February 17, 2017 @ 03:41 PM

Legends and Legacies: McLaren F1

This is the fastest naturally aspirated road car in the world. Still is, even in 2017.

(Image source: supercars.net)


Believe it or not, but the McLaren F1 is really a result of a handful of very powerful men in the automotive industry’s topic of conversation at an airport. The conversation had happened in 1988 when the heads of McLaren’s F1 team were waiting for their flight out of Italy. Technical Director Gordon Murray had decided to sketch out the shape of a one-plus-two-seater sports car that he has been dreaming of since 1969 and Team Principle Ron Dennis had decided that it was time the successful McLaren F1 team create a road car.


With the plan put into motion, the powerful men had went around researching on cars they want to target. And their sights had immediately set to competing with the Honda NSX. Back when the NSX was created, Honda had emphasised that their NSX will have the reliability of a rock, McLaren had also wanted to join the reliability waggon. As such, Murray came to the conclusion that everything on the F1 has to be kept simple hence the use of a naturally aspirated engine and all lightweight technology that his team could get their hands on.


(Image source: wired.com)


But Murray’s version of simple had turned the McLaren F1 into a technological masterpiece. Unlike other supercars of its era, the F1 makes use of active aerodynamic spoilers alongside the usual static spoilers that other supercars have. This allowed the F1 to go faster than any of its competitors and many other cars that came after the supercar.


A group of specifically handpicked engineers had to analyse all existing supercar performance characteristics then rethink all the aspects to make the F1 unique. The engineering team drew on their Formula 1 expertise to do just that.

(Image source: wired.com)


When designing the concept Murray’s most important feature for the F1 was the lightness of the car. So while the Honda NSX had utilised an all-aluminium chassis, the McLaren designers had opted for a carbon-fibre reinforced polymer (CFRP) structure to keep things light. The suspensions system was even mounted to the structure itself using aluminium and magnesium. 


If your knowledge of the motoring scene is still just at the tip of the iceberg, you will probably be surprised that the McLaren F1 is powered by a BMW engine. With the success the Honda engines had brought the F1 team, you would have expected both companies to continue their relationship on the road as well. While Murray did approach the heads of Honda to help power their on-road masterpiece, Honda had declined to provide the engine for the F1, sticking by the masterpiece that is the NSX, Murray then approached BMW to help create a lightweight 500bhp engine.

(Image source: caradvice.com.au)


BMW’s M division had happily taken on the challenge and produced the legendary 6.1-litre 618bhp V12 engine for the car. They even manage to keep the engine light at 266kg, 16kg more than what Murray had envisioned. Because carbon-fibre requires massive amount of heat insulation, hence the need of so many air intakes on an F1 race car to keep the engine cool, Murray devised a way to keep things cool in the engine bay was to line the sides with highly efficient heat reflector, which is gold foil. Yeap, a total of 16g of gold is lined in each F1’s engine bay. This car is literally made of gold!


With a transverse six-speed manual gearbox, the F1 is able to make the century sprint in 3.2 seconds. The McLaren F1 is capable of reaching a top speed of 386.4kph, hence the reason why the F1 became the fastest supercar with a naturally aspirated engine in the world. I know, the Bugatti Veyron and the Koenigsegg Agera R has since beat the F1’s record when they were introduced but since both cars make use of a force induction system, the F1 falls into a different category from the cars.

(Image source: caradvice.com.au)


Only 106 units of the F1 was ever made and sold, making the F1 one of the rarest cars that the world has ever seen. Of course, with McLaren’s involvement in motorsports it wasn’t long before they started the movement to put the F1 in a race. But before they can officially start racing McLaren had to satisfy the homologation rules so they had to make three examples of the F1 GTR with longer front and rear overhangs to generate considerably more downforce than the standard F1 cars. The Longtails did their job brilliantly hence the F1 GTR was build and used to race in the 1995 24 hour of Le Mans which the car had famously conquered all top four places on its debut run.


Jerrica Leong


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