However, Stephenson and his team have resisted building any F1 family resemblance into the 12C. Instead, they have used the McLaren badge (team members call it “the McLaren tick”) in areas like radiator air scoops and headlight surrounds.
According to Stephenson, the 12C design has been led by a need for great aerodynamics.
The car is lower, shorter and narrower that all of its rivals, which makes it feel agile on the road and cuts its frontal area. The passengers have been moved closer together for the same purpose.
The front wings are shaped so their highest point is exactly above the contact patches of the front tyres, allowing the driver to place the car accurately on the road.
The forward screen pillars are positioned mostly for aerodynamic efficiency and good visibility, and both rear and rear three-quarter vision are much better than you might expect on a car so focused on performance.
The side-mounted radiators are placed near the engine to eliminate complex, heavy pipe arrangements and extra fluid, and to centralise their weight.
The twin exhausts run straight out through the rear body, also to save space and weight. Even the standard brakes – steel discs with forged alloy hubs – weigh around 8kg less than a 12C equipped with the optional carbon-ceramic discs that will be offered, and careful computer design of the wheels and their special Pirelli tyres has shaved another four kilos.
The MP4-12C’s chassis is special, even among carbonfibre tubs. Unlike others, which consist of several major carbon components bonded together, the 12C’s ‘Monocell’ chassis is a hollow one-piece affair built using a new process that has taken five years to develop.
McLaren believes the Monocell process could revolutionise car design by finding its way into more mainstream cars. A 12C chassis can now be built in just four hours at less than a tenth of the cost of the McLaren F1’s chassis in 1993. It weighs a mere 80kg, yet it provides most of the car’s class-beating rigidity and does a myriad of jobs, including providing direct mounts for the steering and front suspension.
The 12C tub bolts directly to an engine/suspension cradle made of aluminium extrusions and there are crushable alloy structures at either end, beneath the SMC body panels.
Why no carbonfibre panels? Carbon would be costly and deliver no extra function; better to spend the money on fruitful refinements in other areas.
The 12C has electro-hydraulic rack and pinion steering and double wishbone/coil spring suspension at both ends. There’s the usual suite of electronic aids, including ABS, ESP, ASC traction control, electronic brake distribution and hill hold.
To that, McLaren adds something it pioneered in its F1 cars: brake steer, which applies the inside rear brake as the car corners, to aid turning.
The new McLaren also has a unique rear deck-mounted airbrake, in effect an electrically operated spoiler that can deploy much faster than usual (aided by clever use of aerodynamic forces) to improve stability under braking and increase retardation.
However, the big suspension story is the 12C’s pioneering use of electronic interconnection of all four adjustable dampers. This has allowed the engineers to ditch conventional mechanical anti-roll bars and create what they call “a unique relationship between ride and handling”.