Fangio defined the art of Grand Prix racing, shaping the initial contours of what it meant to ‘race’ and compete at the highest level.
Hamilton has made winning a habit.
Vettel, through 4 world titles, entertained enormously.
Schumacher, quite simply, raised the graph, his achievements seeming more of a statistical anomaly to others’: the 91 race wins and those 7 world championships.
Hunt and Lauda, Prost and Senna blazed a trail that inspires all to this day.
But what did Bruce McLaren do?
Where others raced and earned points, wins, or championships, Bruce McLaren created an institution.
What is a driver without a car? Akin to the soul of the body, the Grand Prix machine is the DNA of the driver, the very tool of his success. An alter-ego?
Must we pay ode to a man who created a car that today connotes an identity of the sport itself.
What are drivers without teams? Think of children without parents or occupants of a home without the home itself!
All we want, at the end of the day, is a roof to live under; a home that protects and becomes part of our identity.
Had Bruce McLaren not been there, Formula 1 may simply not have got a bastion of excellence.
Probably, not wrong to say a racing culture of a very high pedigree.
At the outset, it’s a burlesque team that’s stood the tests of time for nearly six decades.
But look within and go deeper.
In McLaren, Formula 1 has a pillar so to speak, not just any team. In McLaren, Formula 1 has an eternally persisting force; the answer to Ferrari’s dominance, the benchmark for most who play catch-up.
Not wrong to say, given the excellence of a famous quartet- Alain Prost, Niki Lauda, James Hunt, and Ayrton Senna- a name emblazoned with perpetual excellence.
Had Bruce McLaren not been there, who passed away on this very date (five decades back in time), we may not have had the very team that went on to birth the legend of Ron Dennis, a culture of consistency, and a signature of dominance even outside of Formula 1.
Think Le Mans and the victory of 1966. Do not forget Can-Am and the prowess of the M1A.
In some ways, the Le Mans triumph of 1966 at the wheel of a works Ford also signified a sense of persistence about the Kiwi.
Lest it is forgotten that Bruce McLaren was able to finally win at Le Mans (in 1966) on the 8.3-mile long Sarthe Circuit on his sixth attempt.
There are some who simply don’t give up, for they are hardwired to be resolute; nothing else or less would ever do.
Here was a man who dedicated an entire life, an ever-so-brief one at that to learning.
Where others looked at a Le Mans race as an important opportunity to ‘pocket’ some money, Bruce McLaren treated it as an opportunity to exchange notes with manufacturers, top managers, and race engineers.
The boy, who at just 21, away from the whims and fancies of winning, arrived at the Vingt Quatre du Mans in 1959, to focus on a rather arduous challenge.
He was a pure racer, a man who a bit like Gilles and Senna derived happiness by going quick behind the wheels of a car. But as important as speed, what also mattered to him was the ‘process.’
The process of engineering. That whole dynamic.
Here was someone who grew up following his father’s passion for racing and even repairing motorcycles. A mild-mannered New Zealander from Auckland, who made a bit of a habit to go hill-climbing with the unforgettable and unpartable Austin 7 Ulster.
Was the quintessential habit of climbing tough peaks symbolic (an early indication) of the peak he’d raise later in the checkered history of Formula 1?
For someone who was just 14 went he first conquered a challenge- called the ‘Hillclimb’- back in New Zealand, graduating from average machinery to more competitive ones was a sign of natural progression.
In his mid-teens, Bruce McLaren, it ought to be remembered, moved up from an Austin to a Ford 10, and then to an Austin-Healy.
Her was someone for whom the ‘sound’ of the rip-roaring car was as important as the mechanics that birthed what racers call the ultimate melody.
This is why the ‘hard-as-nails’ racer was also ever-inquisitive to know about the science of engineering.
Yet, it mustn’t be forgotten, Bruce McLaren had no godfathers.
With great insight, meager finances and a whole lot of grind, he’d, in 1963, establish a racing marque without which one cannot imagine the modern conception of Formula 1.
But by then, he’d already spent half a decade in the sport.
Yes, that very sport wherein he’d race for 13 long years, having first arrived at the 1958 German Grand Prix, winning his first contest a year later, at the 1959 US Grand Prix.
And in that intricate, topsy-turvy, boy maturing into a man maturing into an icon journey, Bruce McLaren would score 4 wins, collect 27 podiums and drive home 3 fastest laps.
In all, he’d race for 5,118 laps from 101 race starts.
Just imagine how much more would he have done had he not been taken away so abruptly and suddenly at 32.
At an age where drivers are perhaps in their second wind of sorts with either a title behind them or one very in very close sight, Bruce McLaren, ever the journeyman, ascended to the heavens.
But this was not before making racing an intrepid habit, signified by no fewer than 56 triumphs at CanAm with McLaren, many of which came with him behind the wheel of a car.
This was also not before making an impression at the highest annals of Formula 1 aged just 20. And lest it is forgotten, all of this whilst dealing with a rare condition called Perthes that left him with a shorter left leg than compared to this right.