The best-looking cars are the ones with real substance as well as style. The 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.
McLaren Design Director, Frank Stephenson explains some of the inspiration for the functional yet beautiful design of the 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.’
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 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 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 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.
Probably the most advanced suspension system ever fitted to a road car, RCC uses independent hydro-pneumatic control of spring rate and damping at each wheel. This enables both roll and pitch to be countered and controlled, allowing the McLaren P1™ to combine outstanding body control and flat cornering. RCC also enables the car’s ride height to be altered when required, with Race mode lowering the body by 50mm and increasing spring stiffness by 300 per cent.
The importance of high-speed stability means the McLaren P1™ has been designed to produce more downforce than any other road car. Moveable front and rear wings can produce a peak of 600kg of downforce in Race mode, increasing both grip and driver confidence. The rear wing also incorporates a Formula 1™ inspired DRS (Drag Reduction System), which reduces the wing element’s angle to zero degrees when the DRS button on the steering wheel is pressed, reducing drag by 23 per cent.
The astonishing performance of the McLaren P1™ requires equally powerful brakes. The system is closer to the performance offered by a GT3 race car than any road-going rival. A new type of ceramic carbon is used in the brake discs that can absorb 50 per cent more energy than conventional ceramic rotors. The McLaren P1™ also has Brake Steer – a McLaren-designed technology that has now been banned from Formula 1™ for providing us too much of an advantage. The system applies brake force to the inner rear wheel on fast corner entry to bring the car’s nose tighter to the apex. The same wheel is trimmed again on the exit of the corner, pushing the torque to the outer wheel for increased traction during acceleration.
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