Hailed by McLaren as the most technologically advanced supercar ever made, the P1 has a lot to live up to.
GC talks to McLaren P1’s legendary designer Frank Stephenson.
The Middle East debut of McLaren’s P1 last month was a warm up for the official unveiling at the 2013 Geneva Motor Show in mid March when McLaren are expected to close their order books, having reached their cap of just 375 orders worldwide.
Just ahead of the show, McLaren confirmed that the P1 will cost $1.15 million and can accelerate from 0-62mph in less than three seconds, and from 0-124mph in less than seven seconds. Top speed is limited to 217.5 mph.
The hybrid supercar’s average CO2 emissions will be less than 200g/km, and the car can be driven in electric-only, zero-emissions mode at low speeds for about six miles. Specially developed Pirelli P Zero Corsa tyres come as standard, and the brake discs are made from a new carbon ceramic material that McLaren says has never been used for a road car.
“I think of it as technical beauty, like a nice piece of jewellery that works.”
Although the P1 has one of the smallest production figures for any supercar, the man behind the machine, or beast, as it could be described since its design is inspired by animal aesthetics, Frank Stephenson, believes it’s still “too high.”
“Personally I’d rather that we sell much less because it becomes much more exclusive,” Stephenson told GC. “But if we sell over 300 then our business case is perfect.”
Stephenson is responsible for producing classics like the Mini Cooper, Alfa Romeo, BMW X5, Maserati Gran Sport and the Ferrari FXX Super Enzo.
So how does designing the world’s most talked about supercar differ? “When we launched the 12c spider it wasn’t meant to shock anybody from a design point of view. It reflected McLaren’s personality of a more reserved British design. But with the P1, everything changes, it’s the maximum expression of what you can do and it’s a dramatic design because when your paying so much for a car it has to be dramatic and when you have performance like that, the only way to make it work is to have that type of design,” explained Stephenson. “I think of it as technical beauty, like a nice piece of jewellery that works.”
Stephenson says the P1’s “lean design” draws inspiration from nature. “I studied all the fastest animals and the reasons why they are so fast. For example the Peregrine Falcon is not the fastest bird in a straight line, but it is when it dives down. It changes its shape and does things with its body that you wouldn’t expect to be aerodynamic but they are.
“Those animals bodies are so lean and the skin is as tight against the body as it can be, with muscles pushing through and the minimal amount of surface area on the body,” he said.
“We followed that formula of not adding surfaces but rather shrink wrapping and sucking all the volume out so that we could to make it as tight as possible.” Adding, “That in itself is a whole new design language that hasn’t been done before.”
McLaren has the smallest design studio in the world, according to Stephenson, with just two British designers working under his lead but the rarity of the company lies in the closeness of which the design team and the F1 engineers work side by side under one roof, not too far from Heathrow airport in London.
“We bring the engineers in right at the beginning when we’re sketching and we’re constantly checking to make sure that we’re not going off the deep end, but you have to be careful not to restrict the creativity of a designer otherwise your not really pushing the limits, he’s just doing what’s been done before in a different colour,” says Stephenson.