As a lifelong Formula One fan, I am a little ashamed to admit that it took Roger Donaldson’s intimate portrait of the life of Bruce McLaren to expose me to the origins of the name McLaren, one of the stalwarts of Formula One.
After 2005’s The World’s Fasted Indian, Donaldson continues his exploration of Kiwis with petrol in their blood and this time transports us back to a 1940s service station and workshop in Remuera, New Zealand. It is here where Bruce McLaren learned his trade and laid the foundations for what was to come. That is, an impressive, but tragically cut short racing career, which saw McLaren quickly rise up through the motor racing ranks, to become one of the most influential drivers, team owners and constructors in motor racing history.
McLaren as a racer won, amongst others, the Monaco Grand Prix, the Le Man 24 hour and dominated the mid-1960s Cam-Am series, before his death in a testing accident on 2nd June 1970, on the Levant Straight at the Goodwood Circuit in England. However, McLaren’s professional legacy is the McLaren Racing Team that he founded in 1963, which after his death, would go on to win eight Constructers Championships and 12 Drivers Championships in Formula One.
What shines through in this thoughtful, if not a little procedural documentary, is the passion, self-belief and singular dedication that fuelled the fire inside of McLaren. A driver, engineer, analyst, father and husband, who in all aspects of his life drove for success and inspired those around him.
His stories are told by family members, friends, co-workers and motor racing royalty, and it is through these tales that the personal legacy of McLaren lives true. The impact he had on so many lives is palpable and even now, almost 50 years after he died, the emotion of that day remains raw. Donaldson gains access to family archival footage, which captures both the youthful exuberance of McLaren but also the startling dangers that the drivers of the day faced every time they took to the track.
Any motor racing documentary will inevitably be compared to Asif Kapadia’s 2010 seminal Senna, and while McLaren never quite reaches these heights, it is a touching, thoughtful and respectful ode to one of the building blocks of modern day Formula One.
However, much like his competitors at the time, you will need to be quick to catch McLaren, as it is playing in limited sessions across cinemas in Canberra, for one week only.