Even two decades after it first appeared, the McLaren F1 still looks ahead of its time. It combined extraordinary speed with everyday usability in a way that no other contemporary supercar could. The McLaren P1™ is every inch its rightful successor. While headline writers loved the fact that the McLaren F1 was the fastest production car in the world – setting a record of 240.1mph – its greatest legacy was its technical innovation. It was the first road car to be built around a carbon fibre tub, a technology pioneered by McLaren in Formula 1, and one that lies at the heart of all of our current models. The McLaren F1 also used its hand-built V12 engine as a stressed component, had a unique central driving position, and the design team’s quest for lightweight perfection was such that gold foil was used in its engine bay to reflect heat. While it was never designed for competition, the F1 also morphed into an enormously successful race car – winning the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1995.
‘McLaren introduced the carbon fibre chassis to the world of Formula 1 in 1981 with the MP4/1, and we had the first carbon road car. We have always been at the cutting edge of vehicle aerodynamics, and all of this experience has gone into the McLaren P1™. Twenty years ago, with the McLaren F1, we raised the supercar performance bar. With the McLaren P1™, we have redefined it once more.’
Chairman - McLaren Automotive
Much has changed since 1993. The technologies available to the current team at McLaren were barley feasible theories when the McLaren F1 was on drawing board. Some things, however, remain unchanged - an obsessive approach and the belief that anything is possible.
The best-looking cars are the ones with real substance as well as style. The McLaren P1™ is a stunning piece of automotive design, but you won’t find any needless ornaments or frivolous styling features on it. Every surface has been designed to work, every part given the same aerodynamic consideration as if it was part of an aircraft or a Formula 1™ car.
The bodywork is ‘shrink-wrapped’ as tightly as possible over the mechanical hard points of the car and the cockpit sits right at the centre. This approach helps to reduce frontal surface area, but also makes it easier to manage airflow over the surface of the bodywork and into the engine’s roof snorkel intake and to the active aero components. It looks awesome, and it works very efficiently.
‘It’s as though we stuck a tube inside and sucked all the air out – a dramatic, honest shape, but also a very beautiful one’
McLaren Design Director, Frank Stephenson explains some of the inspiration for the functional yet beautiful design of the McLaren P1™.
‘The engineering priority was always unmatched aerodynamic performance. My role as a designer was to make it look dramatic and beautiful. I wanted it to look like a purposeful racer with that low body, long rear deck and open-mesh rear styling to put the mechanicals on view and help cooling. Plus there’s the most aggressive rear diffuser ever seen on a road car. Like everything on the McLaren P1™, it’s there for a good reason.
‘I wanted to take out as much visual weight as possible, to have a car that was really lean; a car with absolutely no fat between the mechanicals and the skin. It’s as though we stuck a tube inside and sucked all the air out – a dramatic, honest shape but also a very beautiful one. It was all part of the engineering and design approach to fanatically take out weight.
‘Visibility is vital for a car like this, which is why we’ve pushed to giving it more of a canopy, to have glass all around you – it’s like a cockpit and that’s deliberate.’
LIGHTWEIGHT SPORTS SEATS
Good wasn’t good enough for the McLaren P1™, which is why we produced special lightweight seats with ultra-thin carbon fibre shells. Despite their low-mass construction, they are supremely strong, yet comfortable for longer journeys. The seats are mounted on lightweight brackets and their backs are fixed at an optimum 28-degree angle (although 32 degrees can be specified to increase helmet space). The finished seats weigh just 10.5kg each.
Carbon fibre doesn’t just save weight, it can also be beautiful – a point proved by the immaculately trimmed interior. The carbon and Alcantara steering wheel has been ergonomically designed, with buttons for the DRS and IPAS systems positioned within easy reach. Instrumentation is displayed on three TFT screens with four switchable modes.
Although the McLaren P1™ is one of the most technically complex cars ever created, the systems all work together to deliver both performance and driver reward.
In terms of the technology it carries, it’s fair to say the McLaren P1™ is closer to the complexity of an aircraft than a conventional car. As such, it’s a showcase for the knowledge and passion of the engineering team that created it. But there are no gimmicks or pointless features – everything is focused on putting the driver at the heart of the dynamic experience.
The IPAS electrical assistance system is one of the most powerful hybrid powertrains ever fitted to a car, and has been designed to take on the gruelling challenge of sustained track use. Active aerodynamics mean the McLaren P1™ can maximise downforce and reduce drag, and the RCC (RaceActive Chassis Control) system gives the chassis unprecedented adjustability.
At the heart of the car is the carbon fibre MonoCage which serves as both the passenger compartment, the safety cell and the chassis’ major structural component. It’s a direct technology crossover from Formula 1™, made from fibres with more than five times the strength of top-grade titanium and twice the stiffness of steel. The entire MonoCage, including the roof, engine air-intake snorkel and integrated battery compartment for the IPAS system, weighs just 90kg.
The mid-mounted twin-turbo V8 engine is derived from the one fitted to the 12C, but with numerous and significant differences. A unique block casting is used to incorporate the IPAS electric motor, and the use of new larger high-pressure turbochargers. By itself, the V8 produces an already astonishing 737PS, but it has been designed to work in conjunction with the electric motor, which gives seamless performance and takes the powertrain’s combined output to a dizzying 916PS.
The Instant Power Assist System is a powerful electric motor integrated into the powertrain. The motor weighs just 26kg and produces 179PS – more than double the power of a Formula 1™ KERS unit. It boosts performance, whether deployed through the IPAS button on the steering wheel or working automatically, but it also dramatically sharpens throttle response by filling the torque gap as the V8’s twin turbochargers spool up.
Despite its strictly limited production, the McLaren P1™ underwent a comprehensive test programme, designed to ensure that the car and its state-of-the-art powertrain could deliver its extraordinary breadth of capability anywhere an owner might choose to take it. Prototypes, and the engineering team, travelled the world to ensure the car could function in the hottest and coldest climates. And, of course, the toughest environment of all – Germany’s Nürburgring Nordschleife, and the need to meet the project target of a sub-seven-minute lap.
‘The astonishing thing is that it feels like a really fast super sports car on the road, but like a really good racing sports car on the track. I don’t think that’s ever been done before’
Chief Test Driver - McLaren Automotive
PERFORMANCE TESTING: NURBURGRING
There is no tougher challenge for a performance car than the Nürburgring Nordschleife. The 20.8km (12.9-mile) track in northern Germany has 150 corners and 300 metres (984 feet) of elevation changes. It’s tight and bumpy, with crests sharp enough to cause a car like the McLaren P1™ to leave the ground several times during a fast lap. Barriers sit right next to the track, few corners have any run-off, and margin for error is practically non-existent. In short, it’s about the best place in the world to test the sum total of a car’s components, and the confidence they give a skilled driver to go fast.
The McLaren P1™ was built to deliver a sub-seven-minute lap of the Nordschleife. For perspective, 7:06.5 was quick enough for James Hunt to secure pole position in his McLaren M23 at the last Formula 1™ race to be held at the track in 1976. For our engineering team, successfully meeting the challenge would mean both validation of their work, and confirmation of performance icon status for the McLaren P1™.
COLD WEATHER TESTING: ARCTIC CIRCLE
The McLaren P1™ also spent time in one of the coldest places on Earth during its development cycle. The Arctic Circle provides any array of challenges with temperatures as low as -40C. Coping with these deep-freeze conditions is even harder for the battery pack than searing heat, while the icy surface of a frozen lake proved the perfect location to put the advanced stability control systems through their paces.
HOT WEATHER TESTING: DEATH VALLEY
The clue is in the name – California’s Death Valley isn’t a place that supports life. For a car like the McLaren P1™, the combination of searing temperatures (over 50C is common) and dry, still air provide the ultimate test of engine cooling and heat management. For the powertrain of the McLaren P1™, there was an additional challenge – ensuring the battery pack could cope with such temperatures and still deliver its boost..
Setting out to build the ultimate driver’s car is nothing short of a momentous challenge, even for a company steeped in racing heritage and technical expertise. The success of the McLaren P1™ is one of the proudest chapters in our long history of innovation. The strictly limited production run of 375 was sold within months of orders opening. In October 2013 customer deliveries began and the McLaren P1™ became the first hybrid supercar in the world.
The numbers behind the McLaren P1™ are astonishing – but this isn’t a car that can be reduced to statistics. It was created to be driven, to deliver extreme performance on road and on track, to be fast, safe and supremely rewarding. The team that created it pushed boundaries and rewrote rules, and the result is a car that puts its driver at the heart of a dynamic experience like no other.
Official fuel consumption figures in UK mpg (l/100km) for the McLaren P1™ (3,799 (cc) petrol, 7-speed Seamless Shift dual clutch Gearbox (SSG)): combined 34.0 (8.3), urban: n/a, extra urban: n/a. Official combined CO2 emissions: 194g/km.
The efficiency figures quoted are derived from official NEDC test results, are provided for comparability purposes only, and might not reflect actual driving experience.