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Friday 28th September 2012


PARIS 2012: MCLAREN P1

So, McLaren has finally built a true successor to the F1 - just don't ask how fast it'll go, right?


It's taken McLaren 20 years to come up with a worthy successor to the F1 and the covers have finally come off the P1 at what's claimed as the brand's first international motor show appearance. Quite an entrance.

The F1, of course, introduced the idea of all-carbon construction, actual 200mph-plus (quite a bit plus) performance and was the very embodiment of McLaren's fastidious, OCD approach to supercar construction. The 12C that's followed is a mainstream product in comparison but the P1 is the spirit of the F1, moved on two decades.

Function before style, aero over top speed
Function before style, aero over top speed
And what's not being discussed? Top speed, acceleration times or power outputs. Indeed, there's a deliberate avoidance of spec sheet willy waggling from McLaren in all the official material on the P1. They don't say it in so many words but for all those who've criticised the pointless pursuit of ever more impressive numbers - a movement championed by the Bugatti Veyron of course - the P1 is the polar opposite in mindset. Since when, for instance, did you last hear the boss of a supercar company launch a new car with the words "Our aim is not necessarily to be the fastest in absolute top speed" as McLaren Automotive MD Anthony Sheriff has with the P1. Or for the chief design engineer - in this case Dan Parry-Williams - to say "maximum speed was never a priority."

So it weighs as much as a Caterham and is powered by a 1.6-litre direct injection turbo like every hot hatch here at the show then? Um, probably not. The one figure they do let slip is a target power to weight ratio of over 600hp per tonne. For the record a Veyron Supersport is 666hp per tonne (someone had some fun there), a Pagani Huayra 540hp per tonne.

This is where they try stuff too hot for F1
This is where they try stuff too hot for F1
As befits a firm wearing its F1 heritage on its sleeve more prominently than even Ferrari, aero is the main focus. And the P1 will have lots of it. Five times more downforce than a 12C for instance, with more than ever available at more realistic speeds where mere mortals will be able to enjoy and exploit it. There's stuff here the boffins would probably love to fit to Lewis and Jenson's F1 cars, were the rules to allow it. This includes a rear wing that can move back by as much as 300mm on track (120mm on the road) and increase in pitch by 29 degrees and act as an airbrake too. More active flaps under the front wings in front of the wheels can move by as much as 60 degrees.

The idea for the P1 is that owners will be able to drive to the track in relative comfort, put a helmet on and then enjoy aero-enhanced performance equivalent to a 12C GT3 car. A pretty wide performance envelope but the kind of engineering challenge McLaren enjoys. They don't really do nostalgia at Woking but there are a couple of emotional nods to the F1 too, gold-plated heat shielding and the roof vent among them.

And the looks? Function first, says McLaren. Attack is the best form of defence, eh?

We'll have to wait until early next year before we'll get some numbers and further details about the powertrain, sales starting not long after and first deliveries by the end of the year. And with this, art deco Rollers, the return of the Bentley Boysto the racetrack, the new F-Type and the Range Rover it's been a pretty good show for the Brits!

Author: Dan Trent