On This Day in F1: 2nd June – The Death of a Legend

Brought to you by thejudge13 contributor John Myburgh

– 1970: The death of a legend

A 2.42-mile perimeter road of the old RAF Westhampnett (which started life as an Emergency Landing Ground for the nearby RAF Tangmere during WWII) was being used as a motor racing circuit since the Duke Of Richmond brought motor racing to the area on 18th September 1948. The Goodwood circuit has six main corners, a chicane and a couple of short straights.

Sir Stirling Moss described the circuit as a challenge, every yard of it, for both driver and car. He added, “Adverse cambers, double apexes on several corners, slight undulations in unexpected places, keep drivers busy and throw cars about without a moment’s respite. If a car handles well here[,] its road-holding qualities are proved to the hilt.

McLaren M8D © Bruce-McLaren.com

McLaren M8D
© Bruce-McLaren.com

Given the challenging nature of the circuit, it makes sense that the young man called Bruce McLaren wanted to test the new McLaren M8D there. Bruce was testing Denny Hulme’s car, the car that Bruce McLaren was preparing for for him for the 1970 Can-Am series, a series in which McLaren and his team of drivers had been very successful at in the past.

It was the 2nd of June 1970. Bruce was accelerating out of Lavant, the double apex right hander onto Lavant Straight. Exiting the corner at considerable speed he accelerated fast. Unseen by anyone, a pin securing the tail was missing from the car. As Bruce was approaching Woodcote corner, the wind pressure was enough to rip the rear bodywork and wing off the car. Devoid of its downforce, the car spun, left the track and slid broadside into the marshal’s post at approximately 100mph (161km/h).

Bruce McLaren, known as a brilliant engineer/designer and driver combination that had no equal, lost his life, aged just 32 years old.

Motorsport author Eoin Young has noted that Bruce McLaren had “virtually penned his own epitaph” in his 1964 book From the Cockpit. Referring to the death of team mate Timmy Mayer, McLaren had written:

Bruce McLaren Sebring © Bruce-McLaren.com

Bruce McLaren Sebring
© Bruce-McLaren.com

“The news that he had died instantly was a terrible shock to all of us, but who is to say that he had not seen more, done more and learned more in his few years than many people do in a lifetime? To do something well is so worthwhile that to die trying to do it better cannot be foolhardy. It would be a waste of life to do nothing with one’s ability, for I feel that life is measured in achievement, not in years alone”.

Although Bruce McLaren died at a young age, his legacy lives on. The McLaren Formula 1 team, lead by Ron Dennis, became one of the most successful Formula 1 teams of all times. Recently, in preparation for their 50 year anniversary they commissioned the video below as a tribute to their founder.

…What might be seen as a tragic end was in fact a beginning. As I always said, to do something well is so worthwhile that to die trying to do it better cannot be foolhardy. Indeed, life is not measured in years alone but in achievement…

McLaren 50 © McLaren

McLaren 50 Tribute
© McLaren

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12 responses to “On This Day in F1: 2nd June – The Death of a Legend

  1. I used to go to Goodwood circuit often in my earlier years, and was there when Stirling Moss had his near fatal accident, and finally got to drive the circuit on an Audi test day. A testing circuit indeed. Bruce McLaren is well remembered

  2. I knew very little about Bruce McLaren but while I was doing research to write this OTD it struck me that he was a man with an intelligent and quick brain… and very inspirational!

    “… As I always said, to do something well is so worthwhile that to die trying to do it better cannot be foolhardy. Indeed, life is not measured in years alone but in achievement…”

  3. Thanks John, like it a lot, and did’t know the details about his fatal accident so learned something as well, probably a small human error with devestating consequences…

  4. Thank you John. Very nice piece.
    FWIW, I’ve read somewhere over the last day or so – may have even been this site? – that the pins to secure the bodywork were to be affixed to the car’s steering wheel when removed from the bodywork. Something seems to have gone irrecoverably wrong here. Very sad.

    • Interesting .. it’s just like the flagged pins from ejector seats in planes are stored in a board in the cockpit and verifying presence is part of cockpit checks..

  5. “and the good die young”
    He was a quiet, thoughful individual who just got on with it – and very successfully.
    Excellent article – thanks

  6. I clicked to start the video and got “This video is private.” Then I tried it on YouTube and got the same message.

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