Google+ Jack Leslie F1: McLaren film: A celebration of Bruce McLaren’s life and career

26 May 2017

McLaren film: A celebration of Bruce McLaren’s life and career

With McLaren’s current position as one of Formula 1’s biggest and most successful teams, struggling to score points as its troubled partnership with Honda continues, it’s easy to momentarily forget the humble beginnings of one of the world’s best-known racing outfits. 
A new documentary, simply titled ‘McLaren’, details the extraordinary – but, sadly, far too short – life and career of the team’s founder, Bruce McLaren. It was released in selected cinemas on May 25 and I decided to pop along to a screening to check it out.

In terms of my historical knowledge, I’m no F1 expert. As a fan on the younger side of the age spectrum, I don’t know the era the New Zealander raced in as well as the last 15 years or so – which is when I started to become invested in F1. Of course, I know who he is, what he achieved and how his race team started. But, not in detail. 

My screening of the film was half-full, and I was probably the youngest – if not, one of the youngest – people there. That wasn’t all that surprising, to be honest, but there was certainly a lot of anticipation in the room, with the older F1 fans keenly discussing memories and moments from the sport’s past.

The documentary celebrates and reflects on McLaren’s rather remarkable life and career, from his beginnings in New Zealand, struggles with Perthe’s disease as a kid (which I had no idea about) and start in motorsport. I definitely learned a lot about McLaren’s early years, start in racing and route up to F1 – which included winning a 'Driver to Europe' scheme and becoming somewhat of a protégé to Jack Brabham. 

This led to him making the step up to F1 with Cooper, which is where he spent a large chunk of his time in the sport before he started racing for his own team. Prior to all of that, of course, came setting up the McLaren outfit itself, where it became hugely successful in the Can-Am series over in North America (I was fully aware of Can-Am, but had no idea it was so hugely popular). 

Some years saw McLaren racing in F1, Can-Am, competing in other races, testing for various manufacturers (such as Ford) while also juggling family and married life. It was remarkable, really. He was travelling across the globe, racing and also running his own team. 

That’s something you just can’t imagine someone doing in the modern motorsport era. He was doing all of this while scoring success after success across the world too, in beautiful cars – including the stunning McLaren M8D – all bearing his name. 

 
The documentary weaves its way through McLaren’s life and career using archive footage, including some great family videos that showcase his cheerful personality, mixed in with interviews, television interview clips and occasional scenes recreated in modern day – I wasn’t expecting those, and not everyone will be a fan, but there we go. 

A wide range of people shared their stories of Bruce, from F1 champions such as Sir Jackie Stewart, Emerson Fittipaldi and Mario Andretti to former drivers Chris Amon (who sadly passed away during filming) and Dan Gurney. There were also interviews with those who worked at McLaren in those early years, as well as his widow Patty McLaren-Brickett, who also sadly died while the film was being created. 

It really is a rollercoaster ride through the incredible highs and lows of McLaren’s career, from becoming F1’s youngest ever winner at the time with victory at the 1959 US GP to the dangers of racing in those days, losing his friends and fellow drivers, to the birth of McLaren, his success in Can-Am and that first triumph in Belgium in 1968 driving a car he designed himself. 

The documentary was always going to end on a sad note, going through the untimely death of McLaren at a Goodwood test of his new M8D Can-Am car. But, I didn’t expect it to be quite so emotional, as those interviewed recounted their stories and memories from that tragic day. There was stunned silence in the cinema screening, you could have heard a pin drop. 

While the Roger Donaldson-directed film isn’t the slickest production, the incredible story of McLaren’s action-packed, successful but incredibly short life and career makes the documentary a must-watch. I’d definitely recommend F1 fans (both young and old) take a look when it comes out on DVD, Blu-Ray and on digital platforms from May 29. Go to the official website to see how you can watch it.

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