McLaren P1

Debut: 2014
Maker: McLaren
Predecessor: F1

 Published on 16 Mar 2014
All rights reserved. 

21 years ago McLaren F1 rewrote the history of supercars with its innovative engineering and unparalleled performance. It occupied the top spot of supercar league for 12 years. Even today it is still deemed to be the definitive supercar in many people's mind. Nevertheless, the F1 was less successful on the commercial side. Owing to its extreme cost and economic recession, it sold only 72 road cars and caused a substantial loss. It took McLaren many years to restore confidence and started building its own cars again.

Fast forward to 2014, the supercar market has changed a lot. While global economy is not necessarily better than 20 years ago, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. A lot more rich people could afford supercars, even those costing more than 1 million dollars before tax! This explains why Pagani and Koenigsegg are able to sell as many cars as they can build, while Bugatti is set to build 450 Veyrons eventually. Seeing the revived opportunity, McLaren determined to reenter the supercar market with P1, whose name implies "first position" in formula one fashion.

Given the track record of F1, I guess McLaren thought very hard on 2 questions before greenlighting the new project. The first is how to make it significantly faster than its mighty predecessor. The second is how to control its development and production cost in order to guarantee profitability.

If you examine the winning formula of F1, you would find it could be so fast in straight line because it was powerful (627 hp from a 6.1-liter V12), featherlight (only 1138 kg) and had an unusually small frontal area. To make the new car more powerful is easy, but to make it as light and as compact is no longer possible. The F1 would not survive today's crash test, nor it would comply with current emission standards. Its lack of ABS, traction control, stability control, power steering, brake servo and variable suspension would not be accepted by today's millionaires. Moreover, its narrow body and ultra-short front and rear overhangs compromised down force thus led to a flawed handling. That is to say the old formula would not work on the new car.

For the P1, McLaren decided to sacrifice top speed and pursue real-world performance instead. It aims to be the world's fastest car on a proper race track or a challenging road track like Nurburgring. This calls for a first class handling, braking, acceleration and down force to achieve. The top speed is set at "only" 217 mph, a long way behind Bugatti, Koenigsegg and even the old F1, although that is already faster than Porsche 918 Spyder and level with LaFerrari. Some might be disappointed to hear that, but considering today's top speed record is so high that no roads could realize, there is really no point to chase any further in this direction. The fact that Ferrari, Porsche and McLaren share the same view signals the turning point of supercar development trend. From now on, lap time will be a key indicator to judge the performance of supercars.

Interestingly, the trio share also the same view in powertrain design: to boost power and response, they all opt for hybrid technology or KERS in Formula 1 speaking. To McLaren, there is one more reason: cost reduction. It might be strange to say hybrid save costs, but this actually allows the P1 to re-use the 3.8-liter twin-turbo V8 of its lesser brother MP4-12C, saving the need to develop a bespoke engine. This also answers our second question raised earlier.

In fact, the whole P1 is built on the platform of MP4-12C and share many components. Its MonoCage carbon-fiber passenger cell is adapted from the latter's MonoCell tub. The same can be said to its electro-hydraulic power steering, Graziano 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, all-round double-wishbone suspensions with interconnected hydraulic system as well as Brake Steer technology, not to mention the electronic systems and much of the interior bits. This has to be the first example of platform sharing in supercar business. It saves a great deal of development time and money.

Not that it is an MP4-12C Hybrid. The P1 is significantly enhanced in all areas to justify its £866,000 price tag (not just the limited production of 375 units). Its M838TQ engine gets a stiffer block, lightweight Inconel exhaust, larger intercoolers and larger turbochargers which run up to 1.4 bar of boost pressure, 0.2 bar up from the MP4-12C. As a result, its output increases from 625 to 737 horsepower at 7300 rpm, while peak torque improves by a similar margin to 531 pound-foot at 4000 rpm. Yes, the torque delivery gets peakier and the higher inertia turbines result in more turbo lag, but this is more than compensated by the additional electric motor, which is mounted beside the engine block, delivers 192 lbft of torque instantly to fill the torque gap, and 179 hp at its peak. Working together, the hybrid powertrain has a maximum output of 916 hp and 664 lbft of torque.

A lithium battery pack weighing 96 kg is placed vertically inside the MonoCage behind the seats. It offers a zero-emission driving range of up to 10 km (6 miles) only, so the E-mode is rather gimmicky. Unlike Porsche 918 Spyder, the P1 does not employ regenerative braking, so the battery is charged by excess engine power or when throttle is lifted. Alternatively, it may be charged at home socket.

Unlike the MonoCell tub of 12C, the MonoCage incorporates windscreen pillars and roof rails – this effectively rules out the possibility for Spider version. A Pagani-style glass roof should make the cabin looks brighter thus feels roomier than it actually is, whereas the roof-mounted engine intake is reminiscent of McLaren F1. This intake and the deep, curvy windscreen are the only cosmetic genes it carries over from its predecessor. Predictably, the whole body shell, including the large one-piece front and rear clamshells, are made of carbon-fiber, unlike 12C which opts for cheaper glass-fiber composites and stamped aluminum. All glasses are thinner and lighter items. The whole car weighs 1490 kg in DIN scale, pretty good considering its hybrid power system.

Compare with F1, the P1 is much larger, despite of a shorter wheelbase. It is exactly 300 mm longer overall, 126 mm wider and 48 mm taller. The broader shoulders enable wider tracks and the stretched overhangs enhance ground effect. Aerodynamics plays a more important role in its body sculpture. There are massive front splitter, skirts, winglets and diffusers. The narrow glasshouse and very low waist line draw more airflow towards the huge bi-plane rear wing, which normally sits flush at the tail, raises by 120 mm at speed or even 300 mm when you switch to Race mode (note: this mode also drops the ride height to enhance ground effect). In this way, the P1 produces 600 kg of down force at 161 mph, matching a typical GT3 race car! Apart from the rear wing, there are also a pair of movable flaps at the front underbody to balance the down force. Depending on the positions of these active aero aids, drag coefficient varies between 0.34 and 0.40.

To attack top speed, the driver can press the (very Formula 1 sounding) DRS button on the steering wheel, which scales back the rear wing angle to zero, reducing drag by 23 percent until the button is released, brake pedal is touched or steering input is detected.

The RaceActive Chassis Control (RCC) hydro-pneumatic suspension is a further development from the PCC of MP4-12C. As before, it interconnects the suspensions on both sides with oil circuits, adjustable valves and variable gas chambers so that it can effectively control roll without using anti-roll bars (which would hurt ride comfort), as well as to offer variable spring rate and adaptive damping. On the P1, all  4 wheels are independently controlled. Each wheel has its own hydraulic actuators with pistons for 2 different circuits, one for roll and another for heave. This mean now it is also capable to control pitch and dive without resorting to stiff coil springs, further improving ride comfort and body control. The RCC also adds the function of variable ride height and widens the scope of variable spring rate. In Race mode, the ride height is dropped by a whopping 50 mm and spring rate is stiffened by a massive 300 percent!

The Race mode is actually illegal to drive on public roads because the ride height is too low and the rear wing is so high that blocks the roof-mounted brake light. Never mind, you can still choose among Normal, Sport and Track mode, each varies the calibration of suspension, aero and ESC (engine and gearbox are controlled independently).

The ceramic carbon brakes are supplied by McLaren's F1 partner Akebono instead of the usual Brembo. The disc sizes are a bit small at 390 mm front and 380 mm rear, and they look like steel discs because of an unusual mirror finish. In fact, they employ a special silicon carbide-glazed material never used before on road cars. This material is more heat resistant thus the discs can be made smaller, cutting 4 kg, yet deliver sufficient stopping power. Wrapping around the discs are forged aluminum wheels and bespoke Pirelli P Zero Corsa tires. Sized only 315/30ZR20, the P1's rear rubbers are unusually narrow for a rear-drive supercar (most rivals employ 335 or 345, Bugatti even 365). In fact, this is exactly the same width as McLaren F1's. Will it suffer from the same tricky handling? We shall see soon…

On the Road

From the first sight to its exterior and then the first settlement in the cockpit, you will find the fundamental difference between the P1 and its rivals: it is designed like a race car, with the sole purpose to excel on race tracks. Although its exterior has some deliberate styling, it is not exactly a masterpiece. The panel fit is far from perfect. The aggressive aero kits and exposed mechanical components (see the tail) don't hide its racing blood. The interior is a world of carbon-fiber and Alcantara. An air-con and a crappy sat-nav are the only luxury items. To trim weight it even removes the gloss coating of carbon-fiber, throws away the carpet and all sound insulation. This is a noisy cabin, so noisy that the only way to listen to a phone call is to switch to E-mode – perhaps this is the sole purpose of this mode! The cockpit is narrow and the two seats are put close together, but it offers enough space for shoulders and helmet. Visibility is excellent forward and lateral, poor rearward due to the tiny rear window and pseudo rear quarter windows. With the rear wing raised to Race position, you get virtually no rear vision.

Alright, we had better to focus on the driving. In Normal mode, the P1 is quite easy to drive. Its ride is no less compliant than the already good 12C. The steering is Ferrari-458 light and super-quick, with just 2.2 turns from lock to lock, yet it is very precise. The dual-clutch gearbox works smoothly. Turbo lag is beautifully masked by the electric motor, so its throttle response is just as quick as a normally aspirated engine. McLaren's turbocharged V8 doesn't sound as musical as an NA V8 or V12, and its wastegate whooshes could be annoying if you are not in mood, but otherwise the P1 is as relaxing to drive as a Porsche 911 Turbo. Shift to Sport and Track modes and the chassis feels slightly sharper, but the good manner is largely retained.

However, engage Race mode and push it harder, the picture becomes very different. Plant the throttle pedal and you will be shocked by the instant surge of torque and the associated wheel spin. Yes, it has enough grunt to spin the rear tires at any gears below 5th! Its straight line acceleration is simply astonishing. Motor Trend measured 0-60 mph in only 2.6 seconds and 0-100 mph in 4.7 seconds – the latter is faster than Bugatti Veyron SS even without the help of 4-wheel drive! You think Porsche 918 Spyder is quick? The P1 makes it feel too slow, too tamed.

On a race track, its performance is even more sensational. The massive down force presses the car hard on the tarmac and lets it corner at a speed never seen on any road cars before – McLaren hints at a Nurburgring lap time of 6:3X, and it feels really that fast! The handling balance, grip and roll control are all first rate. The braking is equally sensational, as it provides strong yet reassuring stopping lap after lap. By now the P1 feels more like a race car than any other supercars. However, its huge reserves of power may again overwhelm the rear tires. Even with traction and stability control engaged you can easily spin and slide the rear if you apply too much throttle. In Race mode where the intervention of electronic aids is scaled back, this situation is even more obvious. Admittedly, the progressive way it slides and the super-quick steering means it is not difficult to correct the oversteer, but this works only on race tracks where you are given enough space. On the road, especially a damp road, driving the P1 needs a strong self-restraint. The pain is you know it can offer much more than you are allowed to use.

The P1 is easy to drive at normal pace, but it is very hard to drive to the limit. It demands your respect like a thoroughbred horse. You need to learn how to master it. Through each practice you will discover more its potential and be able to push it a bit harder. Therefore it is immensely fun to drive. While Porsche 918 is better sorted and more rounded, the McLaren is undoubtedly more exciting. The mighty F1 finally gets a worthy successor.


Length / width / height
Valve gears
Other engine features
Max power

Max torque

Suspension layout
Suspension features


Kerb weight
Top speed
0-60 mph (sec)
0-100 mph (sec)
0-124 mph (sec)
0-150 mph (sec)
0-186 mph (sec)
Mid-engined, RWD
Carbon-fiber monocoque, aluminum subframes
4588 / 1946 / 1188 mm
2670 mm
V8, 90-degree, electric motor
3799 cc
DOHC 32 valves, DVVT
Engine: 737 hp / 7300 rpm
Motor: 179 hp
Combined: 916 hp
Engine: 531 lbft / 4000 rpm
Motor: 192 lbft
Combined: 664 lbft
7-speed twin-clutch
All: double-wishbones
Hydraulic interconnected
adaptive dampers
F: 245/35ZR19
R: 315/30ZR20
1395 kg dry / 1490 kg kerb
217 mph (limited)
2.7 (c) / 2.6* / 2.8**
5.0 (c) / 4.7* / 5.2**
6.8 (c)
9.9* / 10.6**
16.5 (c)

Performance tested by: *MT, **Autocar

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