Derek Bell has a special place in McLaren’s history as his only Grand Prix start with the team came with the unloved 4WD M9A in 1969. However, the marque has played an ongoing role in his career. In the next instalment of 'McLaren & Me', Derek gives us an insight into his time with the team.
In 1969 I was contracted to Ferrari, but they had said we going to stop racing because the cars were junk, so we were all basically out of a job. I was worse off because I’d only just got there. I’d come up quite well through F3 and F2, and then suddenly you get into F1, you get to Ferrari, and you think you are on your way. But if you have a car that isn’t that good, and they pull out because they are working on the flat-12 for 1970, then there’s no point in going to the factory because you don’t even have a car to drive!
Anyway I got a call from McLaren – it wasn’t Bruce himself but one of the guys – and they said, ‘How about driving in the British GP in our four-wheel-drive (4WD) car?’. They said Bruce had tested it earlier in the week at Goodwood and it was running OK, and he thought it was going to be alright. So I then sent a telex – as one did in those days – to Ferrari. They said, ‘Help yourself,’ which I was quite surprised about.
So I went along to Silverstone. Bruce was great, and it was a super-small team, with four or five guys, the two drivers, Tyler Alexander, Teddy Mayer and Alastair Caldwell. It was just that group.