The McLaren P1's 10th Anniversary: Celebrating the Hybrid Hypercar's Impact
It’s not just the F1 that’s had a big birthday recently, the P1 has just nudged into double digits too. It’s a car we feel needs more celebration, as Alex Dunlop explains.
Now before I start, I want to set something straight, the P1 wasn’t the successor to the F1. That’s the Speedtail, which is a story for another day. The P1, well that was a whole new thing.
The early 2010s was a renaissance period for McLaren, being reborn with separate racing and road divisions that would take the company in a new direction. Their first full road car since the F1, the MP4-12C had been unveiled and gave the likes of Ferrari and their 458 a bloody nose. But McLaren needed more than just a supercar, they needed a hypercar, something to show the world just what they could do.
The P1s brief was “to be the best driver’s car in the world on road and track”. See? told you this wasn’t an F1 successor, it needed to be master of BOTH road and track. Breaking away from the F1 lineage gave McLaren the freedom to throw the kitchen sink at their new top dog, but just like the F1 it would borrow heavily from McLaren’s F1 expertise. IPAS, DRS, RCC, Monocage, Brake Steer, E-Mode it’s a spec sheet that reads like the owner's manual for the Millennium Falcon. McLaren wasn’t so much as flexing their technical capabilities but instead building a car the world hadn’t seen before.
The engine was the craziest part of the P1. Re-engineering the M838T engine found in the MP4-12C resulted in 727bhp. But why stop there? McLaren went a step further and integrated an electric motor, churning out 176bhp. Add those numbers together and you’re starting to see why this engine is so mad. But it wasn’t just about raw power, it’s how it makes power. 2.4 bar of boost takes a lot of air, the 3.8-litre engine was up to the job but there would inevitably be some lag.
That’s where the motor comes in, quite literally. That motor provided torque fill, essentially plugging the gaps until the turbos joined the party. Performance was mind-boggling, 0-62mph in sub three seconds, 0-124mph in under seven seconds and 0-186mph in less than 17 seconds. It was a powertrain that delivered unrivalled performance and yet also had stealth capabilities, its E-Mode enabling you to drive a short distance on pure electric, perfect for sneaking out of your neighbourhood for an early Sunday morning drive.
The P1’s chassis borrowed more from the MP4-12C, still using a hydro-pneumatic system rather than anti roll bars. But the system was enhanced further by adding a Race mode, which when in use would lower the car 50mm as well as stiffening roll by 3.5 times and heave/pitch stiffness by 1.4. This combined with the active aero system allowed the P1 to generate over 2G of cornering forces. Track performance is where the P1 really excelled, but even on road the car was compliant with a good ride and an approachable nature, providing you don’t switch all the systems off that is.
Stepping away from the specs, the P1s design was a breath of fresh air for a car of its performance. Penned by Frank Stephenson, he described the P1 as “striking but also functional” that means no fake wings, diffusers or vents. A trend that modern designers really should be flogged for. The design needed to be functional as the car was capable of 600kg of downforce at 160mph, at the time a record for a series production car and thanks to the DRS system the P1 could still hit a top speed of 217mph. It did all this without the need for silly trinkets or fripperies and that's why to my eyes the P1 is one of the best designs of the last decade, it’s the right blend of curvaceous and aggressive with everything being there for a reason, function and form done a typically McLaren way.
Contemporary reviews for the P1 were gushing with praise, Pistonheads called it “the bestest, fastest, most exciting car sports/super/hypercar I've driven. Nothing else comes close.” Car magazine claimed, “There’s never been a car that offers such an astonishing breadth of capabilities.” Evo’s review was more of the same “I’ve never, ever driven anything like this”. Clearly it was a car that delivered on its promise. There are some great videos of the P1 online, it's hard to capture a car’s soul but those videos of it mid slide with blue flames coming out of the rear end certainly manage that. I highly recommend giving them a watch later.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the P1’s history was the arms race it took part in, better known as the holy trinity. Porsche, McLaren and Ferrari all planned to release a genre-defining hypercar that would use hybrid technology, although their philosophies were similar the cars couldn’t have been more different. Porsche’s 918 opted for an NA V8, 2 motors and 4WD, Ferrari’s LaFerrari was RWD and used a combination of an NA V12 and a single electric motor. Internet forums were ablaze with fans of each brand claiming their car was the best and the fastest, Nürburgring times were banded around, people questioned why McLaren never released theirs, it all got a little silly. We never really got a true answer as to what was the fastest around a track, with different outlet’s tests reporting different outcomes. For me the P1 was the daddy, but I wouldn't exactly complain if one of the other two appeared on my driveway, all three are phenomenal cars that we haven't seen, nor will ever see again.
That’s how you can sum up the P1, it’s a snapshot in time. Back when we thought a hybrid was a Prius, DRS the stuff of Formula 1 and Race modes a gimmick. The P1 created the mould for the modern supercar and to this day it's yet to be beaten, we will never see another car like it, doesn’t that remind you of another McLaren?