You have to admire McLaren Automotive’s chutzpah. For a business not yet a decade old to risk naming its latest car after Formula 1 legend Ayrton Senna requires huge confidence in your product.
The name, bestowed upon the £750,000 supercar seen here - in exclusive Autocar pictures - ahead of its public unveiling at next month’s Geneva motor show, is definitive. If you give your car such a highfalutin name, it jolly well had better live up the hype: you won’t get a second chance. And, well, here it is, all unsubtle sharp edges, wings, vanes and purposeful aggression.
A road-legal track car that “can be driven to the shops”, as vehicle line chief Andy Palmer puts it. The Senna is significant for being the first McLaren Automotive production car (500 examples to be made from the autumn, all sold) to be given a proper, emotive name, as opposed to a combination of letters and numbers. McLaren received the blessing of Viviane Senna, the grand prix ace’s sister, to use the family name. Her son, experienced racer Bruno, is a McLaren ambassador and was involved with testing and development. But why is now the time to deploy a name so heavy with meaning and expectation on a track-focused supercar?
“We have talked in the past with Viviane and Bruno about doing a collaboration, but we never wanted to simply do a ‘Senna’ variant [of an existing model] or to stick the name on something just for the sake of it. It had to be something that felt credible and appropriate,” says chief executive Mike Flewitt. “This car was designed to be phenomenal on track, so it seems like a product that is unique, focused and special enough to reflect Ayrton.” Although it shares attributes with the 720S, the Senna sits above that car in McLaren’s model hierarchy, taking a place in the most exclusive Ultimate Series stratum inhabited by the P1 hybrid hypercar, by dint of its price, rarity and heady performance. The Senna looks every bit as uncompromising as the icon that it is named in honour of. Would he have approved of the car? If he knew it would offer him an advantage over his on-track rivals, most probably.
The Senna has sufficient stowage space for two crash helmets, race suits and pairs of boots… and that’s it. The P1 had a similar amount of space under its bonnet, but on the Senna, that area is taken up by a centrally mounted radiator, so the stowage is directly behind the two seats. The car is bereft of creature comforts, although luxuries such as air-con and an audio system are on the options list.
Once the engineers had finished stripping away every extraneous gram of weight, they were challenged to find an additional 5% weight saving throughout the car. To achieve that, they zeroed in on the minutiae. For example, a change of the type of bolt used throughout the car yielded a 33% weight saving per bolt. The mechanical door release used in the 720S was replaced by an electrical system that is 20% lighter. Even a special paint colour that needs to be applied less liberally than standard paints was developed. The result? A dry weight of 1198kg (see Monocoque).