The tales behind Neil Trundle


It is not always easy to judge the mood within the long grey corridors, and long white tunnels, of the McLaren Technology Centre. This quite extraordinary building, designed by Sir Norman Foster with a great deal of input from Ron Dennis, is eerily quiet, strangely still, despite the presence of nigh on a thousand people.

This week, however, I detected a note of controlled excitement, careful confidence as the gleaming grey and silver trucks rolled in from Monte Carlo. For one half of the team, at least, it had been a good weekend. A victory snatched from the briefly gaping jaws of defeat as Hamilton hit the barrier, happily near the pits, and scampered back to win. Lucky yes, and with a little help from mistakes by Ferrari (team and drivers) but sometimes you have to take your luck.

Smiling and chattering in the workshops at Woking then, a team on a high, energetically turning round the cars for Montreal.

I was there to see Neil Trundle and what a joy it was to spend a few hours in this man’s company. This year Neil celebrates forty years in motor racing, having started at Brands Hatch in 1968 with Alan Mann on the beautiful Ford FVL at the BOAC 500 meeting. This is the man who founded Rondel Racing with Ron Dennis back in 1971, the two having met when they were mechanics at Brabham. (His early days at Rondel will be the subject of a Mechanics Tale later this year).

1974 Belgian Grand Prix, Nivelles, Belgium. Tom Pryce (Token RJ02 Ford).

After running the Token F1 car and building the famous six-wheeler car for Ken Tyrrell he was re-united with Ron at Project 4 in 1977 and stayed on through the merger with McLaren to build MP4/1, the first carbon fibre Grand Prix car.

Then, in 1981, he left and started his own Formula 3 team, returning to McLaren in 1985 to fit out a new factory in Woking before becoming Chief Mechanic on the race team, looking after Senna and Prost.

What a career, what a life this man has had.

As we sit and chat in the ‘juice bar’ alongside the Fitness & Wellbeing Centre in the MTC we meander through the years, focusing on 1971 for the magazine, and then delving into a veritable treasure trove of motor racing stories.

A favourite of mine is the tale of Jack Brabham at Zandvoort for the Dutch Grand Prix. Engine builder Repco had delivered new V8s but the pistons were far from perfect, they had burrs on them, and were touching the valves. So Jack got himself a chisel and stayed up all night chiselling the pistons to perfection before changing into his race overalls and going out to practice. Neil, like so many of the great mechanics, learnt his craft with Jack – a man who had little time for chat and a lot of time for just getting on with the job.

1968 Dutch Grand Prix, Zandvoort. Jack Brabham, Brabham BT26-Repco leads Jo Siffert, Lotus 49-Ford.

Luckily, Trundle now has some time to chat, and as we wander through the Grand Prix cars lined up along the ‘boulevard’ of the spectacular McLaren headquarters we pause beside the beauties raced by Senna and Prost, resting now on the highly polished tiles. He tells me there are now 650 people on the race team – that’s as big as Ferrari – and this is a good thing because we are going to see a titanic battle between the two teams as the year unfolds. He who develops fastest wins. Mistakes were made in Monaco, Raikkonen had one of his very ‘off’ weekends but the red cars will be back. There’s a long history of this – McLaren versus Ferrari – and this could be an absolutely vintage season.

Thanks Mr Trundle for a most enjoyable afternoon. This man has tales to tell to last us until the world runs out of paper. Watch this space.

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