McLaren duo to drive historic Benz car in Mercedes celebrations

Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen will get their hands on an original 1908 Benz Grand Prix car in Magny Cours to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first ever Mercedes victory.

Accompanying McLaren on their journey to Magny Cours for what could be the last ever French Grand Prix at the venue, is an original four-cylinder 12.8 litre Benz Grand Prix car to commemorate Christian Lautenschlager’s victory at the French Grand Prix in 1908.

Hamilton and Kovalainen will trade in their MP4-23’s for the historic car and drive demonstration laps in front of the French crowds to mark the landmark event.

McLaren-Mercedes arrive in France in nostalgic mood after a week of accolades and milestones.

On Monday the Woking-based outfit celebrated the 40th anniversary of McLaren’s first Grand Prix victory courtesy of team founder Bruce McLaren who won the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps on June 9, 1968.

And on the evening of the anniversary Ron Dennis, Chief Executive of the McLaren Group and Team Principal of McLaren Racing was awarded the Prince Philip Medal from HRH the duke of Edinburgh at an awards ceremony hosted by The Royal Academy of Engineering. The ceremony celebrated innovation and excellence in engineering.

Speaking about the award, Dennis said “When you look at the list of past winners, I feel flattered and honoured to have been selected for this award. In truth, though, it’s an award for all who work at McLaren, not just for me.”

Then and Now

In nostalgic mood, McLaren look back at four decades of racing history:

* The workforce in 1968 comprised fewer than 30 people, two of whom work for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes today. Tyler Alexander travels with the team as a systems engineer and Ray Rowe works as a gearbox mechanic. In 2008, there are 1115 people based across three facilities at Woking, Brixworth (Mercedes-Benz HighPerformanceEngines) and Stuttgart (Mercedes-Benz Stuttgart). The partnership between McLaren and Mercedes-Benz has been in existence since October 1994, and has yielded 54 Grand Prix wins and three World Championships.

* The M7A had no more than four people focused on its design, some of whom were also working simultaneously on the team’s Formula 2 and CanAm programmes. McLaren Racing currently has more than 135 engineers in its design team working on the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes MP4-23.

* 86 drawings were involved in the creation of the M7A. This year’s Vodafone McLaren Mercedes MP4-23 was the result of more than 4,600.

* Two pages of technical regulations guided the designers in 1968. The 2008 FIA Technical Regulations consist of 60 pages. The Sporting Regulations comprise a further 43 pages.

* While the nature of the circuits on the calendar has changed considerably, M7A still developed around 450bhp and achieved a top speed of 300km/h. In low-downforce trim on a high-speed circuit, MP4-23 will reach around 345km/h.

* In 1968, Bruce and Denny travelled to 12 races spread over four continents. This year, Lewis Hamilton, Heikki Kovalainen and the entire Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team will race at 18 circuits in five continents.

1968 Belgian Grand Prix;

* Following McLaren’s debut at Monaco in 1966, it took only 24 races for the team to win its first Grand Prix at Spa on June 9 1968.

* Bruce became only the second man to win a Formula 1 race in a car bearing his name. He followed the example of triple world champion Sir Jack Braham who won in a Brabham BT9 at the 1966 French Grand Prix.

* As he crossed the the line, Bruce was not aware he had won the race. When he returned to the pits, which in 1968 were located at the bottom of the breathtaking Eau Rouge, a BRM mechanic said, “You’ve won, didn’t you know?” Bruce later recalled: “It was about the nicest thing I’d ever been told!”

* In 1968 the Spa-Francorchamps circuit was considered a legendary and brutal track, feared and respected in equal measure by the drivers. In its original incarnation it was 14.080km/8.749miles in length. The 28-lap race saw Bruce cover 394.240km/244.972 before crossing the line.

* For 2008, the circuit is now around half its original length at 7.004km/ 4.352miles, but still remains one of the greatest and most formidable challenges for the drivers.

Team Statistic – Belgian Grand Prix 1968 – Canadian Grand Prix 2008;

* 637 race starts (228 in partnership with Mercedes-Benz)

* 158 race wins (54 in partnership with Mercedes-Benz)

* 419 podiums (169 in partnership with Mercedes-Benz)

* 3219.5 points (1,297 in partnership with Mercedes-Benz)

* 137 fastest laps (67 in partnership with Mercedes-Benz)

* Eight Formula 1 Constructors’ World Championships

* 11 Formula 1 Drivers’ World Championships

* 47 race drivers covering 18 nationalities

Source: McLaren-Mercedes