DRIVING the McLaren P1 is about as close as you can get to driving an F1 car on the road. This hybrid McLaren supercar's power and aerodynamics are based on Formula One technology, complete with a Kers-style electric boost and an active rear wing a la the DRS Drag Reduction System. And as in F1, the P1's design requires it to be a highly efficient aerodynamic vehicle with cutting-edge levels of downforce, ergonomics, safety and weight savings. But unlike an F1 car, this hypercar actually looks sensational. According to McLaren design director Frank Stephenson, it was never the intention to create a fabulous looking hypercar.
"From the onset of the initial design phase of the P1, we decided to create a new and unique design language for McLaren. To do this, we approached the task with the belief and conviction that form actually equals function," he explains in an exclusive interview with BT. The limited edition P1 has what Mr Stephenson calls a "shrink-wrapped design".
"We have reduced the amount of outer surface skin to an absolute minimum, similar to the concept of vacuum packing food products or to the way that you can see the muscles and tendons pushing against the outer skin of a race horse or a cheetah, or a highly trained athlete with a low body mass index. This way we are able to considerably reduce weight and aerodynamic drag; the car not only looks visually light, it in fact is light and very dynamic."
Form follows function because "no line, surface or feature on the P1 has any other objective than to optimise the performance and usability of the vehicle; pure and honest design in pursuit of the most efficiently high-performance hypercar".
For example, the ultra-thin LED tail lamps along the upper rear trailing edge of the car body may be a unique design feature but they were in fact created to accommodate the massively wide rear grille. To efficiently expel the large amounts of air needed to cool the mid-mounted 3.8-litre turbocharged V8 engine, the engine heat exit area at the back was maximised. And this required the size of the tail lamps to be minimised.
Then there are the show-stopping butterfly doors, which are actually about ergonomics.
"The dihedral door opening system allows more volume and space for ease of occupant ingress and egress."
Mr Stephenson adds: "Within the car, we have designed an almost iPod-like inspired environment, where less is more."
He says that the proven concept is that less items will create less distractions and so a majority of information and commands are located and accessed via the centre console touch screen. This unit is angled towards the driver for complete control, visibility and focus. "Furthermore, less buttons, less weight!"
The P1 weighs just 1,395 kg and with its petrol-electric powertrain producing total system output of 916 hp and maximum torque of 900 Nm, it accelerates from zero to 100 kmh in 2.9 seconds. Zero to 200 kmh takes under seven seconds, while zero to 300 kmh is a mere 17 seconds before it hits the electronically limited top speed of 350 kmh. So what's next? What will new McLaren models look like?
"My desire is that our next McLaren designs will take us along a path that mimics the process we've witnessed in nature and that we're likely to continue, where things tend to become less clunky, less machine-like, and more natural, in tune with how nature itself has solved the many problems it has encountered."
For inspiration, he looks to the natural world.
"It's amazing how many things in evolution have been discovered that apply directly to optimised design for performance and I have an intense curiosity for those still undiscovered advantages that will lead us towards future design concepts that are unimaginable or fantasy-like today."
As some sports car manufacturers turn to sedans and SUVs to boost profitability, is he likely to design a four-door McLaren in the near future?
"McLaren is about sports cars. And I see no plan currently to change that."