Since the beginning of motorsport history, innovations from British engineers, racers, and team managers have brought about paradigm shifts in how races are contested. A company that embodies the spirit of British ingenuity is McLaren, and the P1 is their crowning achievement. In the 1980s, McLaren became the dominant force in Formula One, not only due to its recruitment of top drivers like Niki Lauda, Alain Prost, and Ayrton Senna, but because they invested in innovative technologies and engineers. As a result, the McLaren MP4/1 was the first FIA approved Formula One car to utilize a carbon fiber reinforced chassis, a material that is now ubiquitous in competition.
The ever-increasing technical developments of the McLaren team saw the MP4 iterations win numerous races each season. In 1992 McLaren would unveil their first road car, the F1. The designs were painstakingly produced by the engineers, and head designer Gordon Murray reportedly tested dozens of top end road cars from every performance manufacturer for inspiration. The result was a car that cracked the Nürburgring lap record, production car speed record, and won the ‘95 Le Mans (all despite being built for public roads). In the 90s, supercars raced Le Mans under the condition that a “homologated” version was built to meet road standards and production numbers. For McLaren, their Le Mans pursuit was the result of privateers wanting to race the F1 at the famous circuit and as a result, a factory team and purpose-built F1s were assembled to compete.
It would be just about a decade before McLaren would build their next road car, the 12c. It was difficult for the company to build something that would not live in the shadow of the F1, but in 2012, they unveiled the P1 at the Paris Motor Show. Much like the F1, the P1 uses a blend of proven technology augmented with cutting edge innovations. While there are commonalities in the engines used in the McLaren Sport, Performance, and Ultimate lines, like the 3.8 liter twin turbo V8s, the P1 powertrain delivers much more torque and over 900 horsepower from both of its engines. In 2012, hybrids were best known for their fuel economy and any performance was limited. The P1’s 131kW 170 horsepower electric motor complements the performance of the gas engine on straightaways and helps maintain high speed just before the turbos kick in.
The P1 is built to be a track car for the road, which is reflected in the different driving modes. Flipping the switch into race mode sets off a series of changes that reveal the car’s real potential. In track mode, the car lowers almost to the ground, suspension stiffens up, transmission becomes tighter, and the large wing elevates and pivots to generate downforce.
The P1 reclaimed McLaren’s lap record at the Nürburgring after the F1 had been beaten in 2005 (it held the record for almost a decade!), and in 2015, a track-only P1 GTR was released. McLaren is proud to offer bespoke options for all their cars, and this is an example of such customization. Instead of ostentatious paint and trim, this P1 showcases the layup of the carbon fabric in the body panels under a layer of clear coat. The interior follows suit with minimal upholstery and matte carbon surfaces on the seats and consoles. The Petersen Museum is fortunate to have featured a McLaren F1 in the Precious Metals exhibit, and now a special edition 688HS and P1 can be seen in all their glory by the Art Center College of Design on the Industry floor of the museum.