It’s hard to imagine many cars calling out the McLaren P1 for being less than batshit crazy, but the car formerly known as the McLaren P15, and now named Senna, after the legendary triple F1 champ who died in 1994, does exactly that.
"We couldn’t push the P1 as far as some might have wanted it to go because we also had to make it work on the road," says McLaren’s Andy Palmer, the guy behind McLaren’s Ultimate Series cars. That’s McLaren speak for the really fast, expensive ones, and the P1 he’s calling a bit of an indecisive wuss was, you might remember, a 903 bhp monster that ripped to 60mph in less than three seconds and had so much aero you could have filled it with helium and it’d still have stuck to the ground like the thing was hewn from a solid steel billet.
There was the P1 GTR, of course, but that wasn’t remotely road legal. The Senna is a proper homologated road car–though only in the way a Lamborghini Urus is an off-roader. "You can use this on the road," concedes Palmer, "but everything about it is focused on cutting lap times."
But what exactly is the Senna? If you’re thinking it must be the replacement for the P1 you’re only part right. Mindful of the compromises made with the P1 its replacement comes in two parts: this track-ready Senna, and a three-seat GT recalling the flavor of the iconic McLaren F1. Currently codenamed BP23, we’ll see that car before the end of 2018. It won’t be as quick as the $1m--taxes Senna around a track, but it’ll obliterate it in a straight line, cost twice as much and cause the Bugatti Chiron a world of pain. At least, that's what McLaren hopes.
The Senna is a throwback to a pre-hybrid age where supercars used optimized gas engines and a ruthless diet to go quickly. You won’t find any electrical assistance here. The Senna’s 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 makes 789 bhp, compared to the P1’s combined petrol-electric total of 903bhp, but the Senna weighs 2641 pounds dry, or 434 less than the P1. That’s down to tricks like front fenders made of carbon that weigh just 1.4 pounds compared to almost five pounds for the aluminum versions on the 720S. Ayrton would approve.
McLaren won’t yet say just how quick the Senna is. It’s holding that for a more comprehensive tech reveal in the New Year when we’ll find out the 0 to 60 mph figures along with the exact amount of downforce the crazy active rear spoiler and the equally-active flaps beneath the headlights produce.
But we did get to poke around and sit in it and the first thing that strikes you is that the Senna is so low it’s almost subterranean. In Race mode with the suspension dropped 50mm (helping boost downforce by 40 percent) and the rear wheel tucked deep into the slash-cut arches it looks like the kind of airbagged creation you’d find over on Stance Nation.
And then there’s the glass panels housed in each door skin. BMW tried something similar on the concept version of the i3 but never had the balls to put it into production. "You can swap them for carbon panels if you want," explains Palmer. "But really, you’ve got to go for the glass. It’s amazing to drive the car and see the road go past. I don’t know why we didn’t do it before." Expect to see owners draping their arms down to knee level to show off their $200k Patek Phillippes.
If you’ve seen the inside of a 720S the interior doesn’t offer many surprises except that McLaren has clearly channelled the ergonomics of Alfa’s 1980s Milano and stuck the Starter button, electric window switches and even the door release leavers on the roof. There’s the familiar vertical media screen, the Power and Handling rotary dials and the 720’s flipabble digital instrument pack. An audio system is optional.
Slide the brutal looking carbon seat forward and you notice the RND transmission selector moves with it. Swivel your body around and you’ll see the only storage space, a stash for two helmets, and beyond, a window into the engine bay, provided you haven’t opted for the blanked bulkhead. Can’t think why you would.
McLaren will build 500 Sennas and they’re all sold, with an unspecified portion of each sale going to the Senna Foundation charity. If you missed out on a Senna, there’s always the track-only GTR version coming later.
"I think there’s probably another 110 to 175 pounds to come off the curb weight by the time we’ve lost equipment like the lights," says Palmer with a smile. Don’t these people ever stop?