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McLaren P1 - full story at Paris motor show 2012

Thu, 27 Sep 2012

Journalists often talk of cars stealing the limelight at motor shows. If any larceny was witnessed at the 2012 Paris motor show, it was most likely occurring on the McLaren stand, where the stunning P1 hypercar made its world debut. This is the culmination of Project P12, renamed as the P1 concept car to reflect F1's obsession with first slot on the grid.

It's telling that McLaren chose to exhibit at a major motor show for the first time. Until now, it's preferred to eschew the spotlights and pursue its own strategy with the roll-out of the MP4-12C junior supercar. But the new McLaren P1 is a major milestone for McLaren, which marks its 50th anniversary in 2013 - the year this dramatic supercar goes on sale.

McLaren P1: here in 2013

Although the fancifully styled P1 you see here is a concept car, McLaren promises we'll see the full production car in early 2013. Sales begin in late 2013, wearing a suitably sky-high price tag approaching seven figures.

This is where it gets interesting: we don't expect the P1's design to change much - if at all - for production. What you see here is damn close to what you'll see in well-heeled McLaren showrooms in just over a year's time.

At this stage, all McLaren has disclosed is information about the car's design and aerodynamics. All details of the car's powertrain - expected to be a hybrid spun off the 12C's existing 3.8-litre turbocharged V8 - will be announced in early 2013. CAR knows a few extra details about the P1, which we'll share with you here.

The McLaren P1 looks… stunning!

It does rather. Almost like a riposte to those of us who criticised the MP4-12C for being a bit, well, generic-supercar-by-numbers, the P1 comes along and smashes all such preconceptions to smithereens. This is one very dramatic supercar when you see it in the plastic. There are nods to the seminal McLaren F1 road car (check out the centrally mounted snorkel air intake on the roof and gold leaf exhaust heat shields), but this is mostly new, unchartered 21st century hypercar territory.

The story is all about the style and clever aero at this stage. And that's handy, because that's all you can drool over when you first clap eyes on a P1. For once we'll allow the PR puff some leeway; this car really does bring a dash of the race course to the public road - it sits devastatingly low to the ground like something you'd more normally find at La Sarthe, and there are numerous clever-clogs aero solutions.

Everything in burnt orange is sheer design inspired by the natural world, according to the styling department; the black bits, such as the eye-catching rear diffuser/light artistry are the functional aero bits which give the P1 an edge over conventional supercars.

The clever aero of the McLaren P1

A mix of McLaren Automotive road car and F1 teams worked on the P1. That clean, teardrop shape keeps the drag factor low (down to 0.34, excellent for a car with so much downforce) while the active pop-up wing is perhaps the most advanced spoiler ever seen on a road car. It extends rearwards by as much as 300mm on a race track (120mm on the road) and the angle of pitch increases by up to 29deg - there's even a drag reduction system (DRS) like in Lewis and Jenson's Sunday drives.

The downforce available is impressive: no current road car can match the 600kg of down-push available 'at well below maximum speed'. That's approximately five times the downforce of a 12C, for comparison. Engineers say this dominates the driving experience, making the P1 very drivable and it responds better the harder you drive it.

The sat-nav will even detect if you're on track and set up the aero for that particular circuit, CAR understands. This is one very, very clever car. Let's hope it has that vital spark of excitement lacking from the early 12Cs, which made CAR and most other UK motoring mags hand group test victory to Ferrari's 458 Italia.

A massive rear wing and adjustable flaps on the McLaren P1

It's not just the multi-adjustable rear wing, though. Two under-body flaps aft of the front wheelarches are actively controlled to tweak downforce and aero efficiency, adjusting up to 60deg to help trim the aero package. Together, the active aero can create more downforce, produce more straight-line speed or add more braking depending on how they're deployed. It seems certain that the McLaren P1 will boast the most advanced aero package yet seen on a road car.

Head of design, Frank Stephenson, said: ‘We have ended up with a car that looks as futuristic as a concept car – except that it will go into production – and with similar aerodynamic properties to a sports racing car. I believe it is a terrific achievement.’

Sadly, there is no look inside the P1's cabin yet. A glimpse of the interior will have to wait until 2013. That curved, canopy-like glasshouse is said to ensure exceptional visibility.

If you thought the 12C was a paragon of composite excellence, wait until you pore over the P1's spec. Practically everything you see or touch is carbonfibre, and note how few shutlines there are: the whole of the front and rear panels are one-piece clamshells attached to the central carbon MonoCage, interrupted only by two doors, two engine flaps and the front boot. This construction principle is simpler, stronger and cleaner (a famous Ron Dennis obsession, that last one).

McLaren Automotive: the boss on the P1

‘Our aim is not necessarily to be the fastest in absolute top speed but to be the quickest and most rewarding series production road car on a circuit’, said McLaren Automotive managing director Antony Sheriff. 'It is the true test of a supercar’s all round ability and a much more important technical statement. Our goal is to make the McLaren P1 the most exciting, most capable, most technologically advanced and most dynamically accomplished supercar ever made.’

It's great to finally see the P1 at the Paris motor show. Until now it's only been a rendering on the front cover of CAR magazine. We can't wait to chart its progress from concept car to roadgoing supercar. Overnight, it's surely become the most eagerly anticipated new car of 2013.

By Tim Pollard