Continuing a legacy: Amanda McLaren

The daughter of racing legend Bruce McLaren on working for McLaren Automotive and breaking gender stereotypes in the motoring world

Motoring 6 Jul 2018

Amanda McLaren at the McLaren Technology Centre

In 1976, when Amanda McLaren was 10 years old, like most girls in her school, she had a poster of British racing driver James Hunt on her wall. So when she got to meet him at the British Grand Prix that year she couldn’t wait to share the news with her classmates. ‘Their eyes came out on stalks,’ she says. ‘All the questions came and one person said: “Well, doesn’t he drive for McLaren? And that’s your surname”. I drew myself up very proudly and said: “Yes, that’s the team my father started”. At which point, I suddenly realised that was all I knew.’

Amanda McLaren was just four years old when her father, British racing driver Bruce McLaren, was killed. ‘I don’t remember the time prior to that,’ she says. ‘I knew that Dad had established the team and raced but I wanted to know more. I started reading Mum and Dad’s huge collection of motoring books.’ She also recalls a host of family friends regularly coming round to visit her and her mother Patty. ‘To me they were Uncle Jack Brabham, Uncle Denny Hulme, Uncle Jimmy Clark and Uncle Graham Hill. I had no idea that they did something that was a little bit special and, to be honest, I had no idea what it was my father had done. So I asked them questions whenever I saw them. It was a lightbulb moment. Even now when I think about the kind of things my father achieved in a very short time – he came to the UK aged 20 and by 32 had established such a successful racing team – it’s incredible.’

Amanda admits that with Bruce McLaren for a father, and a mother who loved racing (‘she was McLaren’s number one fan’), it was difficult not to grow up loving motorsport. ‘I’ve never wanted to race myself,’ she says. ‘But I love the cars. I love the engineering and I love the excitement of the events, such as the Grand Prix, the Indie 500 and Le Mans.’

It was at one of these events in 2013 that Amanda and her husband Stephen were given the opportunity to work for McLaren, bringing the family story full circle. It meant they had to relocate from their home in Wellington, New Zealand, where Amanda had lived for 25 years, to the UK. ‘For me,’ she says, ‘it was like coming home.’

Amanda has been an ambassador for McLaren Automotive ever since, hosting guests at its Woking Technology Centre, going to various events and working with retailers. ‘Really, our main role is to make the link between the history and the heritage of the company through to the current day,’ she says. ‘And what a fantastic way to spend your day!’

Before coming to McLaren, Amanda was a nurse, having studied for an MA in nursing leadership at Auckland University. ‘It gave me a fantastic insight into leadership models and understanding gender roles and stereotypes,’ she says. Gender disparities, McLaren continues, are slowly changing, especially in the traditionally male-dominated motoring world. ‘Women in high-profile positions are few and far between,’ she says. ‘Hopefully in years to come it will not be nearly so apparent, but while it would be fantastic to see women in engineering roles, driving F1 cars and running F1 teams, they should only be there, regardless of gender, because they are the best person for the job. Having said that, it is so fantastic that we have people at McLaren like Donna Falconer (head of product strategy) and Jo Lewis (head of colour and materials design) who are absolutely great at what they do and just happen to be women.’

Most importantly, Amanda believes that McLaren has always stayed true to her father’s vision. ‘His original plan was Formula 1,’ she says. ‘But Dad’s next big plan was the road cars. There is a great picture of Dad in the M6GT prototype road car, which he designed and built, outside a shop in East Horsley in 1969. Then 18 months ago, I recreated the picture in our 570GT. If you strip out the modern material and all the electronics, it is exactly the same car my father designed and built. Dad was planning the lightest, most quickly accelerating road car and, of course, today our cars are so light. The similarity is quite incredible. And so I am convinced Dad would love our cars, and I wouldn’t do this job if I didn’t think that.’