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CAR interviews Ron Dennis on the McLaren MP4-12C (2009)

Fri, 23 Oct 2009

CAR interviewed McLaren Automotive chairman Ron Dennis for the November 2009 issue of CAR Magazine’s feature on the new McLaren MP4-12C supercar. Here are some of the out-takes from our interview – and video of Dennis talking us around McLaren’s new roadgoing supercar.

‘It’s understandable why people ask the question “why now”, but the answer to that question lies in the statistics of F1. When I first entered F1 in 1966, there was only one other brand that’s still in the pitlane – and that’s Ferrari. If you want to build longevity into your motorsport company and protect the jobs of so many people, then you’ve got to broaden the base.’

‘Mclaren Electronics leads the world in high-performance control systems – we provide systems for all Formula 1 and IRL [Indy Racing League] cars. In the next three months we start flight testing for the biggest piston engine aircraft manufacturer. We’ve used that knowledge to supply a very advanced control system for this car. We’ve tried to balance between driver satisfaction and safety… so the car is programmable into a condition that protects the driver in low-grip environments.’

‘Normally these carbon tubs are made of lots of little bits bonded together, but ours is made in one hit so it’s cheaper and quicker to produce – four hours per structure. Our forecast for 2011 is 1000 cars, so if we’re cycling the most complex part every four hours we’re not doing badly. The monostructure is not going to be the bottleneck. It’s patented, but it’s not part of business plan to sell on the monostructure technology.’

‘We don’t single anyone out. We’re saying we’re going to be best in class. We want to make a car that is, from a pricing standpoint, a segment under the class competitors. That’s the unique selling proposition: the same for less. The MP4-12C will definitely cost less than £175,000.’

‘There are some great cars – the Jaguar E-type, McLaren’s own F1 – that have timeless design. But for me, the most beautiful piece of design is the RB71 fighter plane. No-one styled it, the look has come from creating performance.’

‘I’ve had a bit more time, because I’ve focussed on McLaren Automotive and made a conscious decision in November [2008] to hand over the team principal’s position to Martin [Whitmarsh]. I did so at the launch of the vehicle to demonstrate the commitment to the people who invest in you.’ So now I get the odd weekend off. I still take a monster amount of paperwork home, but I just choose when I do it. I started [Formula One] in 1966 and I certainly haven’t missed a GP since 1980-something, and you suddenly find things that other people take for granted. I’ve quite recently started to drive my McLaren F1 road car that I’ve owned for 12 years and have just taken it over 1000 miles. I also like to ski and shoot. I love the ocean and I like to scuba dive.’

Ron Dennis on… the demise of KERS, Formula One’s Kinetic Energy Recovery System
‘Well, first thing, KERS is permitted currently next year, and the only thing that will eliminate that is if every team agrees [to outlaw it], and every team isn’t agreeing at the moment. We are relatively neutral to it, we will support the majority, so we are not the team that is holding out. F1 is Martin’s department, of course I follow it, but if you want to know which team is holding out, ask Martin. You won’t be surprised though.’

‘We don’t say an arm’s reach or a hand’s reach, but a hand’s distance – more like a piano player, so things are very close to hands. That’s the attention to detail we’ve put in.’

‘We don’t believe in BS, we wanted to come up with a designation that was actually relevant. It’s a kind of algorithm, which is a combination of drag, bhp, C02 and weight. That number will change from model to model.’ [For reference, MP4 stands for McLaren/Project 4 and is the prefix to all McLaren F1 racers; the C is a nod to the carbon monostructure. The other models Ron refers to are the yet-to-be-announced entry level and range-topping McLaren roadgoing supercar models]

‘No! It’s our Coca Cola formula! It’s our guideline to the performance of our competition so we use it internally. Of course, we’ve rounded the number up, because it’s not a perfect number.’

‘We’re aiming for Rolls-Royce ride quality as well as excellent dynamics – usually it is one or the other. I could name brands and say, drive 50 miles and you’ll enjoy it, but you won’t get out feeling refreshed. What we’ve tried to do with this car is be world class at every single thing. You are going to get a whole range of technology that is not just lined up, but fully integrated.’

‘I learned an amazing statistic the other day, that the biggest producer of emissions is actually cows. You immediately think it is gasses that they pass out of their back end, but in fact it is 90% out of their mouth and only 10% out of their bottom. To me that was truly amazing.’


By Ben Barry