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Jenson Button in McLaren P1 (2013) supercar fly-by

Thu, 31 Jan 2013

McLaren’s P1 supercar trundled out for its first official drive-by today, when F1 driver Jenson Button drove it into McLaren’s Woking citadel before unveiling his 2013 race car.

The stunt confirmed that the P1 can manoeuvre on electric power alone, unlike Button’s MP4-28: the race car’s hybrid KERS system is used to deliver a short power boost to supplement the V8. McLaren predicts the P1’s electric-only mode is a capability its forthcoming Ferrari rival (codenamed F150) won’t be able to match. Though when you’ve got around 900bhp to play with, trundling around in EV mode seems a dereliction of duty.

Did Jenson spill the beans about the P1's handling?

Button was tight-lipped about how the P1 drives, partly because he’s only cruised it a couple of times around McLaren’s lake, and partly because McLaren is yet to confirm any of the car’s technical details. ‘I look forward to driving it [properly],’ said the 2009 Formula 1 world champion. ‘I would like to be involved in it. It’s an amazing bit of kit and Chris [Goodwin, McLaren test driver] is doing a great job on it.

The P1 was still wearing McLaren’s swirly camouflage, whose pattern features the outline of famous racing circuits. Button added: ‘You might not have seen the P1’s beauty with all those squiggly lines, but as Ron Dennis has said, it’s beautiful from an aerodynamic point of view.’  

It’ll take more Jenson charm to nab him a free P1: McLaren sources say he’ll have to cough up the estimated £800,000 to ensure delivery. But the event did subliminally confer lead driver status on Button, following Lewis Hamilton’s departure to Mercedes: the team’s new driver Sergio Perez made his entrance in the far cheaper 12C Spider. Would McLaren have had to wheel out two XP development cars, if Lewis had still been in the team?

McLaren's P1 nears completion

McLaren hosted some 21 prospective P1 customers at the MP4-28 race car’s launch, with design chief Frank Stephenson and sales and marketing director Greg Levine on hand to host them. The customers got their own Q&A session with Button and Perez, as well as a sneak preview of the P1 production car, ahead of its unveil at the Geneva show on 5 March. Despite not knowing the exact price, performance figures and total production run – somewhere between 300 to 500 cars –McLaren is still signing up people for the car it claims will be ‘the best driver’s car in the world on road and track’.

Some McLaren extremists were also hoping to showcase the P1’s Mr Hyde madness – its flame-spitting exhaust – as well as its gentle EV side, Dr Jekyll-style. Hardcore turbocharged competition cars have aggressive throttle and ignition mapping to keep the turbos spinning and eliminate lag, causing the fiery exhaust. However, McLaren took the view that today wasn’t the day for a barbecue inside its headquarters.

‘Cars like the P1 are so special, they’re the mad ones!’ said sales and marketing chief Levine, brimming with enthusiasm. ‘These are the cars that young boys put on their bedroom wall, these are the cars people slave over the Play Station for, to get the chance of driving. It’s cars like this that are the reason we all got into the car industry in the first place.’ Amen to that – and watch this space for more P1 details over the coming weeks.   

By Phil McNamara