THE NATURE OF DESIGN

We meet Chief Designer Rob Melville, and discover that his inspiration comes from the animal kingdom.

 
For the past five years, Rob Melville has worked on the designs for the McLaren P1™, 650S, 675LT and, most recently, the stunning new
Sports Series models. Recently promoted to Chief Designer, Rob now leads a team tasked with developing the future visual direction of McLaren.
As Rob starts his new role, we catch up with him to discover where his inspiration comes from, and the philosophy behind the design of
each new McLaren.
 
What was your first role at McLaren?
 
‘My first project was working on the McLaren P1™. We had our 2008 Formula 1™ championship-winning MP4-23 in the design studio for six
months, so we could really understand every corner and radii. The intakes of the MP4-23 have a ‘bullnose’ form to energise the air and keep it
attached to the bodywork, and you’ll see the same shapes on the McLaren P1™.
 
‘A good example is the “speed mark” headlights. Their design is a nod to our McLaren badge, but the leading edge has a bullnose profile to
help get more air into a sensitive area, the low-temperature radiators, and to make the front diffuser more efficient too.
 
‘It’s a collaborative approach between the design team, the engineers, the materials team and the aerodynamicists. The solution is not doing
what’s expected because it’s been done before, but to find the best technical solution.’
 
Where do you find the inspiration to achieve that?
 
‘We are inspired by nature. Whether it’s the bullnose of a whale shark, the sharp edges of tailfins, or the swept-back wings of birds of prey
when diving, there are so many hints and tips in the animal kingdom.
 
‘That biomimicry philosophy means our form language isn’t inspired by the latest fad, but by the correct conditions to keep the air attached
or detached to the car for the best possible performance. It’s a privilege to work for McLaren, where those are the values – it’s a purist’s
approach that will stand the test of time and won’t just follow trends. There are no arbitrary lines on a McLaren.’
 
How is the McLaren philosophy reflected in the design?
 
‘With every McLaren, we aim to capture and visualise our philosophy, to show the way air flows around our cars. Strong horizontal lines at the
front highlight where the air is split over the top and the bottom. The layered panels on the sides help control the air and remove weight from
the vehicle, and the door ducts are there because that’s the optimum place for them. Towards the rear we expose our technical detailing, and
the way the bodywork is sliced away helps yaw control and stability.
 
‘The idea is that all the body panels and aerodynamic fairings fold and layer over the carbon fibre chassis at the centre of all our vehicles. The
body panels over which the air flows are fluid and smooth and painted, whereas the technical areas for heat soak, air intake or evacuation,
or where we’re generating high-downforce loads, are darker and more graphical. It’s a juxtaposition between fluid and slippery areas, and
technical and hard zones, both of which are functional. Like a tailored suit, the more you look at one of our cars, the more detail you’ll detect.
 
Can we see all these traits in the new 570S Coupé?
 
‘You can, and I’m really proud that the design has captured the spirit and emotion of the original concept sketch. Our first Sports Series model, the 570S, has been designed to be beautiful yet functional, and the inspiration from nature can be seen in the profiles and the way the aluminium exterior panels have been shrink-wrapped over the optimised engineering package.
 
‘The air-piercing form of the front bumper guides air around the car for optimal cooling and downforce. The door tendon is a piece of engineering and design sculpture, and is not only there for proportional reasons, but also to guide and clean up the air flow, and improve the efficiency of the side-mounted radiators. And the flying buttresses at the rear increase downforce and heat evacuation.’
 
What’s the next design step for McLaren?
 
‘The laws of aerodynamics don’t change over time, but our ability to understand and manipulate airflow does. It might be a dimpled surface
or a new paint finish, but through the latest technologies we are able to constantly improve.’

 

 

 

The 570S is the first model in the new McLaren Sports Series. 

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