For the 12 seasons prior to 1994 McLaren had employed various combinations of Lauda, Prost and Senna, and won a string of world titles. The latter’s move to Williams meant the team went into the new season with two drivers who hadn’t a GP win between them: Mika Häkkinen and Martin Brundle. After years of struggle the Brit had the bad luck to land his dream seat at a time when McLaren was in a stormy partnership with Peugeot.
“Let’s start by saying that if it was a world championship-winning car, Alain Prost would have been driving it.” Brundle recalls. One day he tested it in the morning at Estoril: I followed him in the afternoon. He got out of it and you could tell he wasn’t impressed. As I left the pits to start my first flying lap it threw a conrod so hard it damaged the track, and it didn’t get much better from there!
“But it was exciting for me: Marlboro McLaren were such a fantastic team.”
In his first race, Brazil. Brundle had one of the scariest incidents of his career: “I found myself in the gravel trap, and I had no idea how I’d got there. I got out of the car and there was carnage, with Irvine, Verstappen and Bernard. Jos’s Benetton had hit me on the head and knocked me out. The start of my McLaren career!”
Martin enjoyed some good moments, though, earning a superb second behind Schumacher at Monaco and a third in the finale at Adelaide (below). But in between came many mechanical disasters, and podiums went astray at Aida. Hungaroring and elsewhere. But nothing hurt as much as Silverstone, where his car erupted in flames on the grid: “I walked across the track, through the pits and found a little machine shop in the front of one of the trucks. I shut the door and cried my eyes out. I was so upset.”
McLaren left the winning to Benetton and Williams, and the team endured two difficult seasons with Mercedes before it hit winning form again. Häkkinen was still there to take advantage, of course, but Brundle had had just the one chance.