McLaren’s mighty P1 hybrid flagship looks like becoming the first hypercar ever to deliver properly on the elusive ‘F1-for-the-road’ promise that manufacturers have been making for their fastest road cars for more than a quarter century.
It has the huge V8-plus-electric power (903bhp) and ultra-high price (£866,000) that you’d expect of the spiritual successor to the illustrious McLaren F1 of 1993, but what really sets the P1 apart is its ground-breaking active aerodynamics package.
While delivering a svelte drag factor of 0.34 in ‘clean’ form, the P1 can automatically deploy a rear-mounted wing and two flaps ahead of the front wheels, in appropriate driving modes, to deliver such unprecedented levels of downforce for a road car that driving “actually gets easier as the car goes faster”.
Even well short of its 218mph top speed, the P1 can generate 600kg of downforce, an amount equal to many Le Mans racers and about five times greater that of the recently launched McLaren MP4-12C. Its advantage over non-McLaren rivals is even greater.
“The P1 is designed to be driven to a racing circuit with great levels of comfort and refinement,” said McLaren Automotive managing director Antony Sheriff, “and then to be used on the racing circuit where it will offer an experience matched only by purpose-built racing cars.”
The P1 uses the all-carbon chassis tub recently created as the basis for all new-era McLarens and launched with the MP4-12C. In another direct reference to F1, the new supercar has a special, race-bred ‘recipe’ for some composite components — claimed to be twice as stiff as steel — that form its core body/chassis.
This structure has relatively few parts and weighs only 90kg, which, McLaren engineers say, is lighter than any other road car’s while delivering F1 levels of rigidity and safety. It also forms the engine airbox, roof snorkel and the roof itself, provides housings for the battery and power electronics, and shapes the aerodynamic side pods that feed air to the engine’s cooling system.
The P1 is 300mm longer than the 20-year-old F1 but only a shade wider and longer than the MP4-12C. Against its most recent compatriot, it grows 83mm (three inches) — the extra length aids the aero package — and it is 29mm (an inch) lower and 37mm (1.5 inches) wider. McLaren claims “substantially smaller” frontal area than the MP4-12C and claims that the P1 is also smaller in area than any other production sports car.
The P1’s kerb weight is admirably low for a modern supercar, at 1400kg, (Porsche’s 918 Spider is more like 1700kg) but even it can’t match the F1, which weighed just 1140kg at the kerb.
The P1 powertrain is a hybrid partnership between a specially configured 727bhp version of McLaren’s 3.8-litre twin-turbo petrol V8, and a 176bhp McLaren-built electric motor integrated with it via a specially cast aluminium block. The two power units send their combined 903bhp (with 664lb ft of torque) through a seven-speed twin-clutch Graziano gearbox.
The V8 carries its own special M838TQ serial number because of its special crankcase and larger turbochargers (plus other unique tweaks), which help it produce 20 per cent more power than a ‘regular’ 12C V8.
Awesome performance is to be expected, but the P1’s margin over both the featherweight F1 and the MP4-12C still comes as a shock. McLaren engineers are still deciding the final figures in fractions of seconds, but we now know that the P1 is about 0.4sec faster than the 12C to 62mph, and at least 2.5sec faster to 124mph (200km/h).
It also shaves seven or eight seconds off the 12C’s 0-186mph (300km/h) on its way to a 218mph top speed, which is a little short of the F1’s official 231mph.