Monday, 5 October 2009

The MP4-12C - A quizmaster's boon

It is not going on sale before 2012 and it is out of reach for most given it'll cost about the same as a 3-bed semi- in 'the North', but the McLaren MP4-12C deserves column space in 2010 for the sheer technological endeavour it embodies.

After the £600,000 F1 of 1992 and the £300,000 SLR that has just ceased production, the new car can almost be said to represent McLaren's descent into the 'mainstream' retailing at around £125-£175,000. Make no mistake though, this British supercar is anything but humdrum. The painstaking approach employed by its designers in creating it, is breathtaking.
Those from outside of the walls of the space-age "Technology Centre" in Woking where McLaren are based, may not have not heard of 'the 5% rule', but it goes thus: The engineers scrutinised every single component that makes up the car, and polished off and trimmed every last bit of weight they possibly could. Then after they finished, they revisited each component and magicked up another 5% reduction in weight .
The 'C' in MP4-12C indicates 'carbon fibre', a material used to make the chassis weigh less than Jonny Wilkinson.  The brakes are not made from carbon like they are in most other supercars because the engineers found a way to make them using steel whilst still saving 8kg. 

Virtually all road cars (and incidentally, most houses) use copper wire in their electronic systems but McLaren used aluminium, yet again because it represents a more weight-conscious approach. This saved 5kg. The structure behind the dash was made from magnesium instead of steel to save another 4kg and to top it all off McLaren built their own engine and gearbox from the ground up when they could just done what most upstarts do and bought a drivetrain off the shelf. All of this to achieve "efficient performance" to put it in their parlance.
I understand I might be beginning to sound somewhat fanatical so to achieve some balance, I think it's worth pointing out where the MP4-12C leaves blots on its copy paper; it looks a bit plain.

Especially next to the Audi R8, Ferrari 458 Italia, Lamborghini Gallardo and Mercedes SLS. That said, the non-controversial looks may mean time treats its better. Its aformentioned predecessor the F1, for example, still looks fresh despite first being presented to the world in 1992.
MP4-12C will be judged on more fronts than just looks though and given the praise lavished on Ferrari's 458 Italia by those who have driven it, it's going to have to impress on many. Ron Dennis has had no qualms about publicly singling out Ferrari as their benchmark. This comes as no surprise because in motorsport they say, "To be the best, you have to beat the best". And it is in motorsport where these two great companies and their long-standing rivalry was born.
McLaren and Ferrari have traded blows at the front of the Formula 1 pack since the 1980s. In fact, between 1998 and 2008, they took all of the Formula 1 manufacturers' world titles that were on offer, bar two (stolen by Renault in 2005 & 2006). So McLaren trying to take Ferrari's mantle in the road car space isn't so much picking a fight as moving it to another arena. Only logical then for McLaren to go to so much effort to find top form with the MP4-12C and I for one wish McLaren succeed in their endeavour.
Especially because of the refreshing daring and ambition that is on display in a way that just isn't common anymore in the increasingly corporate (neutered!) world we live in. That and the potential that they might start a return to greatness for the British car industry.

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