Mankind has always searched out the limits and gone beyond them. First there were the explorers and mariners who charted the darkest corners of the world. Then came the flyers who triumphed over the skies. Then came the record-breakers who wanted to go faster and higher.
And then came the astronauts…
Ask a lot of the technical people in F1 about what first sparked their interest in high technology and you will find a surprising number who will talk about NASA and the astronauts of the late 1960s and early 1970s, in particular the Moon landings between 1969 and 1972 when six crews (12 men) went to the Moon and returned safely. A seventh mission (Apollo 13) went wrong and the world watched breathlessly as NASA botched its way to bringing the astronauts home. The kids across the world watched all of this on black and white televisions and lived in awe of the likes of Armstrong, Aldrin, Conrad, Bean, Shepard, Irwin, Mattingly, Swigert and Lovell. Their exploits inspired many to pursue careers in scientific subjects that led them ultimately to concentrate on the cut and thrust of Grand Prix racing, where engineers see their work in action far more quickly than in other industries.
McLaren’s Ron Dennis summed it up well.
“I was saddened to hear of the death of Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the Moon,” he said. “The achievement of Armstrong and his colleagues remains perhaps the single most iconic triumph of scientific ambition, against all odds, that the world has seen. It was, and is still, truly inspiring. It certainly inspired me. In 1969, when Armstrong took that famous ‘one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind’, I was a 22-year-old motor racing technician. But Armstrong showed me, and many others like me, that in our own small way we could also dare to try – and ‘dare to try’ remains a McLaren mantra to this day.”
Formula 1 is a world that is full of people who dare to try, in their different walks of life, and there is no doubt that Armstrong and his colleagues played an important role in developing that ethos.