Amanda McLaren is more than just the daughter of legendary racing driver and team founder, Bruce McLaren. Similarly to her famous father, she is also a “builder” and a motorsport enthusiast.
With The Bruce McLaren Trust, Amanda is devoted to honouring and conserving his father’s remarkable legacy.
In our conversation, she shared her unique perspective on the 60-year-long history of McLaren Racing, and gave her insights into the current state of the sport, issues of diversity, bullying and inclusion in the wild circus called Formula 1.
DE: I would like to start by asking you about your early childhood spent in the racing environment. What’s your strongest memory of that time?
AM: As a very young child, I had no idea that people who were friends with my mother were famous. Unfortunately, I do not really remember my father. I was a little kid when he died. So my mother’s best friends were the wives and girlfriends of the then-racing drivers.
We would have people come around to our house, for instance, Uncle Graham and Uncle Denny. I didn’t realise that they were Denny Hulme and Graham Hill. Even though those figures in my early life were Formula One World Champions, to me they were just family and friends.
Even after my father died, we would go motor racing. My mother loved the sport and never blamed it for my dad’s death. She still wanted to see all her friends around the track. In 1976, when I was 10, we went to the British Grand Prix. There I met James Hunt.
At that point in time, James was on most girls’ bedroom walls and probably half the boys’ bedroom walls as well. Everybody thought he was gorgeous, so did I. It was fantastic to meet him but I didn’t really think much of it.
I remember going back to school the following Monday morning. My friends, a group of 10-year-olds, asked me about my weekend. I said, I went to the British Grand Prix and met James Hunt. Suddenly, there was this strange silence and everybody in the room turned and looked at me. “You’ve met James Hunt?!” they asked.
So, I started telling them more about my father and who he was. As they kept on asking me one question after another, I realised that I didn’t know much about Formula One. So I went back home and started reading books my mother had on her shelf. I looked for those that had familiar names on their spine. Hunt. Hulme.
McLaren. The dots started joining up. The older I got, the more I understood how amazing my father’s achievement was. Even if it all happened in a very short period of time. And today, just the fact that we’ve still got a McLaren team on the grid, I think is absolutely incredible.
DE: Your father had such a massive impact on people during his lifetime. But even now, as you go online and look at videos about the team…There is an endless number of comments like “As a lifelong McLaren fan, I cannot thank Bruce enough for introducing us to his vision” and “The reason I have always supported and will support McLaren is Bruce.” People still remember, and still care. What do you think contributed to such a long-lasting impact?
AM: It’s a very interesting question. He had this innate ability to inspire people. I mean his mechanics used to say: If Bruce had said “Let’s go out into the desert and build a wall!” we would have done it. They just believed in him so much. I think a good leader has a strong vision but a good leader also gets the people working for them, involved and engaged in whatever that vision is. And my father did all that.
Everyone at McLaren came back into work the day after my dad was killed, despite having been told to take the day off. They went to the factory and picked up work because that was what Bruce would have expected of them. He wanted to build cars and win races so they continued to do exactly that. You mention dad to people that knew him, and still to this day, they get emotional.
All this seems to filter through to McLaren today. The team’s engagement with the fans has always been very strong and I think it is very important. Zak (Zak Brown, Chief Executive of McLaren Racing) and the whole McLaren racing family cannot emphasise enough the importance of their fans. It is fantastic that there is something about that orange team with the Kiwi that still resonates with this many people.
DE: It’s wonderful. I think McLaren has always been associated with being the cheerful, vibrant, feel-good team on the grid.
AM: Absolutely. Absolutely.
DE: Has it ever been a disadvantage to have such a well-known surname?
AM: I can’t think of any disadvantages. I worked as a registered nurse with a very big passion for the science behind the job. I have been to an interview where the coordinator who was interviewing me was asking me nursing resuscitation types of questions, and suddenly he went “Wait a minute! McLaren?! Are you related to Bruce?” I said “Yes, he is my father”.
That changed the atmosphere of the whole interview. We started talking about racing and cars instead of nursing. Another advantage is that my computer always gets fixed in a very short period of time. (She laughs)
I think I have only had positive experiences when it comes to people reacting to my name. Only positive things came out of it, such as going to race meetings, driving amazing cars, and spending time with iconic people. I can’t think of any disadvantages. And I have to say, you know, I kept my maiden name when I married. My husband is just the biggest motor racing fan in the world ever. So he doesn’t mind it at all.
DE: I know, it’s a brutal question but still, I have to ask. Other than your father, who do you think was the most iconic figure in the team’s history?
AM: I would say it was Ayrton Senna. He is such a hero to so many people and undoubtedly, he was an incredible driver. There have been some truly amazing people involved with McLaren over the years. However, the one that stands out the most is probably Ayrton.
DE: I know you are an outspoken supporter of getting women drivers into Formula One. What do you think the biggest obstacles are for women who want to have a seat in the sport today?
AM: Well, I think the issue of double standards is starting to be addressed, which is a great step.
You have to have one female driver so doors start opening. Susie Wolff is doing a wonderful job for female drivers with the F1 Academy.
Frankly, I think the biggest obstacle has been history. Women were not involved in motorsport at all. When I went to school, engineering was not even a slight option. I went to a traditional all-girls school where we were taught reading, writing, arithmetic, and Latin. Latin…Goodness knows what good that has done to my career.
Recently I have visited schools. Some have the most amazing engineering workshops and girls are encouraged to take part in them. These days women can, more or less, follow whatever career they want. But it is a catch-up. There are still stereotypes out there. Stereotypes that women don’t make good drivers and women aren’t fast enough.
So we’ve got to get over those stereotypes. And if you see a very fast woman she needs the same opportunities as men to get into Formula One or IndyCar. I think as the younger generations are coming through, we will have far more opportunities for everyone.
DE: Can we touch upon online bullying for a second? I wanted to ask your take on what went down with Hannah Schmitz (Principal Strategy Engineer at Red Bull Racing) last year. The harmful effect of cyberbullying is undeniable, and on many occasions, women face even harsher criticism in comment sections than men.
AM: Bullying on social media is a huge problem. I’ve been on the receiving end of it too. When nameless people have not liked a decision that’s been made. Often it was not even a decision that I personally was responsible for.
I think women generally have been an easy target. If you look at domestic violence or abuse, it is not always the woman but more commonly it is the woman. I think we are just seen as an easy target on social media, where you do not have to confront somebody face-to-face.
Cyberbullying is just something that some people seem to enjoy. So I think we have to be strong and not engage in it. If we don’t respond to what’s been given to us, it will die out. If these people don’t get fed back with an emotional charge or a challenge then it’s going to have to die out.
Hopefully sooner than later.
DE: There is definitely a lot of frustration that is being let out on social media.
AM: Yes, and jealousy. You know the attitude of “How come she is doing what I would like to do?! And she is good at it!” Some men don’t like to see strong women. It is easy to vent onto keyboard and put it out there. If you were face to face, I am sure, most of those commentators would not dare to say a word.
DE: My next question is still somewhat related to the matter of bullying. Since I was a kid, I have always loved being around Grand Prix circuits. The atmosphere of race weekends has always been special. Mingling with fans, enjoying the sport while feeling completely safe. Rivalry has always been present, but it used to be a lot more peaceful than it is today. What do you think about the bullying and abuse that went down, for instance in Monza or at the Hungaroring last year? Fans burned merchandise, forcing other fans to take off T-shirts that the abusers did not like. How do you think organisers could step up their game and make sure F1 is safe for everyone?
AM: This is a very good question. There is rivalry in every sport, you see horrendous examples in football stadiums as well. Sadly, some people still have “the warrior aggression” gene. I believe there needs to be a zero-tolerance policy in place. I think that applies to every sport.
And if you do not like the T-shirt another fan is wearing, well that’s their choice. Leave them to it, and cheer for your own favourite, wave your own flag. But do not do something nasty to another person. I’m probably not going to be popular for saying this: but if you’ve got nothing to hide, you don’t mind giving your details. You don’t mind people knowing who you are. We all get screened when we go on an airplane for our personal safety and the safety of people around us.
I don’t really know the answer to the question. Obviously, in-depth screening, etc. would lead to an increase in costs. More safety requires more technology. And at the end of the day, you also want to keep Formula One tickets at an affordable price. This is a difficult and thought-provoking question, for sure. It would be lovely if we were just all nice to each other, and we could simply enjoy a Grand Prix together.
DE: We know there is video footage circulating on the Internet about trackside abuse at the Monza GP, and we can see the faces of those who bullied others. Why is nobody taking steps? Organisers could ban them from attending races, for example.
AM: That is right, they should. Definitely!
DE: Can we talk about today’s Formula One a bit? What are your hopes for McLaren this year? And what is your favorite driver’s pairing on the grid? I mean, we pretty much know your answer to the second question, but still.
AM: Well, hopes for the team…A podium for Lando, and another one for Oscar. A win for Lando. You just want to see the team doing better, and improving. That would be my hope for them this year.
Favourite pairing…It tends to be whoever’s driving for the team. (She laughs) So you know, we’ve got two young guys in there at the moment. Lando has been showing some real streaks of genius in his driving over the years. I think he’s got a really, really great future in Formula One.
Oscar is very quick in practice, but in Bahrain, the car didn’t quite perform to expectations. However, I’m really interested to watch him in his career, see how it evolves.
DE: We have circled back to innovation. McLaren and its roots in constant hunger for innovation.
AM: Definitely. It’s always been there. My father was always happy to experiment, seeking out new ideas. He was a great test driver, good at reading cars and seeing where developments were needed. I think from road cars to race cars, the desire to innovate is rooted within the team. The basic premise has not changed since dad’s day.
DE: Do you think innovation is coded in your DNA too? You mentioned that as a registered nurse, you were always eager to know more about the technical aspect of the job.
AM: I think so. If I had been born a boy, I believe I would have become an engineer. As an operating theatre nurse, I loved orthopeadics and working with anaesthetic machines. Much of it was about constructing something, seeing pieces come together and work in a new way.
I have also worked with defibrillators in the emergency department. Understanding how ventilators, monitoring equipment, and that sort of thing function, and learning the physics behind them from air flows to pressures, has always been fascinating to me. Whether that is nature or nurture, is a great debate. (She laughs)
Even though my level of understanding when it comes to car design and engineering is very little, I believe creating something so special like a McLaren road car is wonderful. It is almost like a piece of art, a sculpture. It would have been amazing to have the opportunity and understand more of that side, have involvement in creating a race car from scratch.
DE: That is interesting. Shout out to car designers: Amanda McLaren would be happy to contribute to the development of a new road car.
AM: I wouldn’t know where to begin. (She laughs) But what I would say to anybody reading this: if you are thinking about being a car designer, go for it. Whatever you want to do if you’re passionate about it, you can turn it into reality. It is a big part of the McLaren story. A little boy in New Zealand diagnosed with Perthes disease decides to go to England and drive racing cars.
The bottom line is, don’t let obstacles stand in your way. Just keep going. Keep on messaging people, working on your skills, do not take no for an answer.
DE: Could we talk about your current work with The Bruce McLaren Trust? What are your plans for the near future?
AM: For the past year or so, we have been working on making the long term future of The Trust as secure as possible. We also wanted the organisation to create something for somebody else, which is really how the idea for giving a scholarship to young New Zealanders came about. My dad won a driver’s scholarship for Europe, which gave him the opportunity to work for Cooper’s and eventually establish his own team.
The question that nobody can answer is what would have happened if he had not won it. So we looked at two scholarships, one for an engineer and one for a driver. The one for the engineer is up and running. The one for the driver; we are still figuring out what that is going to look like, and how are going to make it work.
The other major task we have spent the last year tackling was cataloging. I have to say, my husband, Steve, has done 99% of that work. It is incredibly hard to catalogue every single item in our huge collection of memorabilia. We have thousands and thousands of items.
Our plan with them is to set up a display. I don’t like the word “museum” because it conjures up some sort of dusty old thing that schoolchildren get dragged to see. Having my father’s heritage collection back home in New Zealand is an important goal of ours. Lots of people still do not know that Bruce McLaren was from New Zealand, and that he was the man behind the McLaren Automotive and Racing Team.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of McLaren Racing. It is fantastic that Zak Brown as well as the entire McLaren Automotive are bracing our history and heritage. They are helping in spreading the word and taking good care of my father’s legacy. I appreciate it as Bruce’s daughter, and I know fans appreciate it too.
And, at some point, the current trustees will get old and need to step back. Therefore, we are also looking for young blood coming through, new trustees that want to continue. We want to set everything up so that others can take over with only a bit of steering. It is really quite exciting. It has been a busy year, and we have a lot of decisions to be made in the near future.
DE: If somebody is interested in following and supporting your work, where can they do that?
AM: If you want to contact or connect with us, you can do so on our Facebook page or through our website. We are also planning to have a “Friends of The Past” support group. You will be able to join and support The Bruce McLaren Trust there. Your donation will go to the scholarships we are giving away.
Social media: https://www.facebook.com/BruceMcLarenTrust/