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Happy Birthday McLaren

September 4, 2013

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So McLaren have notched up their half century, to reference the cricketing term. But far from merely being deserving of the traditional ripple of applause around the proverbial cricket ground, the achievements of this motor racing legend warrant something more of a fan-fare.

I’m proud to be able to claim a very small part in the history of such an impressive institution and, whilst the legacy I left at Woking may be minute in the grand scheme of things, the impact the company left on me has been more significant.

It takes a certain type of person to work at McLaren. I’ve seen many come in, at all levels of the hierarchy, with the most ambitious and admirable of intentions, only to walk away before their missions were complete, simply not able to fit into the McLaren way.

To understand the ‘McLaren way’, I’m pretty sure you need to have been part of the ‘family’, so to speak, long or short term in some way or another.
I spent much of my near-decade at the F1 team cursing Mr Dennis in particular, for some of the ‘pointless’ and ‘frustrating’ things I was asked to do as a mechanic.
Of course I now look back fondly on the whole experience, in the knowledge that most of it wasn’t pointless at all and in fact, served a greater purpose than most people within the shiny, spotless buildings ever realise.

Ron Dennis was, and crucially still is, a visionary individual.
His vision for McLaren originally began at the age of 34, when the idea of taking over the struggling team became a reality. Since that day in September 1980, the race team and the company has never really been the same.

There are very few people in this world driven enough, determined enough or clever enough to make such an impact at such a young age. Even fewer who can still, at the age of 66, continue to be one of the innovators of industry…and today of course, not just one industry either.
What McLaren have done, under the leadership of Dennis and others, is successfully diversify. They’ve created a high end brand, using the decades of success of the F1 team and applied both the image and reputation, but also the developed technology, into other areas.
We all know about the F1 achievements together with CanAm, Indy 500 and Le Mans success, but I’ve seen the company grow in many different areas, all using the same ethos.
McLaren have developed and built components that have gone into space; they’ve worked with Olympic teams, perfecting the technology they use to compete; they’re now leaders in electronics, most notably motorsport related, but in other industries too; the company uses its expertise in product design and the healthcare sector, not to mention the global success of McLaren Automotive, their road car division.

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It’s an impressive and broad application of the skills and expertise the group have acquired through competing at the highest level in Formula One. It’s a sign of a company never happy to rest on its former glory and always looking for the next big opportunity, no matter where it may present itself.
The team have led the way with many aspects of F1 and worked hard to steer the sport in the right direction. Carbon composite chassis’; high tech purpose built factory facilities; impressive, sponsor wooing paddock buildings; revolutions in pitstop procedures and technology and the importance of the professional image, are all things which we all take for granted today, but that were pioneered by McLaren.
There are of course many initiatives the company has tried, that have failed, but that in itself is a mark of a team willing to stick their neck out and try something new.
I was once told by Ron that the new, revolutionary and trend setting team clothing we’d been asked to wear (silk all-in-one black suits with zip off arms and legs), may be different to we were used to, but give it a year and everyone would be following our lead…they weren’t.
Much as we hated it at the time and it was ridiculous, looking back McLaren were trying to move the company and the sport forward. As far back as most could remember, F1 team clothing had always been trousers and collared shirts, so they were looking to break the mould and, like normal, be the first to do it.
They were the first, years ago, to look seriously at human performance when it came to pitstops and tried things like special cooling suits for the crew to keep them at the optimum temperature during races. That little venture didn’t work either, but all teams now realise the fitness and wellbeing of their pitstop guys and girls is key to the ultimate stop.

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There are numerous examples like this, where McLaren have been pioneering in their fields and it’s something which deserves enormous credit. Whilst it’s certainly true to say that McLaren wouldn’t be where they are today without Formula One, it’s also fair to say that the sport of Formula One wouldn’t be where it is today without McLaren.

The standards that McLaren set themselves are incredibly high, almost unobtainably high, but the perfectionist traits of the man who took over the company from its small beginnings, to the futuristic place, housing over 2000 staff it is today, are prevalent throughout.
Everyone working at Woking knows what’s expected and is conditioned to deliver, but far from being the dull, grey environment it’s often portrayed to be, McLaren’s full of great people who know how to have fun and know they’re part of a special organisation.
I’ve no doubt there are many still there today who moan and complain about having to work the ‘McLaren way’, but as someone who’s been there and come out the other side, I know doing things that way works. Not only does it work for McLaren, but actually learning to do things properly, portraying the right image and being professional are all great ways to approach life in general and I’m a better person for my experiences there.

McLaren’s something that everyone who’s been involved can be proud of and McLaren should be very proud of all those who’ve been involved.

Happy Birthday McLaren.

Marc Priestley
@f1elvis

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