My F1 First


You never forget your first time, right? And so it got us thinking, what was it that first got the dedicated men and women of the McLaren-Honda team hooked on F1? We asked a few of them to share their first-ever F1 memory. Read our opening five stories below, and stay tuned over the summer break for more.

We want to hear about your F1 first time. Get involved on Twitter or Instagram using #MyF1First. 


John Allert
Group Brand Director

“Adelaide, Australia. November 1st 1985. In truth I was more interested in avoiding exam studies than seeing racing cars. My vantage point was better than the ‘bronze’ seating designation on my sweat-curled ticket. An anonymous city corner, skirting a genteel lawn bowling club. Heat shimmer. Then an ear-shattering, high-octane scream, pop-pop, scream. A flash of colour, fluoro-red and white. Molten sparks. And then it was gone. My heart struggled to burn off the adrenaline that flooded my chest. Niki Lauda, driving the McLaren MP4/2B, had taken the corner at an awesome 148mph. F1 had come to town, and I was hooked.”


Hiroshi Imai
Principle engineer (vehicle performance)

“It was a shocking experience: November 2nd 1986. Suzuka. It was a public demonstration run of that year’s Williams FW11, which had a 1500bhp Honda V6 turbo in the back. It had taken seven hours – travelling very cheaply on local trains and a coach – to get from my home to the racetrack. I was so tired, but the engine sound and the speed of an F1 car at full power suddenly made me jump awake. I still feel Iike I can remember the smell of an F1 car from that time – that’s how intense the feeling was!”


Lucinda Brown
Account manager, Partner activation

"My dad has always loved motorsport - I have very early memories at Cadwell Park with my two sisters sat on the banking at ‘Charlie’s’ with a picnic watching the classic F1 cars whizz past us – I guess that’s where the seed was sown for the future! My first Formula 1 grand prix came in 2000 at Silverstone; I vividly remember standing at Copse corner as the British racing green Jaguar Racing car of Johnny Herbert screamed past us. The atmosphere, colours, sounds and the passion of the British fans all stayed with me. My first grand prix working for McLaren at Silverstone really took me back to that moment, and it gave me an immense sense of pride to be there, especially working for a British team."


Mark Grain
Head of build and test function

“It was at the British F1 Championship – yes, there was such a thing! It was Donington Park, my local circuit, back in 1978. I was 10, and my dad had mates who worked at Donington so we all got in for free. We went straight to the paddock then into the pit-lane - albeit with strict parental shepherding! I remember it being so BUSY: the noise, the movement of cars and personnel, the relentless action. It all crowded my senses. A real life F1 car passed by – just feet away. Years later, I’d allow myself a grin whenever the pit-lane I was working in became particularly frenetic: so BUSY!”


Will Joseph 
Performance Engineer, Fernando Alonso

It wasn’t until I was at McLaren that I had my first ‘up close and personal’ experience of an F1 car. I’d been sent to Barcelona as Design Support Engineer within my first year here in 2007. We were testing the top wing element on the front wing for the first time on the MP4-22A with Fernando and Pedro. To say I was green and overwhelmed would be an understatement, but it was exactly why I had wanted to work in F1 and it fuelled my thirst for more trackside experiences. I had to wait until 2010 to get back in the garage.


Emmanuel Esnault
Operations support manager

“I discovered racing watching a couple of junior series, and fell in love with racing when I went to Le Mans with my parents in 1987. From that moment, I watched the most races that I could, whatever the series. I began racing in karts and started to work as a volunteer tyre man with the teams at Le Mans. At that moment, McLaren and Formula 1 were even not a dream for me. My first F1 experience was at the French Grand Prix in 1994. I never got to see my idol, Ayrton Senna, who had died at Imola earlier that year, but the first F1 car I ever saw was at the Adelaide Hairpin. It was Mika Hakkinen’s red and white MP4/9.”


Neil Oatley 
Director of design & development programmes

“My first contact with F1 cars was a trip to the 1964 Racing Car Show at the Horticultural Halls, so imagine my dismay when my father took part in the military parades at the British GP at Brands Hatch that same year – but couldn’t take me with him. Amends were made the following March, at the first Race of Champions, parking on South Bank and watching at the exit of Bottom Bend, where Jim Clark, under pressure from Dan Gurney, made an uncharacteristic mistake and hit the bank hard behind the control tower. His team-mate went on to win the race.”


Charlotte Sefton
Assistant media manager

“My first memories of F1 are from the age of about seven, when grands prix meant loads of noise on the TV after Sunday lunch. Before long I was hooked, my Dad and I ardently supporting different teams and shouting at the TV. It took over my life, and from then on I knew I wanted to pursue a career in F1. My first major ‘wow’ moment was at the age of 10, on a trip to Monaco while on holiday in France. It wasn’t the race weekend, but I directed my Dad around an entire lap of the circuit – complete with relevant car noises – and my Dad did a handbrake turn into the hotel car park inside the tunnel. It scared my Mum and sister to death, but I thought it was mega. My Dad still loves telling that story.”


David Redding 
Team manager

“My first proper experience of Formula 1 was the 1985 Grand Prix of Europe, held at Brands Hatch. I was working for Porsche, and had also been helping out at my local car club preparing some pretty fast and noisy mid-engined rally cars. So thought I knew what to expect. We arrived at the circuit pretty early on Sunday morning and made our way to the South Bank. There was a real buzz in the crowd as it got close to the start of warm-up. I can still remember the noise and the smell as all the cars poured out of the pits, the hairs on the back of my neck instantly standing up. But that was nothing compared to watching and hearing the cars come into Paddock Hill Bend at the start of the race. I decided there and then that I wanted to work in Formula 1.”


Steve Cooper
Media manager

“I’d somehow managed to persuade my mum to drive me to the Brands Hatch pre-British Grand Prix tyre test. It was the early summer of 1986, and, as we parked up, I could hear that the session had already started. I hurried mum out of the car and we rushed through the turnstiles, paying the four quid entry fee and ran up the grass spectator banking. At that moment, Ayrton Senna fired his black Lotus-Renault 98T under the bridge and through Clearways. As life-changing moments go, this was one of them…”


Jonathan Neale
Chief operating officer, McLaren Group

“It was a hot and sunny morning in Valencia in 2001. Mika was sitting in our car in one of the cramped garages. The Mechanics stepped forward and fired-up the 3-litre V10. That moment was a complete and utter assault on the senses; the visceral noise, the smell, the sense of calm but focused anticipation as Mika left the garage leaving two streaks of rubber on the floor. I walked down to Turn One with Steve Hallam, who wanted me to see the cars take the high-speed corner. If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes I wouldn’t have believed anything could change direction so quickly. It was breath-taking.”


Ciaron Pilbeam
Chief race engineer

"In early 1999 I arrived at Silverstone for the first shakedown of the new British American Racing car just as it was firing up to go out for its first run. The shakedown took place on what is now known as the Wellington Straight, although at that time it wasn’t part of the grand prix circuit. The car drove away from the marquee that served as a garage, turned around and then drove straight back towards us. It would never be allowed to happen like that now, but the sight and sound of a V10 F1 car coming straight towards me at full speed left an impression that I’ll never forget."


Penny Harrison
Social media manager 

“Growing up little more than a stone’s throw from Donington Park, I was always destined to be a petrolhead. We’d often hear the distant whirring of motorbike engines while sitting in our garden. I loved it! We were at Donington when Senna took that legendary win in the wet – I was freezing cold and soaked through, but those those V8s, V10s and V12s blew my seven-year-old mind. I’ll never forget it.” 


Tom Stallard
Jenson’s race engineer

“Although I had watched the sport on TV a lot, the first time I saw an F1 car in the flesh was in 2006 at a Silverstone test. I’d decided that Formula 1 could be an exciting career move after I retired from international rowing, so I thought I’d better go and see what it was all about. I arrived on the banking at the old Bridge corner just in time to see what I assumed would be a terrible accident. A McLaren MP4-21 came into view and failed to slow down for the corner. In fact, it continued to accelerate up to 250km/h and took the corner without even a lift of throttle. It felt like I had to reconsider the laws of physics.”


Angel Baena
Jenson's performance engineer

“I remember the day clearly: it was the first day of practice for the 1997 Spanish Grand Prix. Ralf Schumacher’s Jordan’s appeared on the circuit TV screens as it was being being fired up for the installation lap. I couldn’t believe the surreal engine noise from a car that was still inside the garage. Then it started moving, through Turn Three, Turn Five, getting closer and louder until it appeared right in front of us, braking for Turn 10. I still have the engine noise and exhaust pops inside my head while he was downshifting through the gears. It was a life changing moment”


Andrea Stella
Head of race operations

“I was on a trip with my father. It was 1990, and we were driving through a small Italian town when we saw a sign that read ‘Ferrari Formula 1’. We decided to follow the signs, as both my father and I were interested in F1. We found a Ferrari 640 – the so-called ‘La Papera’ (‘the duck’), due to its flat nose – inside a small marquee. I had never seen a real F1 car before and I was impressed by how wide the tyres were and how beautiful that car looked. I took a Polaroid picture sat on the front wheel. It’s a photo I still have. When I remember the episode today, I can still clearly recall the emotion of the day.”


Matt Bishop
Director of communications & public relations

“I still vividly remember the sight – and sound – of the very first Formula 1 car I ever saw, at Brands Hatch, in 1974. As my reluctant stepfather and I took our seats on the Clearways grandstand for the race morning warm-up for the British Grand Prix, on Saturday (yes, Saturday) July 20th, the first car that flashed - and screamed - into view was Clay Regazzoni's Ferrari 312 B3, its flat-12 engine barking raucously as Clay heel-and-toe braked for Clark Curve. I was 11, and instantly transfixed.”


Mark Temple
Fernando's race engineer

“As a 7-year-old, I loved watching Nigel Mansell on the TV with my dad, who did some consulting work for Williams for a few months. And he arranged for us to have a tour of the Williams factory. Up close the cars were amazing, with giant wings and tyres. I even remember peeking through the window of the secret Honda room. Seeing the cars assembled like a huge lego kit from pencil drawings on a giant drawing board was so cool, but the highlight was being able to sit in Nelson Piquet’s car (although I secretly wanted it to be Our Nige’s car). When I got home, I told my mum I wanted to design Formula 1 cars.”