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

This week’s road test subject is nothing more or less than the most extreme road car McLaren Automotive has built.

You may not think that’s such a huge claim since McLaren Automotive has had only eight years in which to make road cars at all. But considering that the firm has already managed to squeeze the P1, 675LT and 720S into its fairly short but decidedly punchy back catalogue, and with the memory of the uncompromising F1 still fresh and relevant for a great many, it’s an introduction that’s certainly powerful enough to get our attention.

Senna’s front splitter is fully 150mm longer than the one on the P1 and 75mm longer than the P1 GTR’s. Race mode puts it another 39mm closer to the road

The McLaren Senna might be the car that its maker has been fated to create since its Antipodean founder first picked up a spanner. During so many decades of celebrated motorsport success, the famous British firm has acknowledged and adhered to ‘formula’ rules defining construction principles, materials, engine placement, suspension configuration, tyre footprint, maximum downforce, allowable weight and more; occasionally bending one or two in the name of innovation.

With its current road cars, meanwhile, it works to make different but balanced compromises of habitability, usability, drivability, practicality, comfort – and, of course, outstanding performance and handling dynamism.

But what if there were no rules? What if the budget was unlimited, and if every relevant racing technology in the toolkit was up for grabs? What if the usual need to compromise outright performance was thrust so far into the background that it hardly figured? What kind of McLaren could they make then?

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You’re looking at the answer to that question.

McLaren Automotive CEO Mike Flewitt calls the Senna “the personification of McLaren’s motorsport DNA”. And it’s clearly a reflection of how potent a symbol it is considered at Woking that the company should have chosen to invoke the memory of its most revered racing driver with its model identity.

Some think Ayrton Senna’s memory and legacy belong to motorsport; that it wasn’t and isn’t McLaren’s to appropriate. Others that Woking’s donation of the 500th and last Senna chassis for auction on behalf of Brazil’s charitable Ayrton Senna Institute is the icing on the cake of a perfect tribute to the great man. But we’ll let others address that controversy.

The job of the Autocar road test, here and now, is to describe, examine, benchmark and document the kind of car whose like we don’t see too often. So here goes.

McLaren Senna First drives