The overwhelming majority of gearheads, when given an association test for the word “McLaren,” will immediately say “F1.” International subjects are thinking about the sport, and McLaren’s successful racing team; while locals from here in America are likely thinking of a car named after the sport, the McLaren F1. It was the fastest production car in the world for twelve years, certainly a memorable machine.
Two years ago, when we first saw the McLaren MP4-12c (later cropped to 12c), we thought it would be a successor to the F1. We were wrong. It’s a breathtaking piece of engineering, to be sure, but it has a different function. Where the F1 was built strictly for performance, the 12c is much more practical, more suitable for daily use in a city. Like the Ferrari F12 to the F1′s Enzo.
Now McLaren has a new machine, and they insist that this is the true, higher-tech successor to the bellicose F1. Welcome to the P1.
You might think, looking at the P1, that it’s just another bonkers hypercar, akin perhaps to the Pagani Huayra or the new, still-secret Ferrari. Unlike the F1, it only has two seats, neither of them in the middle of the cockpit.
That peculiar arrangement in the F1 was inspired by the sport of the same name. The weight, engineers reasoned, should be centered in the car. But the P1 can do better than shifting a few burgers, taking its own, more modern inspirations from Formula One.
Like an F1 car, it has buttons on the steering wheel. And unlike the “tweet” and “Instagram” buttons on your brand new hatchback, these actually perform the same tasks as they do on their open-wheeled brethren.
One of them says “KERS.” This stands for the Kinetic Energy Recovery System, and has been in use in Formula One for the last two seasons. When you let off the throttle, an electric motor begins charging up a battery integrated into the P1′s carbon fiber chassis. Mash the KERS button and you get an instant speed boost via the same motor, which cranks out more hp by itself, 176, than most mid-size sedans.
The other button says “DRS.” This stands for Drag Reduction System, and has also been serving in Formula One for two years. Explaining DRS takes a moment, so feel free to torque that scroller wheel:
When cornering at high speeds, your tires will only give you so much grip before falling prey to the laws of physics. Since hypercars like the P1 are extremely light, they tend to come loose around corners when they meet Sergeant Inertia. So they need something other than weight to press them into the pavement.
Thankfully, at high speeds, you can generate downforce by wedging into the wind. The air itself shoves down on the car, keeping it stable around corners. This is why Formula One cars have gigantic wings all over the place.
But the wings are only good around corners. Along the straights, at higher speeds, they produce drag, slowing things down. But what if the wing could move out of the way along the straights? In Formula One cars, the driver can mash another “speed boost” button along certain sections of the course, retracting the rear wing.
There, now wake up. The P1 can do the same thing, getting the wing out of the way and reducing drag when you don’t need the downforce.
This will help it use the full potential of the 727 hp, 3.8 liter, twin-turbocharged V8. Together with the KERS, that’s 903 hp, and if that doesn’t seem like much, you should seek medical attention.
Will the P1 live up to the legacy of the F1? We’ll see.