- Published: Sunday, 17 August 2014 05:50
SINGAPORE — A year ago CarBuyer sat down with McLaren design chief Frank Stephenson for a chat. He had just helped to launch the P1 supercar here, and took time to share his thoughts on a range of subjects, from how it was "kind of easy" to design the P1, to what a fish has to do with the its air manifold.
While we contemplate the 1,000PS P1 GTR, here's a recap of what Stephenson shared with us...
On P1 vs the McLaren F1
“We've moved on a long way since the F1. For McLaren it's important that we start with a clean sheet of paper because we've evolved a lot of new technology since the F1. So the car wasn't designed to be the successor of the F1, it was designed as the spiritual successor, to have that kind of innovation to be at the very top.”
On the P1’s slippery, wild-sculpted shape
“In a way it was kind of easy to design the car, because it wasn't really about trying to make a beautiful car. It was more about bringing in the aerodynamic engineers, and the engine guys and the heat guys and the packaging guys, and just asking, 'Okay, show us what we have to put a skin on top of.' And when they gave it to us — this is the point you need for visibility, this is the point for impact and crash and safety and all that, here's where the engine is, here's where the driver's head and all these things — we basically took those points, we froze them in space, took a sheet from a bed, threw it over there and just let it settle down onto those points, and that was the shape of the car.”
On McLaren’s design approach
“At McLaren, because we have the coolest engineers in the world — they're racecar engineers, they not the typical car engineer, they're like, ‘Yeah, I wanna get a tenth of a second faster next week for the car...’ — they're just hungry to make things that haven't been done before. So if you bring that kind of crazy, creative engineer into the studio at the beginning with a crazy, creative designer, ‘Ker-boom!’ Crazy ideas come out. That's what you get. It's a lot better that way.”
"I brought a sailfish down to the aero department. We replaced the fins with carbonfibre ones and painted it like a racecar. It's really cool."
On the importance of aerodynamic downforce
“Obviously when you have this much horsepower, it's not difficult to get top speed. What's difficult is to make the car controllable and make the car stay glued to the ground. A lot of companies build in downforce but you have to be going 150 mph (240km/h) before you start to feel it. That doesn't make sense for anybody. So if we could get it like way under 100mph (161km/h), then we would bring something new to the game. We've got a car that produces insane amounts, I mean insane amounts of downforce, and that is going to be the secret to making the car feel really stable.”
On fish-inspired turbocharging
“I was inspired very early on at McLaren by a sailfish that I saw at a resort. It’s a fast animal. I bought a sailfish, brought it down to the aero department where we took scans of the surface of it, and then we cut off the fins and replaced them with carbonfibre fins, and then our Formula One painter painted it like a racecar. It's really cool. So we lined the inside of the intake ducting with sailfish scales, and we noticed over 20 percent improvement to the speed of airflow. Never been done before! And even the guys who were doing it were like, ‘This is crazy!’ But the results spoke for themselves. You're speeding up the air going into the engine, so it's like ramming more air in which is what a turbocharger does.”
This interview was first printed in Issue 212 of CarBuyer Singapore
McLaren P1 in a nutshell
Launched here on July 5th by Wearnes Automotives with a price tag of $1,505,000, the P1 is only for private collectors—being left hand drive means it can’t be registered in Singapore. Here's what else you need to know: