Talk about building the suspense: even though I know where I’ve come today, a nondescript building and car park in Woking is gloriously understated.
A single personnel door leads to a typically light-industrial-building corridor, ladies and gents bogs off to each side. The paint on the walls is a bit knackered in places, the carpet worn here and there, as the rabbit-warren hallway continues to weave around, 1980s-style strip lights overhead. There are literally no clues as to what we’re about to see, not even a poster on the wall. And then wham… through the final unremarkable door and holy moly: what a sight!
Racks and racks of whole Formula 1 cars, stacked three high and gloriously hidden from view under dust sheets but with obvious aero features giving the game away.
Four modern-era cars, from Mika Häkkinen’s 1999 MP4/14A-04 ‘West’ car to Lewis Hamilton’s 2007 MP4/22 ‘China’ machine (the latter so called because it was the car in which he hit the barriers there and effectively denied himself the championship in his rookie season), both stripped to the basics in front of the three-storey racks. There’s even a 1974 Indy car tub on the polished floor (from Johnny Rutherford’s Indianapolis 500 winner no less), which illustrates how enormous F1 cars have become.
Wheel guns are left casually on the floor by various boxes of parts, with the legendary coding ‘MP4/4’ writ large across the plastic crates. Mechanics are wandering around, oblivious to Autocar circulating, as they try to get to grips with the pinnacle of F1 technology.
Welcome to McLaren Heritage, possibly the most rarefied car-service centre in the world.
It’s not stretching things to describe it thus, as quite a few of the cars on display are customer cars back for a fettle before they go off testing. But more on that shortly. First, let’s meet the man in charge.