As the long-awaited successor to the mighty of 1994, the represents the pinnacle of achievement, both now and in the foreseeable future as far as McLaren Automotive's expanding range of road cars is concerned.
For the time being, it is, says McLaren, if not the fastest car in the world—that title almost certainly belongs to Ferrari's even more potent, slightly lighter —then the most exciting hypercar to drive that the world has ever seen.
That's some claim when there are machines such as the aforementioned Ferrari and Porsche's brilliant to compete with, but McLaren has never been one to do things traditionally.
The P1 costs £866,000 (or around $1.4 million), and there will only ever be 375 examples built, all of which, claims McLaren, have now found homes. At its core, the P1 boasts a two-seater carbon-fiber tub, much like that of a Le Mans prototype racing car.
It is propelled by two distinctly different power sources. The first is a twin-turbo 3.8-liter V8 engine that produces 727 hp at 7300 rpm and 531 lb-ft at 4000 rpm. The second involves an electric motor that uses a brace of lithium-ion batteries to produce a further 176 hp and 192 lb-ft of torque. This gives the P1 combined outputs of 903 hp and 664 lb-ft of torque.
As you'd expect, the car is made from a variety of exotic materials beneath its mostly carbon-fiber outer skin, but the key statistic that results from their use is a curb weight of just 1450 kg (3196 lbs). This gives it a power-to-weight ratio of well over 600 hp per ton, and that, says , is enough to fire the rear-wheel-drive P1 to 60 mph in just 2.8 seconds, to 100 mph in well under 6 seconds, and to 200 mph in under 20 seconds.
Bear in mind that when we tested the F1 all those years ago, it recorded times of 3.2 seconds to 60 mph, 6.3 seconds to 100 mph, and exactly 28 seconds to 200 mph. This should give you some idea about how monstrous the P1's performance really is.
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That's before you so much as mention the P1's actively managed, hydraulically-controlled aerodynamic package, its vast retractable rear wing, its super fast dual clutch gearbox, its carbon ceramic brakes, and its clever traction and ESP systems, none of which were present on the F1 but all of which, says McLaren, make the P1 faster—in some cases, a lot faster—than it would otherwise be.
Fast enough to lap the Nürburgring in "considerably less than seven minutes" says McLaren, although even at this stage of the car's life, Woking still won't say what the car's official Nordschleife time is.
According to the Internet rumor mill, the number of 6 minutes, 47 seconds keeps cropping up, but a McLaren insider I spoke with who knows more about the P1's capabilities than any armchair expert ever could says the actual time is "a fair bit quicker than that." As in 6 minutes, 30-something.
What is it like?
I drove the P1 first on the roads in and around the Bahrain GP circuit and then on the race track itself, albeit for just a few laps. On the road, the first impressions are of a car that feels remarkably like a . This is either a good thing if you've never driven a 12C before or, initially, a mild anti-climax if you have.
The driving position and cabin architecture are both instantly familiar. The driver's seat, though more supportive than a 12C's, clamps you into position in exactly the same way. Likewise, the steering wheel incorporates some unique design details but otherwise looks and feels familiar.
However, the longer you spend behind the P1's multi-adjustable wheel, the more obvious the differences between it and its baby brother become. There are, in fact, many extra buttons on both the dash and the steering wheel, controlling features such as the car's hybrid system, its "push to pass" feature, and its Drag Reduction System when in Track mode.
There's an extra depth of sound from the twin-turbo V8, even when you give it gentle prods in a high gear. Likewise, the dual-clutch gearbox feels snappier and more responsive in all of its various drive modes.
Best of all is what happens when you press the "E Mode" button on the instrument panel. The moment you do, the V8 dies, and you're left with the spooky but wonderful realization that you can drive all 903 hp of the P1 without making any noise whatsoever. You can't do that in a 12C.
The P1, however, is not ultimately a car to be driven slowly, even if its electric power source provides it with throttle response that a straight turbocharged car couldn't hope to replicate. Instead, it's about going fast—really, really fast—and this is something it can do with varying degrees of madness depending which drive mode is selected. While this probably sounds a little bit digital, in practice, it's anything but.
The various drive modes allow you to build up gradually to a point where you can begin to work out what the P1 is ultimately capable of. Stick it in Race mode and let it rip, and I'd wager that 90 percent of even competent drivers would fall straight off on the first lap. Such is the P1's potential to reach the horizon that much quicker than you imagine. It's a hard car to get your head around initially.
I drive it first on the track with the chassis set to normal and the powertrain set to track, and the boost system switched on. This gives the best throttle response and the quickest gearbox reactions, but cuts power back to a "mere" 727 hp. In order to summon the full 903 hp you must press the iPAS (push to pass) button on the steering wheel, and you do that only when the car is pointing straight.
Out of the pit lane and on to the circuit proper, the P1's ride feels sporting but well damped, stiff but still compliant. The steering is light but super-precise, much like that of the 12C, and the brake pedal feels deliciously firm underfoot, the stopping power total. Unlike Porsche and Ferrari, McLaren decided not to harness power to the batteries with regenerative braking because they wanted maximum feel through the pedal, at all speeds, and it shows.
Through the first few corners taken at speed there is no perceptible body roll but, instead, just lots of bite from the front end via the bespoke P-Zero Corsa tires, with a correspondingly faithful reaction from the tail.
The first time I pedal it hard out of a corner, the rear tires light up and the thing takes me completely by surprise. I actually think I'm about to turn it right round. But then the TC does its business and saves me. After that first hit, that first glimpse into the monster's eyes, I learn to regard the P1 in a very different light indeed.
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This is not, I rapidly conclude, a Big Daddy version of the 12C. It's a completely different animal. One that will chew you up, take you on a death roll for a while, then spit you back from whence you came. And that's in Normal mode.
In Sport and Track modes the chassis responses get that little bit crisper, the steering that little bit more incisive, but to be honest the differences are subtle.
Race mode? That's an entirely different prospect.
Because if you think the P1 feels like it's dialed up to 11 in Track mode, in Race mode it goes to somewhere on the far side of 20. It feels like a totally different car.
So what is it about Race mode that transforms the P1 so dramatically? For starters the ride height automatically drops by 50 mm. That enormous rear wing also deploys so that you get a vaguely hilarious 600 kg of downforce at 150 mph. And on top of that, the suspension goes up at least two notches on the stiffness and response scales while the engine, if you deselect the boost function, delivers the full 903 hp and 664 lb ft all the time, and seemingly at the merest twitch of your right foot.
The corresponding leaps in performance, cornering grip and dynamic clarity are impressive. And they were already mind-bending in the first three "ordinary" modes.
With Race selected the P1 feels completely unhinged in a straight line, faster than any other road car I've driven, including the Supersport.
But it's in the corners, under braking, and at the corner exits that the P1 feels even more otherworldly. The grip it generates through fourth gear corners and above is ridiculous for a road car, and the way it stops from high speeds is enough to make you feel slightly unwell if you're not braced for it.
And, best (or worst) of all, depending on how brave you're feeling, it will also allow big hits of opposite lock before the ESP or TC systems intervene. You feel a lot more on your own in the P1 than you do in, say, a Porsche 918 on a track. More than any other characteristic, perhaps, this is what separates their personalities.
Should I buy one?
Unfortunately, you can't. All 375 P1s have already found homes.
So maybe the more relevant question is, should McLaren have built more than 375 examples in order to generate more profit from the project? The car itself does and will make money for McLaren, according to company bosses, unlike the 918, which will be a loss leader even if Porsche finds homes for all 918 Spyders?
Hindsight is a wonderful commodity, and in light of what happened to initial F1 sales, which bombed back in the 1990s, no one can blame McLaren for erring on the side caution when it comes to build numbers. Especially not when they have created such an extraordinary car.
The P1 deserves all the success it gets. It is, for the time being, the most exciting car to drive in the world.
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- Price: £866,000
- 0-62mph: 2.8 (seconds)
- Top speed : 217mph (limited)
- Curb weight: 3196 lbs.
- Fuel Economy : 34.0mpg
- Powertrain: Mid-mounted longitudinal V8, 3799cc, twin-turbo petrol with Hy-KERS
- Drivetrain: Gearbox 7-speed paddle shift DCT rear-wheel drive
- Combined horsepower: 903bhp/7500rpm
- Combined torque : 664lb ft/4000rpm
- Power (engine) : 727bhp/7300rpm
- Torque (engine) : 531lb ft/4000rpm
- Power E mode : 176bhp
- Torque E mode: 192lb ft