Forty-eight years ago today the McLaren Formula 1 team celebrated its first, and arguably most surprising, victory at the 1968 Belgian Grand Prix when founder Bruce McLaren took the chequered flag at Spa-Francorchamps, making him only the second driver in the sport’s history to win in a car carrying his name after Australia’s Jack Brabham.
This would be the New Zealander’s one and only victory piloting his own car and his final win in a World Championship event. The occasion also marked his 100th Grand Prix race start in his illustrious career.
The name McLaren is synonymous with motorsport. After making their Formula 1 debut at the 1966 Monaco Grand Prix – a fiftieth anniversary celebrated by the team at the preceding Grand Prix in Monte Carlo – the McLaren team would later go on to win eight Constructors’ and 12 Drivers’ Championship crowns and dominate the sport through the 1980s and 1990s.
The 1968 season saw fellow Kiwi Denny Hulme, hot off the heels of his first and only Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship, leave Brabham Racing to join his countryman; the two friends had previously dominated the North American Can-Am sportscar series together.
Hulme quickly settled in, scoring McLaren’s first podium with a second place at the Spanish Grand Prix. A sense of optimism followed the team to Belgium as they believed they would be competitive at the 14-kilometre layout that wound its way through the Ardennes forest.
Hulme out-qualified his teammate, with the two McLarens lining up on the third row of the grid in fifth and sixth respectively. Another New Zealander, Chris Amon, took pole position in his Ferrari.
Race day was overcast. Amon got off to a good start followed by his teammate Jacky Ickx and Honda’s John Surtees; Surtees took the lead by the end of the second lap. Trouble at the start for Bruce saw him drop down to eleventh, but he would soon claw his way back up to eighth.
On the seventh lap the suspension of Brian Redman’s Cooper-BRM failed and he crashed into and over a concrete barrier and into a parked car, catching fire upon impact. He luckily escaped with only minor burns and a broken arm.
The 28-lap race delivered a series of retirements with Graham Hill, Richard Attwood, Jack Brabham and Jochen Rindt all succumbing to mechanical trouble.
Amon and Surtees would join the growing list of retirements after the luckless Amon’s Ferrari suffered a radiator problem, while the suspension on Surtees’ Honda failed.
Hulme was fighting for the lead with Jackie Stewart until a driveshaft problem forced the McLaren to retire. Heading into the final 10 laps Bruce successfully battled Pedro Rodríguez for second place, and eventually found himself 30 seconds behind the seemingly unbeatable Scotsman.
Stewart, however, was about to run out of fuel, forcing a late last-lap pit stop which handed the lead, and victory, to Bruce.
Some say he was ‘gifted’ the win that fateful day in Belgium, but the first victory for his own team was well deserved by Bruce McLaren. To finish first, first you have to finish.
He took the bold and brave move to realise his vision and start his own team, thus paving the way for other talented drivers who came after him to follow their dreams to success.
|1968 XXVIII Grand Prix de Belgique – Final Classification (28 laps)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||Bruce McLaren||McLaren M7A Ford Cosworth V8||28||1:40:02.1|
|2.||Pedro Rodríguez||Owen Racing BRM P133 V12||28||+ 12.1|
|3.||Jacky Ickx||Scuderia Ferrari 312 V12||28||+ 39.6|
|4.||Jackie Stewart||Matra International MS10 Ford Cosworth V8||27||1 lap behind|
|5.||Jackie Oliver||Gold Leaf Team Lotus 49B Ford Cosworth V8||26||Transmission|
|6.||Lucien Bianchi||Cooper Car Company T86B BRM V12||26||2 laps behind|
|7.||Jo Siffert||Rob Walker Lotus 49 Ford Cosworth V8||25||Oil Pressure|
|8.||Jean-Pierre Beltoise||Matra Sports MS11 V12||25||3 laps behind|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|DNF.||Piers Courage||Reg Parnell Racing BRM P126 V12||22||Engine|
|DNF.||Denny Hulme||McLaren M7A Ford Cosworth V8||18||Transmission|
|DNF.||John Surtees||Honda Racing RA301 V12||11||Suspension|
|DNF.||Chris Amon||Scuderia Ferrari 312 V12||8||Radiator|
|DNF.||Dick Attwood||Owen Racing BRM P126 V12||6||Oil Line|
|DNF.||Jack Brabham||Brabham Racing BT26 Repco V8||6||Throttle|
|DNF.||Brian Redman||Cooper Car Company T86B BRM V12||6||Accident|
|DNF.||Jochen Rindt||Brabham Racing BT26 Repco V8||5||Valve|
|DNF.||Graham Hill||Gold Leaf Team Lotus 49B Ford Cosworth V8||5||Joint|
|DNF.||Jo Bonnier||Privée McLaren M5A BRM V12||1||Wheel|
|DNP.||Chris Irwin||Honda Racing RA300 V12||Injured|
|DNP.||Dan Gurney||AAR Eagle T1G Weslake V12||Car unavailable|
Images via McLaren and Red Bull