“Unforgiving design in pursuit of absolute performance”. That, in McLaren’s words, is the styling direction of the Senna. It’s not a conventionally beautiful looking car, and comments sections across the internet have been only too happy to point that out. It looks far better in the metal, though. Honest.
It’s claimed to be McLaren’s most extreme track car still able to wear number plates; ‘legalised for road use, but not sanitised to suit it’ is the official company line. The compliant ride of its supercars won’t be present here.
“The design is a reflection of what the car’s intentions are,” says Design Director Rob Melville. “With only 500 cars, we can be super extreme in our approach. But the proportions were a tricky thing to handle.
“On a mid-engined car you normally have a 2:1 ratio on front and rear overhang length. In the McLaren F1 that’s the case. On this car the ratio is maybe 3:1. The reason is more leverage over the front to create downforce. The rear wing can produce 500kg of downforce; you need to produce enough at the front to keep that balanced.”
Downforce is the Senna’s big thing. In total, it produces 800kg, which it reaches at 250kph. While that’s more than any McLaren road car before it, we’re told it’ll still be approachable to drive.
“There is no sudden step into the dynamic unknown,” we’re promised, “rather a predictable build-up of extra grip to accompany the increase in speed.” Active front aero blades work constantly with the angle of the wing to make the car as driveable as possible.
Some more stats have been confirmed, too. Acceleration figures are remarkable; 0-100kph takes 2.8secs, 0-200kph is completed in 6.8secs, while the quarter-mile takes 9.9secs. The top speed is 340kph. Need to stop from 200kph? That’ll take 100 metres.
Traditional performance numbers are only half the Senna’s story, though; the nerdiest nuggets of information come from how it nips under the 1,200kg mark, weighing 1,198kg dry.
The rear LED strips are far more prosaic in design to a P1’s, halving their weight to 1kg, while the half-drop side windows nod to the McLaren F1, but also cut the size of electronics needed to whirr them down. They also allow the windows to be flush against the door.
If it all sounds a bit too technical, then there’s a fun side to its geekery. The 588kW 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 – McLaren’s most powerful internal combustion engine yet – is fed air by a roof snorkel, which also boosts the aural drama in the cabin. The front splitter is designed to be easily and (relatively) cheaply replaced should you chin some kerbing, inspiring plenty of commitment from its driver on track.
Then there are the doors, with their extrovert lower glass panels. Not for showing off your trouser and shoe choice to passers-by – though you might want to dress more carefully – but for heightening your sensations on the move.
“Once you’re driving quickly you’re not seeing much down there!” says Melville. “It’s that initial sensation, low speed in town or coming out of the pit lane. You’re aware of what’s there, but you’re not using it to position the car. It just feels faster!
“What I take pride in is that I can walk around the car and explain everything on it, justify why it’s like that. When we can explain the logic of how we got there, the jigsaw starts to fit together.”
To prove his point, McLaren reckons you can’t follow a single styling line from the front to the rear without it passing through a functional intake or vent.
“Seeing it in motion always helps,” adds Melville. “It’s like the difference between seeing a lion in a cage or out on the Savannah. The Senna needs to be seen moving.”
Still not sold on the looks? All 500 were snapped up – at R10m apiece – before any of its buyers saw the design, and McLaren assures us no orders were cancelled once they did.
Mind, it’s easy to make the price swell further. The Senna’s latest round of performance stats have been unveiled alongside a load of new motorsport-inspired colour choices, with Victory Grey pictured above. The most committed can choose Caliber Black, a special finish that uses the minimal amount of liquid possible in painting.
The options list is a thing of wonder, in fact. While McLaren has put huge effort into crafting 8kg, single-piece carbonfibre seats as standard – essentially a cut of carbon with small pads sewn into your body’s touch points – you can option leather Touring seats, which insiders describe as the ‘XL’ option.
There’s also a push-to-drink system, an in-car intercom (a tacit admission of how loud it’s likely to get inside) and a telemetry setup with three cameras, so you can go home and mope about how you messed up the long-right hander on your last lap at the end of the trackday.
While the old McLaren P1 was designed to neatly balance track and road use, the Senna evidently obsesses over the former. Which leaves the upcoming BP23 – the 106-off spiritual successor to the F1 – to balance it out with some road-focused comfort.
“I can’t wait for people to see both cars together, so they can see the embodiment of what’s track and road focused. They complement each other,” says McLaren’s Director of Engineering Design, Dan Parry-Williams.
Are there customers buying both? “Yes. I often wonder whether all the car companies selling these exotic cars are actually selling them all to the same 500 people…”