The motoring world really has seen nothing else like the McLaren Senna before. And no, not just like that - don't be mean. As a project, as a road car brief and as a set of statistics, the Senna appears without rival.
It weighs 200kg less than a P1. It reaches 186mph in 17 seconds. It has the kind of aerodynamic performance associated with a GT3 racing car, yet boasts - depending on the race car's spec - around another 300hp. It's as track focused as something like a Radical, yet MSO will spend an extra 250 hours on paintwork if so desired. Indeed the fact that some customers have spent £130,000 on personalisation options is about the most absurd Senna stat around.
The Senna really is unprecedented - despite some rather cruel claims about it being a remapped 720S - and the impression from McLaren is that they know it, too. Something audacious is being attempted here, with the Senna's attempt at innovation coming through unflinching circuit focus rather than via an arguably trendier medium like electrification. Hundreds of people have paid £750,000 for a car that, after all, that could be seen as less significant in the hypercar story than the P1. So the talk of legalising McLaren's motorsport DNA, of the purest possible connection between car and driver, of a ruthless dedication to going fast, needs to stack up. If the Senna doesn't offer something tangibly different to a P1 while using 'just' a combustion engine, then why bother?
Even as a static object, the Senna is something different to what has come before it. And don't just say worse. Nothing has been left to chance when it comes to saving weight and further honing performance, from 660g front wings to the rear diffuser, which is one single piece of carbon and begins at the back axle. Before you've even looked inside, the motorsport intent of the Senna makes a 720S resemble a Lotus Europa. Of course you would hope for as much, though the gulf really is vast.
Conveniently the 720hp mid-range McLaren is the warm up car at Silverstone, there to help with refreshing lines on the circuit and becoming familiar with 160mph occurring in not much space at all. Handy. A word of warning, however, or what you might call a spoiler alert: if you are fortunate enough to own a 720S, don't ever have a fleeting experience of a Senna. Because your car, perhaps the greatest contemporary supercar out there, is going to feel a bit flat afterwards...
What the Senna does so well is expertly meld the exhilaration of a racing car with the relative approachability of a road-going McLaren - at least on this circuit experience, that is. You're never overawed by the motorsport focus, yet you're also never in any doubt that the Senna is a way, way more serious circuit proposition than any other McLaren.
That begins as soon as the harnesses are pulled a bit too tight, because what's left of the interior is familiar from the rest of the range. The steering wheel is same unadorned item you see everywhere else. The screens are what you're used to looking at. Heck, the visibility is even quite good, with McLaren focused on ultra thin A-pillars (all the better for seeing apexes), a reasonable view out the back, and that trademark low scuttle. It would be a stretch to say you're immediately at ease in the Senna, but neither are you so intimidated to think of running for the safety of the pit garage.
The same sort of thing happens on the track. It's only six laps of Silverstone International, so far from comprehensive, however there's more than enough time with the Senna to identify how cleverly the car has been engineered. Because despite the hundreds of kilos of downforce, brakes that out-stop the P1, and a Golf GTI's more power than the Sports Series Models (which do 200mph), the Senna still feels like a McLaren to drive fast. And that's meant entirely as a compliment.
So the steering remains hydraulic, with the kind of lightness and delicacy of touch that seems to elude almost every other car. Honestly, it's superb. The pedals are perfectly placed and deliver reliable, confidence inspiring feedback. The Senna is a trustworthy, engaging sports car.
Yet, of course, it's so, so much more than that. Those familiar McLaren traits are there, sure, only built upon with truly stunning additional capability. The brakes are absolutely staggering, responsive to every tiny input and yet relentlessly hauling the Senna down from incredible speeds. As a point of reference it's braking 25m later into Stowe than a P1 does, and can stop from 124mph in 100 metres. And that's the key: the communication is there through the Senna to make approaching those incredible limits something to savour rather than fear.
There's no way that anything close to the Senna's peak cornering speed was reached in half a dozen laps. Obviously. Even so, it delivers the kind of outright grip and composure that would leave a 720S floundering. No entry speed feels too optimistic and no throttle application too greedy because of this seemingly omnipotent handling ability. It's not impregnable though, and the odd flash of traction control does at least show some effort, and also how fantastically integrated the systems are - it would be almost impossible to tell of any intervention without the light. Again, the Senna is encouraging the driver to work up to both the limits of themselves and the car - it's not some leap into the unknown and upside down world of downforce.
In fact, the enthralling way in which this car stops and turns means the way it goes becomes less and less of a priority. Yes, the Senna corners and brakes in such a ferocious way that 800hp isn't what takes your breath away. Of course driving a 720hp car a few minutes before will soften the blow somewhat; it's evident, however, that the Senna's real gains are in other areas.
With new pistons, new cams and a new designation - M840TR - the Senna's 4.0-litre V8 is significantly overhauled from any similar installations. And while it's undoubtedly faster, louder and a bit sharper, on this experience - with the mind probably on other things - the Senna doesn't sound drastically better than other McLarens. Sorry. The claims of "singing like a motorcycle race engine" will have to be properly verified another time.
Of course on the flipside it means that the engine and dual-clutch gearbox are still as, well, spot on as they are in other McLarens. There isn't some awkward sequential to deal with, a tremendously narrow powerband or horrendous turbo lag. On the cooling down lap the Senna mooches around at a normal speed, not making any daft noises or requiring any particular effort - it's simple, which bodes extremely well for road use.
And imagine that as a possibility: a car with all the lovely interaction and feel we've come to associate with McLaren Automotive products, combined with track ability rarely seen outside a motorsport paddock. Of course it's impossible to know entirely whether that would be the case, but there is little reason to doubt the possibility. By performing like some incredible racing machine when you need it to, but feeling like a McLaren exactly when you want it to, the Senna appears to offer the very best of two quite different, yet very appealing, worlds. If the end result really is as spectacular as this taste suggests, there will be nothing to match it. Well, until the Senna GTR that is...
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