It’s 9.00am I’m sitting in the impressive theatre area of the Thought Leadership Centre in McLaren’s impressive ‘Technology Centre’. There is the smell of paint and carbon fibre. I’ve been treated to a personal reveal of the team’s new F1 challenger, the MCL35, rolled out on the stage in front of me. The team’s Digital Director turns to me and says “you are the first fan in the world to have ever seen this car”. It was quite a moment. What was ahead of me that day was the task of helping reveal this car to the world at 13:30. No pressure then. In that moment I couldn’t believe my luck but ... how on earth did this happen?
I’ve been a McLaren fan for a number of years, and thanks to my Twitter site ( @F1McLarenFan ) I’ve met lots of other fans and been fortunate enough for my support to be recognised by the team in the form of ‘McLaren+ Papaya’ membership. You literally cannot buy this, it’s a special honour given to fans of the team who go above and beyond with their support of the team. The rewards for fans are simply incredible; factory tours, Q&A with drivers, car launches, paddock visits and hot laps. Amazing doesn’t even cover it.
Back in January I got told I would be invited to the launch of the new F1 car, the MCL35. I was thrilled. This felt very special. The team would even pay for our accommodation at the local Hilton Hotel! So I booked time off and made plans to fly in from Scotland. The day before the launch (Wednesday afternoon) I got a video call from a strange number while at work. I declined it. They tried again later. I answered this time. A video call from McLaren driver, Carlos Sainz! He very calmly asked if I’d like to be involved in unveiling of their new car! You can see the call on Twitter ( @McLarenF1 ) It was so surreal. As I ran to get to a private meeting room I was shocked to the core and not very able to find my words. But I assured him I was ‘so ready’ for this. When clearly, I wasn’t! I went back to my desk, my mind blown and close to tears if I’m honest.
Carlos Sainz calling me, at work!
Later that day I flew down to join the other fans at the rather lovely Hilton in Woking. I’m lucky to call many of them close friends and it was great to meet some new faces as well. I had no real idea of what was in store but I was told to get up early to be driven to the factory. Sure enough, the next day, I was chauffeur-driven to the McLaren Technology Centre. I met with team members in the theatre, got an exclusive look at the car and we quickly ran through the launch plans. I would be one of four people pushing the car onto the stage; two people were from McLaren Racing; Liam and Sarah. And joining us was Poppy, the Co-CEO of Darktrace, an exciting new team partner. We quickly bonded in-between practice sessions rolling the car out.
We practiced several times then did a special fan-only preview launch for McLaren+ Papaya members and competition winners.
It’s always a BIG moment when Lando and Carlos appear and they joined us backstage prior to the fan launch waiting in the wings, along with Andreas Seidl who shook my hand, I must have looked so shocked. Lando and Carlos are EXACTLY as they are on the McLaren UnBoxed videos, constantly bickering and laughing with each other, playing with their phones and joking around. They are the real deal. Sadly my phone was confiscated so the opportunity to get a photograph had passed, but to be in that moment, with those people, was amazing.
The car itself had no engine, no battery and no fuel so it was very, very light - you wouldn’t believe how light! Not pushing too hard was the key... Also where to place your hands on the car without injuring yourself (or the car) was clearly important! I was given a beautiful team shirt and team trainers to wear.
Me in my 2020 McLaren team kit, ready for the big reveal.
Alex, Lynn, Veronica, Rob, Mark, Oliver, Helen and the team at McLaren were so helpful and kind to me at every single stage. Ensuring I was located exactly where I needed to be, at the right time! I could tell it was a stressful time for those guys but they never showed it to me. The fan reaction was great to hear and see. Cheers and whoops of delight! The ‘pushers’ as we were known had faced our first test and it worked out well. We turned round and headed backstage where Lando, Carlos and Andreas all applauded us as we came off the stage. It was such a special moment for me to get that reaction from them. I was actually really nervous for that first reveal, not sure why but once it had gone well I felt way more confident and was really looking forward to the BIG one and I felt able to enjoy it fully.
The team then gave us fans a special hosted tour of the factory (including the automotive 'Production Centre') and lunch on the impressive boulevard but I was VERY conscious of time and had to get back to the theatre for the main event. My journey to the theatre involved walking through all the press and media, so many familiar faces! Will Buxton and James Allen among them. I arrived back stage, sat down and had a strong coffee to get me ready, Simon Lazenby came in to join us for refreshments - it’s all feeling very surreal by this point!
The main launch went well. I was very conscious of keeping quiet back stage and hitting our marks on cue. You’ll see on the launch video that the car rolled very slightly forward after it was meant to be stationary, meaning I had to keep one eye on it! But it stopped after that, thank goodness. Of the 8 times we rolled out that car, it only misbehaved like that on the main launch! But all was fine. Simon Lazenby mentioning my name felt amazing. I was absolutely buzzing with pride. I was just so proud to be associated in any way, however small, with this team.
Carlos and Lando with the new McLaren MCL35.
I just want to quickly say a few words about the real star of the show, the car. I can only imagine the work, the blood, sweat and tears that went into it’s creation. The team and it’s partners can and should rightly be very proud of it. It’s kept some visual cues from the MCL34 but has clearly been aggressively slimmed down with a mind boggling attention to detail and a beautiful matte finish, it looks (and feels) fantastic. Let’s say I feel happy about what’s ahead for McLaren in 2020.
Clearly I need to say a massive THANK YOU to the guys and girls at McLaren for this honour. This is the only team that has -genuinely- put fans at the very heart of what they do. If you’re a fan of McLaren, you don’t just feel valued, you feel part of McLaren, part of their story and that is a very special feeling indeed. I flew home, exhausted and exhilarated. Today, the day after, it seems like just the most amazing dream...
Our big moment with the MCL35