopefully the delightful Jennifer Revson, Sister of the late Peter Revson who qualified his McLaren on pole in the 70′s at Indy will also join the evening along with a North American contingent representing McLaren’s success in Indycar and CANAM racing over the years. Many sponsors’ representatives are there too along with a strong presence from Shell and journalists Maurice Hamilton and the ever impressive Doug Nye, who last year brought some amazing black and white film of Graham Hill, Bruce McLaren and the stars of yesterday to wow the audience with.
Clearly, this year is the 50th anniversary of McLaren. The factory will be hosting its own official recognition of this fact in September also, but this event as Matthew Jeffries says whilst ‘unofficial’ is for those people from all walks of life who have been part of the McLaren family over the years and who want to come together, renew old friendships in relaxed surroundings, over a few drinks and dinner and in company which would put many current celebrity shows to shame!
As Matthew says of the ex McLaren ranks, “You can leave McLaren, but McLaren never leaves you” and that is what everyone present is there to celebrate. I close on this point for now as how many of us can claim we still burn a bright flame for something of which we were part, however long ago? Being part of a team, experiencing gains and losses, winning and losing, having to constantly strive for better and better performances and driving forward as one cohesive force is something to which many aspire, but fewer ever attain.
As ‘the McLaren Old Boy’ charged with keeping the evening on track and teasing out those hidden gems and anecdotes from the audience after dinner, I look forward to the challenge greatly, for as one of ‘The Class of 88′ (which in 1988 won 15 out of 16 Grand Prix), my candle still burns brightly and I relish the challenge of being among so many with whom I shared so much.
So, thank you Bruce for starting it all off, thank you Ron for making my time with the Red and Whites possible, thank you Matthew for spreading your passion for the team so far and wide and thank you in advance to everyone who will be there on the night – as for this McLaren Old Boy, the journey continues undimmed!