Few car companies wear their history like McLaren. Founded by a Kiwi who arrived in the UK in 1958 on a driving scholarship, in 1963 he put his name on the back of a sportscar and started a legend; a legend that celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.
And what better way to celebrate than to unveil the production version of its most anticipated road car yet? Here, after months of teases, concepts and a steady trickle of incredible stats, is the final version of its latest road-going monster: the McLaren P1. And we finally have the full story.
So what about that history? Well, so ensconced is the company’s deep and gloried victory roster in Formula One – think eight constructors’ world championships and 12 F1 world champions – the P1 is practically a road-going Formula One car.
We’ll come to that F1 influence in a bit, because first we need to tell you about that drivetrain. Underneath the trick aero body rests a tweaked version of the 3.8-litre twin turbo V8 from the MP4-12C, here producing 727bhp and 531lb ft of torque. It’s dry sumped, with a pair of water-cooled and oil lubricated turbochargers cranked up to 2.4 bar (0.2 bar more than the 12C’s).
There’s also an electric motor producing another 176bhp – double the power of a Formula One car’s KERS – that “fills in the holes in the torque curve you get with turbo engines”, as McLaren’s test driver Chris Goodwin points out. There’s a lightweight battery pack on board too, able to deliver up to 176bhp instantly via a button on the steering wheel.
So what you’re looking at in total is 903bhp and 664lb ft of torque (limited to protect the clutch), with that electric motor permanently active – it doesn’t switch in and out – harnessed by a seven speed dual clutch automatic gearbox sending power to the rear wheels. Should have razor sharp steering too: it takes just 2.2 turns lock-to-lock, compared to 2.6 for the 12C.
The raw stats are thus: 0-100km/h takes “less than” three seconds, 0-200km/h is gone in under seven seconds, and 0-300km/h takes 17 seconds. Compare this to the McLaren F1′s times of 3.2s to 100km/h, 9.4s to 200km/h, and 22s to 300km/h, and you get some kind of impression that the P1 is fast.
Not only that, it’s slippery too, with a body honed using not only that original F1 as inspiration, but also Lewis Hamilton’s 2008 championship-winning McLaren F1 car. Ah yes, F1. Underneath, there’s a single carbon fibre tub, as in the 12C, that is five times stronger than titanium and even meets the FIA’s load regulations (hint), while every body panel is made from lightweight carbon fibre and shaped to guide air into where it’s needed most, almost ‘shrink-wrapping’ itself around the drivetrain. Even the light strips at the front were minimised to allow for a bigger surface area to let hot air escape.
The trick aero also includes a rear wing fitted with a moveable DRS-style flap, that extends by 120mm on the road, and by 300mm in ‘Race’ mode on a track – working like an inverted aeroplane wing – and a couple of flaps ahead of the front wheels. All in, the P1 develops a whopping 600kg of downforce at 160mph – it would be pointless, McLaren points out, to have such downforce at the car’s 218mph top speed.
Plus, there’s terribly sophisticated suspension trickery occurring in the shape of nitrogen-filled carbon-fibre accumulators that deal with heave stiffness and roll stiffness, and a self-levelling system that compensates for passengers and fuel up to a tolerance of 4mm. It’s allied to four modes: normal, sport, track and race, and rides low too; ‘Race’ mode drops the car by 50mm, stiffens the hydraulic springs and increases their rate by 300 per cent. For the humble sleeping policeman though, there’s also a function that raises the car’s height by 50mm at speeds of up to 37mph.
So because of this system of accumulators and springs, there are no anti-roll bars, with the P1 decoupling suspension in a straight line, and changing the damping and torsional stiffness when the road gets twisty. We’re told that in full-attack mode, there is no body roll.
As such, McLaren reckons you’ll be able to achieve up to 2g when cornering, using specially developed Pirelli tyres that are closer in nature to racing tyres than normal road car tyres, mounted onto lightweight 19in front and 20in rear wheels. Hiding inside are Le Mans-spec 390mm front brake discs with six-piston calipers, and 380mm rear brakes with four pots, all housing bespoke pads developed by Akebono.
Inside, McLaren has uprooted a forest of carbon fibre trees, as it’s everywhere: the dashboard, floor, headlining, doors, rockers and central control unit are all CF, all without a lacquer to save a whopping… 1.5kg.
There’s no sound deadening, carpet is an option, the racing bucket seats use but the merest whisper of foam padding, and even the glasshouse cabin takes its inspiration from a bare-boned fighter jet. All in, the whole car weighs in at 1,395kg – 100kg shy of the figure we guessed a while back.
Paul MacKenzie, P1 programme director, tells us: “It may not be the fastest car in the world in absolute top speed, but that was never our goal. Rather, we believe it is the fastest ever production car on a racing circuit, a much more important technical statement, and far more relevant for on-road driving.”
Impressive stuff, no? Just 375 P1s will be built with production starting later this year. And what a year: this P1 now goes into battle against the new Ferrari – the most technologically advanced model from Maranello ever built – and the Porsche 918 Spider.
Which car would your money be on?