In 1988, McLaren took the decision to expand from Formula One and design and build "the finest sports car the world had ever seen". In March 1990 the team that was to create the F1 came together for the first time. In its 20th anniversary year, the McLaren F1 is considered by most people to be one of the greatest cars of all time. Its exclusivity, technical innovation, racing provenance, revolutionary packaging and extraordinary driving experience have made it an icon.
Just two years later, the McLaren F1 road car was launched to the world on 28th May 1992 in Monaco, with the first production car delivered to its proud owner in December 1993.
The F1 defines the McLaren road car DNA
McLaren is a carbon pioneer. The McLaren Formula 1 team was the first team in Formula 1 to use a carbon fibre chassis in 1981. Nine years on, these Formula 1 techniques were developed to create the carbon monocoque for the McLaren F1: the resulting structure weighed just 100kg whilst offering the highest levels of strength and safety. The bare carbon fibre passenger doors weighed just 7 kg each (which included the weight of the side intrusion beam).
The F1 defined the McLaren road car DNA: low weight, low polar moment of inertia, clever packaging, superb quality and innovative design, resulting in an outstanding driving experience.
The F1 bristles with innovative design. The central driving position, which ensures superb visibility and no compromise on control positions for the driver; the pannier side lockers providing unprecedented levels of luggage capacity in a car of this type; the patented suspension system to provide both control and ride quality.
The F1 was launched at a price of £540,000 in 1994, and over the course of the next four years 64 F1, 5 F1 LM and 3 F1 GT road cars were produced, together with 28 F1 GTR race cars. An additional six prototypes were produced.
In October 2008, a delivery mileage F1 was sold at auction for £2.53 million, underlining the F1's status as one of the great motoring icons.
Taking a road car to the track
In 1994, after pressure from owners, McLaren developed a racing version of the F1 road car to run in the FIA GT1 category in the 1995 season. Despite a design and development period of just 3 months, the F1 GTR swept all before it, winning not only the 1995 GT1 Championship, but also the 24 Heures du Mans on its debut. McLaren not only won, but dominated the rain-soaked endurance race, finishing in 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 13th places.
The Le Mans winning F1 GTR was piloted by J.J. Lehto, Yannick Dalmas and Masanori Sekiya. Lehto's performance through the night on a treacherous circuit has been hailed as one of the great racing performances of all time, taking up to 10 seconds a lap off the cars in front of him. The winning car is proudly displayed at the McLaren Technology Centre in exactly the condition that it finished Le Mans in 1995.
Thus the F1 GTR secured for McLaren a unique position in motor racing history, as the only manufacturer to win the Formula 1 World Championship, the Indianapolis 500 and the Le Mans 24 Hours.
McLaren decided to celebrate the extraordinary result at Le Mans by creating 5 F1 LM road cars, one for each F1 that finished this most grueling of races. Launched in McLaren Orange, as used on Bruce McLaren's race cars the 1960s and 70s, and with a derestricted race engine, the LM is not only the most powerful of all F1 variants, but also the most valuable. Formula 1 fans will recognize this as the car which Lewis Hamilton has set his heart on owning.
In 1997, the final iteration of the F1 road car project was built. The F1 GT was built solely to fulfil the new homologation rules for the 1997 GTR race car, of which 10 examples were produced in the same year. Both the GT road car and the 1997 GTR race cars became known as the ‘Longtail', because of the longer front and rear overhangs for improved downforce when racing. Although McLaren only had to build one car for homologation purposes, two more were built following requests from existing F1 owners.
In 1998, with a total of 106 of all variants built and its production run complete, the McLaren F1 went on to achieve its greatest feat outside competitive motorsport. McLaren development and race driver Andy Wallace took XP5, the fifth and final prototype F1 with some 45,000 hard test miles on the clock, to the Ehra-Lessien proving ground in Germany. It was here on 31st March 1998 that the howling V12 propelled him to an amazing 240.1mph. Over 12 years later, this remains a world record for a naturally aspirated production car.