The new McLaren supercar is good enough for Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton, but would you pay £150,000?
Not everyone can boast test drivers of the calibre of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, but then the launch of the first volume-production sports car from the iconic McLaren F1 stable is no ordinary event. It’s more than a decade since the groundbreaking McLaren F1 became the fastest production car in the world. Only 106 of the £600,000 F1s were built, but it is the intention of Ron Dennis, the hard-nosed chairman of McLaren, that more than 1,200 MP4-12Cs will be built annually and that the car will be the first in a whole range of McLarens.
The press conference to introduce Ron’s new baby was held in the futuristic McLaren Technical Centre, just outside Woking. It doesn’t look like a car plant so much as a vast, space-age pathology lab. It’s a temple to the art of automotive design, and behind glass walls visitors can admire the fruits of McLaren’s long involvement with Formula 1. There is Ayrton Senna’s 1988 car, here is Lewis Hamilton’s from last year. Over there, behind yet more glass, are some of the 1,500 employees enjoying lunch in the lakeside canteen.
Ron Dennis stepped on to the podium and said: “Since 1966, when McLaren first raced in F1, 106 teams have come and gone – and that tells me that if we stay solely as an F1 team it will lead to extinction.”
Which is where the 12C comes in. It won’t go on sale until 2011; the production facility that will build the car hasn’t even been built yet. But when it is, the £40m facility will create 300 new jobs.
“It’ll be good for UK PLC, good for car enthusiasts, and…” Ron couldn’t resist a smile, “good for me.” No wonder – 1,600 orders have already been placed.
The managing director, Antony Sheriff, then gave us some more facts and figures. “The 12C won’t take you to the edge of what’s possible,” he said. “It will take you to the edge of the edge. It’s what we call an ‘and’ car. It’s powerful and efficient; lightweight and safe; fast and comfortable.” The 12C will be built around a revolutionary Carbon Monocell. This is so strong that after three 56kmh crashes, the test car’s windscreen hadn’t so much as cracked. Sheriff said that the embossed McLaren badge had been vetoed by the engineers in favour of an engraved one, as this saved 2.5g on the overall weight of 1,300kg.
The car will do 0-200kmh in 10 seconds and 200-0kmh in 5 seconds. Technically it’s miraculous – a Wagner opera in a world of candied melodies.
Lewis and Jenson returned. Standing either side of the car, which shyly concealed itself beneath a silk shroud, the drivers were asked how they found the car to drive. There was a moment’s silence before Jenson, with all the authority of the 2009 F1 champion, said: “It feels nice – the engine makes a nice noise.” Lewis joined in: “The moment I got out of it I was on the phone to Ron asking when I’d get one.” Ron chipped in that maybe Mr Hamilton would like to win a few races first, then he’d think about it.
And so, the moment of truth, the official unveiling. Lewis and Jenson pulled the covers off, and there before us was the world’s first MP4-12C. Gull-winged, shark-gilled, bright-eyed… but somehow, after all the hype, a little underwhelming.
Ron Dennis likes to win races, but up against the sublime beauty of Lamborghini, Ferrari, Aston Martin, Porsche and Bentley, the MP4-12C looks like a small orange fish in a very big pond.