Last year, EVO produced a fabulous comparison of McLaren’s storied siblings, the F1 and the P1. If you can spare 15 minutes for utter captivation, click the sideways triangle below (and use headphones for aural bliss).
After spending most of the video being rather envious of Henry Catchpole’s occupation, his closing words on the F1 struck me as being subtly poignant. He speaks of the way the F1 involves the driver’s every sense, constantly communicating and brimming with character. Though the P1 would surely spank the F1 round a circuit, its technological wizardry seems to dampen its soul. There is no more fitting time to use the cliche: they don’t make them like they used to. Where did the soul go?
There seem to be two obvious factors responsible for the evolution of the P1, and the apparent abandonment of the F1′s spirit. Firstly, McLaren is a business that sells cars, and if its mega-wealthy customers don’t want to buy its mega-expensive machinery, McLaren doesn’t make any money. So perhaps customer demand has forced McLaren’s hand, dictating that it offer vehicles which naturally sacrifice old-school soul for modern engineering and performance.
Secondly and probably, the P1 is a chance for McLaren to flex their engineering muscles. The car offers a ludicrous 904 horsepower hybrid powertrain, adaptive suspension, prodigiously quick paddle shifters, multiple driving modes, more driver’s aids than you can shake a stick at (get it, because the stick is gone), and a toaster oven that makes a full English breakfast, right from the comfort of the driver’s bucket (I may or may not be lying about that one). Gone horsepower happy and used all your petrol? Not to worry — you can even putter along in full electric mode. So, the P1 is a show of McLaren’s innovation and technological prowess, which involves making the car’s staggering performance accessible for any loaded lad lucky enough to own one.
But perhaps there’s an even simpler explanation. At the time of its release, the F1 established the absolute cutting edge of road-going technology. For the early 1990′s, that meant a naturally aspirated V12 driven through 6 manual gears, without any electronic obstruction between driver and driving. If McLaren’s engineers could have built the P1 in 1992, they most certainly would have. The F1′s design and engineering, coupled with the era’s available technology, created a moment of mechanical serendipity that many revere as the greatest driving experience ever built.
The P1 is a masterful creation. It’s jaw-droppingly gorgeous and ferociously fast. Between the two, it’s probably the more comfortable car for a road trip, more practical for regular driving, easier to drive fast, and far faster when hustled round a circuit. Yet none of that astonishing performance can diminish the F1′s soul. It is sensational in the literal sense of the word. The most magnificent 12 cylinder symphony bursts into song with each stab of your right foot. It takes effort to drive, to steer, to shift its gears, but that effort only leads to an uncommon intimacy so lacking in today’s machines. The P1 might be masterful, but the F1 is a masterpiece.