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Driving a McLaren P1 at Goodwood FOS
If I’m honest I was a bit blasé about driving the McLaren P1 up the Goodwood hill. And if there’s one thing you shouldn’t be with a McLaren P1, it’s blasé. If anything should trigger the caution alarms in your head, it’s 903 hybrid horsepower on a narrow strip of cambered tarmac in front of an estimated 60,000 people.
The thing is, I spent a week with a P1 less than a month ago for our Speed Week magazine issue (on sale now from all respectable retailers!), so thought I knew the P1, thought I was familiar with the speed it’s capable of generating. Wrong.
Luckily for me, the car jarred me back to reality a handful of seconds after we left the line. Oh yes, it’s FAST. Realisation took a few seconds to arrive because that’s how long it took to establish full traction. Sitting in the car with McLaren test driver Gareth Howell, we’d had a conversation about smokey vs launchy getaways. We’d settled on launchy – more suited to the car. Cold tyres and a start line that seems to have been newly coated in a thin film of hairgel this year meant otherwise. We got smoky and launchy all at the same time and when that settled down and the FAST revelation occurred to me, I was at the first corner.
Now, the trick to Goodwood is to look fast, without going fast. The dividing line between hero and zero is heavily weighed in favour of the zero at Goodwood – people don’t remember you for brushing the outer limits unless the next thing you brush is a haybale.
Slow in, fast out is the correct technique. We gobble through the first two corners. I usually think of them as a double apex right-hander, but so nimble and squirtable is the P1 that you can get a fair head of steam up between apexes. This all happens, I hasten to add, in a total blur. You focus so hard on the road ahead, on not crashing, that it’s only on the main straight I realise my window is still open. Somehow I summon the presence of mind to flick the switch, while simultaneously being slightly startled all over again by just how fast this thing accelerates.
Not once in my life have I ever got the braking for Molecomb right. It’s over a blind crest, and the motto goes that if you don’t brake until you see it, it’s already too late to slow down – the accident has already begun before you’re even aware of it. Safely round that, I nail the throttle again, lightly dazzle myself at the rate the flint wall approaches (honestly, the acceleration of this thing is so hypnotic you almost forget to brake – it’s as if you’ve broken free of the normal bounds of reality).
I enjoy the right, left flick around there, and the zap up across this steeper uphill section, through a fast, blind right, more straight, fast blind left and flat run-in to the finish. This last bit is the only time I chance a glance at the speedo. Should I be disappointed that the number is a nuzzle under 200kmh? Not for a second. 120mph on Lord March’s garden path is plenty, thank you, bales blurring past on either side.
Then all you have to deal with is the relief as you and the rest of the exotica gather together in the top car park. Chris Hoy is up here in a Nissan GT-R, Derek Bell in a Bentley, but to be fair the cars are the stars and the line-up isn’t bad: all three hybrid hypercars, Koenigsegg One:1, Pagani Huayra, Lamborghini Huracan, Maseratis, Astons, a Spyker. It’s all pretty special.
Especially Jay Kay in his Kermit-green LaFerrari. He’s right behind me as we trundle back down the hill, yellow P1 pursued by green La Ferrari. I take a gratuitous selfie out of the window (picture 14 above). Well, you would, wouldn’t you?