TopGear.com18 November 2011

McLaren opens new £50 million factory…

…and British engineering takes a big step forward

McLaren

Seems like the PM might be showing an interest in science, engineering and applied technology. Yesterday, at the Science Museum, an international £1 million Queen Elizabeth Prize was announced. Think of it like the X-prize, which flushed out what's now become the Virgin Galactic project. We love that around here: Stephenson, Brunel, Issigonis... May.

And, later in the day, Dave was standing on the shoulders of McLaren to make his point, as it opened its new £50 million, 32,000 square metre factory next to their technical centre.
 
Because as we love good engineering, we love McLaren. There can be no better beacon to transmit a message about Britain's sheer creativity across all those fields than this new facility. Designed, of course, by British architect Norman Foster.
 
It wasn't always so, but the last two years have added a certain texture to McLaren's slightly enervating uniform grey. And it's not just about having the most charming, photogenic drivers in F1. Though it helps.
 
Ron Dennis' performance in Senna was a definite turning point in perception for the Woking company. Who would have known he was such a nice guy? The moment when, in sheer outrage after a perceived slight against Ayrton, he throws an impromptu briefing and barely holds it together. Don't forget the architect of the injustice was Alain Prost, the other McLaren driver. Or when, just before Ayrton's last drive for the team, he slides up alongside his greatest ever driver and gives him the "it's not too late for you an me...." chat.
 
Touching stuff, but also a reminder of Ron's mettle. Senna left because he wanted to drive an Adrian Newey-designed car. And who did Ron then go on to poach to design McLaren's Grand Prix cars?
 
Stiff upper-lip, never complaining, never explaining: it's McLaren's stock-in-trade. Now Ron's taking a lower profile as chairman, it's up to the always-up-for-a-chat Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh to deliver what are not always terribly positive post-race diagnoses. It's been suggested you can imagine Air Vice-Marshall Whitmarsh at a blustery Biggin Hill during the dark days of the late summer of 1940: "Well, we lost 18 out of 22 planes today chaps, but we'll put it behind us and regroup...."
 
That's what McLaren does. Never slows down, never stops, always evolves. Beyond the success, the wealth and jobs it generates, it's the dynamic culture that makes McLaren such an exemplar. And no more so than with the MP4-12C, and the bespoke-built factory designed around it that opened yesterday. At its peak, the factory will be able to produce one fax-machine-named supercar every 45 minutes.
 
McLaren has had a few niggles with its early MP4-12Cs. A little perspective here, however. This is the first car from a brand new car company, and its better in many, many ways than the Ferrari 458. And the 458 Italia is not just the latest product from a company that's been making fast cars for over 60 years, but maybe the best car it's ever made. You know McLaren will fix the car, just as it always fixes its F1 cars. It's what they do. And we should all be proud.

BBC iPlayer: how to build a supercar with McLaren

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