McLaren being McLaren, with its 20 Formula 1 world championships (driver’s and constructor’s), 182 race wins, 155 pole positions and more, it's too easily taken for granted that the company's road car division would join the elite so fast. For no matter how glorious McLaren’s racing achievements, there was never any guarantee of success in the road car business.
Of course, you’d expect McLaren’s F1 know-how and high standards to make good cars inevitable, but having spent the weekend in yet another excellent, brilliantly judged car from Woking, it’s worth pausing to reflect on the magnitude of what’s been achieved. These aren’t just good cars; they are, in many cases, absolutely class-leading, world-leading ones.
McLaren has come a long way in a short time. Rewind to 2012 and the launch of the awkwardly named McLaren MP4-12C, complete with numerous equally awkward flaws, from a sat-nav system that simply didn’t work to a handleless entry system that famously left one owner unable to get back in their car after refuelling it, prompting him to return it on the back of a flatbed truck a few hours after collection.
Despite these obvious and deep issues, the MP4-12C was fundamentally good enough to trouble the best in terms of its dynamic accomplishments and many accolades and plaudits rightly followed. With hindsight, you might say it was a rough diamond that neatly summed up a company going through growing pains but, again, it would be naive to just assume brilliance would either follow, or follow as fast as it has.
Why? Because history is littered with examples of car makers - especially supercar makers - who have launched a mixed bag of products, often see-sawing between brilliant and average (or worse) and often settling in the midstream of being 'promising' or 'decent'. McLaren, in contrast, has never been anything other than restless in its pursuit of brilliance.
It’s this restlessness that makes McLaren different and drives it to ever greater heights. The net result is the current crop of cars that are jaw-dropping in just about every department, from the entry-level 540C to the slightly more grown up 570S and 570GT, all of which follow on the heels of the sublime limited-edition 675LT. These are cars that look the part and act the part and, in the case of the 5-badged models, carry a layer of fairy dust that flatters the driver, no matter how modest their ability.
Today, at this rarified end of the market, I’d hazard that only Ferrari has a model line-up that is as consistently good as McLaren’s - although I’d also argue that much rests on the reborn and reimagined Dino delivering the sort of accessible performance that McLaren has shown is possible. It’s easier, to my mind, and with my skill set, to build an F12 that thrills and terrifies to the point that you are glad to park it unscathed than it is to build a supercar that always makes you feel super, even when mooching around town.
The challenge for McLaren will be in continuing to harness that restless energy. To have achieved so much so soon, is remarkable; managing that continuously restless mindset and channeling it for the greater good - rather than letting it tip into potentially destructive negativity - is no easy task. It is, I suspect, a hazard of always striving to do better.
But in boss Mike Flewitt McLaren appears to have the perfect man for the job, for he is seemingly as ego-free and straightforward as he is insightfully brilliant. Flewitt has run the company for three, all successful years, on behest of the shareholders (including Ron Dennis, whose role remains unchanged despite the shenanigans over at the F1 team).
In laying out his long-term vision for the company, via the Track 22 plan, he has set a template for the company to follow: there are far-reaching targets to hit and goals aplenty to stretch even the most ambitious minds, but you also get the impression they are also grounded in a realism. For such creative minds - both among the workforce and within the ranks of the management - a definition of how the future should look can only be beneficial.
The evidence so far is that it is working. McLaren Automotive is a company making brilliant cars, in profit and growing sales. It is a success story of the highest order. I only hope British modesty doesn’t cause us to overlook - or knock - what it has achieved.