McLaren P1 - still incredible, 5 years on

03rd October 2017
David Green

Why are we driving and writing about a car that has ceased production? Well, to celebrate five years since its launch at the Paris motor show, McLaren has dusted down its P1 press car ‘P1 OOV’ and invited us to remember what was so special about this car.


P1 OOV’ is the P1 that did the hard yards trumpeting the merits of McLaren’s first hypercar of the 21st century. With over 20,000 miles of spirited driving under its belt, this was the car Jeremy Clarkson thrashed around Spa, Jenson Button up the Goodwood Hill and the one that graced the cover and pages of pretty much every global car mag. This is to be its last hurrah before it is put into retirement and its next chapter of playing bridge and watching episodes of Pointless with the Porsche 918 and the Ferrari LaFerrari. 

Whilst the MP4-12C was the debutant for the brand as its re-launch vehicle, it was always going to be the P1 that set the scene. So, I didn’t envy Director of Engineering Design, Dan Parry-Williams' hand-wringing decision when he had to stick his flag in the sand and decree that the successor to the mighty F1 would be... wait for it, a ‘hybrid’. Let's not forget, this had not been done before. The Porsche 918 had been unveiled as a concept, but in production car terms, the public’s hybrid touchstone was, at the time, the less-than-electric Prius. The thought of that powertrain in any supercar, never mind one in the mythical bloodline of the F1, was bold, to say the least. The result, of course, is a masterpiece. 

The location of the birthday party was the gorgeous Scottish countryside and a drive to the Knockhill racetrack. Maybe it was because I was on wet b-roads caked in mud and also the constant reminder that this was not just any P1, but the most valuable P1 of all, that I was a little more focused than usual. However, in reality, it was just the ferocious potential of this car that made me a little tense… in a good way. This isn’t a car that you have to wake up. It’s there, present, waiting to pounce. It was the first time I can remember getting into a car and checking to make sure the traction control was on, as opposed to switching it off.

From behind the wheel, you instinctively feel this is a car built with the driver's sensory satisfaction at the forefront. Even today, brake electric re-gen with no effect on feel has yet to be mastered, so it was well avoided in this car. That brake feel combined with transcendent steering and a satisfyingly long and responsive throttle pedal gets the blood flowing and pupils dilating long before you are anywhere near the car's full potential. 


The big turbos spooling up in earshot just behind you gives an audible impression of lag, but in reality, this is dialled out by the electric motor that exists as the second power source in the Mac. Although it will propel you in silent electric-only mode (a neat trick when wanting an early morning drive without disturbing the neighbours), the real purpose is to ‘torque fill’ gaps in the combustion engine's power curve.

The result is relentless acceleration that takes some getting used to if you’re not one of the 20 employees of the F1 grid. Another hypercar around at the P1 launch in 2012 with similar horsepower was the Veyron. In the Bugatti with your right foot pinned to the floor, you marvel at the way the weight of the vehicle is thrust forward, not unlike a jet on a runway. The P1 is totally different. Dare to fully open the throttle and this thing catches fire. You are completely unaware of its mass and it feels like you have been strapped to a firework. The effect is nerve jangling.

Race mode was not necessary by the time we got to a damp, slippery Knockhill circuit. What was needed was a large amount of concentration. In the conditions we had, it was largely an exercise in restraint, to avoid the embarrassment of the gravel trap, but the P1's implied track nous was tacitly understood.

Back in the real world, it's undoubtedly an easy car to drive at low speed, even in town centres, but I couldn’t help sense that the car was screaming at me constantly “come on, I dare you”. You emerge from a P1 fizzing as if you have somehow been wired into that electric motor yourself.

So while not quite a eulogy, this is a homage to what will certainly but looked upon as an epoch-defining supercar.

Let's hope Mclaren make a habit of this press car birthday thing!

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