The Senna is designed for the track, so that's exactly where we head for our second go in Woking's most-focused model
Steve Cropley Autocar
27 June 2018

I just got back from a fabulous weekend at the all-action Estoril circuit about an hour west of Lisbon, on a mission to drive the mighty, track-focused, 789bhp, £750,000 limited-edition Senna, McLaren’s fastest car yet that’s also capable of being driven on the road.

There was no road driving this time, mind. The Senna is very much aimed at circuit driving and the powers that be decided we should concentrate entirely on that and not complicate the issue. Given the strong liking McLaren owners tend to show for all forms of circuit driving, it looked a good idea — although we’ll of course be interested in taking to the public highway when the opportunity presents. Up to now, no hack has driven a Senna on an open road, so taking that final step will be an important milestone. 

McLaren Senna: first drive in 789bhp hypercar

I have to confess I felt some strong pre-drive nerves before the Estoril test; this new McLaren is undoubtedly potent enough to give a decent account of itself at Le Mans — just finishing as I was driving — and it cannot be too widely known that I’m no Le Mans driver. Luckily, McLaren is brilliant at helping ordinary drivers appreciate extraordinary cars, as became clear with driver coach and former Le Mans winner Danny Watts sitting alongside me. I was able to reach limits I’d never have achieved on my own, hitting 275km/h (170mph) on the straight, cornering respectably close to the limit and not missing too many apexes.

Our Verdict

McLaren Senna 2018 road test review - hero front

Can Woking’s 'ultimate road-legal track car' make history at our dry handling track?

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At the start of the driving day, we were offered sighting laps in a 720S before moving to the faster, lighter, more agile Senna — which was not to denigrate the 720S, but it demonstrated graphically to a non-racer the amazing effect a GT racer’s level of downforce (it builds to 800kg at 150mph) has on stability and cornering grip. Looking in the reverse direction, the experience (quietness, smoothness, carefully tuned sounds) also demonstrated what impressive refinements have been built into the 720S, given the velocities it can attain. 

I must say I admired the McLaren people for this straightforward approach; others in the car game would have been a lot less willing to make this sensible distinction between a big-selling road car and a much lighter road-going track weapon costing three times as much, for fear of damaging one or other. Instead, they give the knowledgeable people who buy cars like this the credit for a bit of intelligence… 

Although massively quick in the right hands, the Senna turns out to be easy to drive in the hands of a mortal, courtesy of powerful, beautifully progressive brakes, a near-instant paddle shift, an enormous but surgivally accurate mid-range engine response, enough grip to chuck you out of the seat if you weren’t tightly retained by straps and an unobtrusive circuit-tuned ESP (that’ll let you slide the car in slower corners) waiting in the wings. 

It was all a fabulous experience. But the major surprise of the weekend was discovering that, were I in the bracket money wise, such is the clever, careful development of this car that I reckon I could handle it up to a pretty decent performance level — and so could you.

Last time Cropley was at Estoril…

Being at Estoril took me back 15 years to an interview I did there with Michael Schumacher at the height of his Ferrari pomp. In those days, you placed a request with his connections, and about the time you’d forgotten making it, they’d call to say you’d reached the top of the pile. Schuey was undoubtedly the ultimate give-no-quarter driver, but I’ll always remember an affable, friendly and remarkably modest bloke who discussed what made him different from the rest — the fact that he had a brain compartment that allowed him to race at full speed and another that allowed him to think race craft at the same time, as if we were talking about someone else.

He unconsciously demonstrated the same ability a few minutes later when called away by his pit crew to look at some wrinkle in the practice telemetry. He returned, grinned, apologised for the interruption and continued answering the question I’d posed 20 minutes before, without needing to be reminded what that was, as a normal mortal would have done. I’ll always remember a charming, helpful and all-round amazing bloke — making what subsequently occurred such a lingering tragedy.

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Comments
7

27 June 2018
You lucky bugger!

27 June 2018

 Great though the Car in wha it does it isn’t exactly a looker,now I don’t mean that in a nasty way it’s just that it function over form it’s designed to perform all the winglets, Venturi , special materials are there to make it fast handle well, but, there’s no beauty about it, it doesn’t tug at your Heart strings, I guess you love it for what it does doesn’t to a certain extent matter what it looks like.

Peter Cavellini.

27 June 2018
Peter Cavellini wrote:

 Great though the Car in wha it does it isn’t exactly a looker,now I don’t mean that in a nasty way it’s just that it function over form it’s designed to perform all the winglets, Venturi , special materials are there to make it fast handle well, but, there’s no beauty about it, it doesn’t tug at your Heart strings, I guess you love it for what it does doesn’t to a certain extent matter what it looks like.

Each to their own, I think it looks amazing, despite intially not being sure at all. Form following function has a deeper beauty than form alone. Currently my lottery win car.

27 June 2018

What is the cut away in the seat for, 6 point raciing harness or the driver to relieve him/herself?

27 June 2018

Form follows function, yes, but function does not determine form. 

For any functional brief there will always be q wide range of formal solutions.

Eg. what is painted body colour and what is blacked out will significantly influence the appearance of the car without affecting its function.

 

27 June 2018

Has to be up there with the most ugly cars ever. Appreciated the downforce and point of it, but surely they could have made it look significantly better than it does.

27 June 2018

Has to be up there with the most ugly cars ever. Appreciated the downforce and point of it, but surely they could have made it look significantly better than it does.

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