Inside McLaren Automotive: The Launch of a New Car Company
McLaren's unique ambition
To build a brand new car is a challenge; to build a brand new sports car that is ground-breaking, efficient, high-quality, lightweight, practical, dynamic, safe, comfortable, and visually arresting is a greater challenge still.
McLaren Automotive will take the challenge to a rare, and possibly unique, level. Starting with the MP4-12C, the new company will design and develop a range of premium high-performance sports cars with such attributes from components that are bespoke, innovative and unique. It will then produce them in a new manufacturing facility with the intention of selling and servicing through a dedicated global retail network. Finally the aim is to service customers and cars to a higher level of quality than any premium sports car business has ever offered.
What credentials does McLaren offer to take such bold and courageous steps?
Ron Dennis, McLaren Automotive Chairman
The answer starts with the vision, ambition and drive of McLaren Automotive's Chairman, Ron Dennis: "McLaren's first and founding principle was to compete successfully in motor sport and particularly Formula 1. That goal has taken us to great heights; from an engineering and innovation perspective, and by rewarding our people for their endeavours over many long seasons of top level motor racing.
"But despite all the trophies and great racing successes, there comes a time when the maturity of a company and its future development depends on broadening its activities.
"We have long held the dream of building a range of innovative McLaren sports cars. Sports cars that take the raw elements of Formula 1 principles, processes and performance and forge them into a unique package that adds the requirements of quality, efficiency, comfort and reliability - traditionally opposing goals that I know we can deliver.
"McLaren's modern history began 30 years ago with an operation of 50 people dedicated solely to winning Grands Prix. Everything we have achieved as a well-honed and fiercely competitive team over the past three decades has prepared us for this moment.
"McLaren Group and McLaren Automotive now employ around 1,500 people - all dedicated and passionate about being the best. And launching a new car company and our first car, of which I am very proud. The 12C will support the long-term future of McLaren and our people.
"This new business will also bring into the UK new investment, a new manufacturing facility - the McLaren Production Centre - and new skilled jobs within the UK's network of high-tech manufacturing and engineering businesses. I believe that McLaren Automotive is good example of how the UK can develop a new, innovative and globally influential manufacturing base, through technological innovation in design and build-processes.
"Launching a new car company is a great challenge that is exciting everyone at McLaren. Everything is in place and on schedule for the first of our new range of cars to go on sale in the first half of 2011. These are exciting times - for McLaren, for car enthusiasts and, just as importantly, for people who are passionate about technology, innovation and engineering," Dennis concluded.
McLaren Automotive today
Although McLaren's heritage lies principally on the race circuit, the blend of qualities such as ambition, drive and commitment, with more tangible assets such as aerodynamic skills, rapid development through simulation techniques, supreme electronics expertise and a ruthless quest for reliability, have equipped the company to turn Ron Dennis and his shareholders' dreams into reality.
Taking the vision and turning that into an effective, profitable and world-class car company lies in the hands of McLaren Automotive's Managing Director, Antony Sheriff, and the teams run by his fellow directors, Alan Foster (Operations Director), Dick Glover (Technical Director), Paul Mackenzie (Projects Director), Mario Micheli (Commercial and Marketing Director), Frank Stephenson (Design Director), Mark Vinnels (Programme Director), Mark Wilson (Finance Director), and Ben Wright (Purchasing Director).
The first car in the range, the 12C is now in the final stages of development, and the first stages of production. It has been designed and developed by a world-class team of engineers and test drivers, and will be built to world-class levels of quality and reliability. All development processes have benefited from McLaren's expertise in Formula 1, and constant integration with the racing team's techniques and personnel will set new standards in performance for the road.
Sheriff summed up the focus for McLaren Automotive, inspired by high expectations laid down through the years at McLaren, ""The overriding principle that has driven us to where we are today is that every car will be ‘pure' McLaren. This means that each and every component has been conceived, designed and produced to McLaren's specification to meet the extreme requirements of the 12C. There are no carryover components, because they were not good enough. Similarly, our test programmes, production processes and aftersales plans are also brand new and bespoke to McLaren. We have considered everything from a blank sheet of paper to be the best. Being "as good" as everyone else is not good enough; we need to be the best
"Whether it's the revolutionary carbon MonoCell to the switchgear, or a desire to design cars that can be repaired more quickly and accurately than our competitors, we will deliver cars and a service to our customers, of which we are personally proud.
"One fundamental result of this passion to produce a pure McLaren is that the 12C is what I call the ‘and' car. Compared to its competition, it will have better performance ‘and' be more fuel efficient; it will be lighter ‘and' stronger, safer, and fully equipped; it will be smaller in its exterior dimensions ‘and' spacious inside; it will better handling ‘and' be more comfortable.
"As for the 12C's performance, efficiency is a key aim; efficiency in performance is a goal that we believe our customers will appreciate. With 600PS it will be the most powerful car in its class, yet aiming to produce CO2 figures below 300g/km, we expect to produce each horsepower more efficiently than any car on sale today featuring a petrol, diesel or hybrid engine.
"And our performance goals do not just relate to the 12C, but the car ownership experience itself: McLaren Automotive will offer new standards of customer service through its dedicated network of the world's best car retailers.
"When I came here, Ron inspired me with his belief that winning Formula 1 races was simply doing your job. After that, it was a question of how you won, how immaculate was the car, how polished the team that delivered that victory. That's the winning attitude that permeates throughout McLaren Automotive and sets us apart from our competitors," Sheriff concluded.
Formula 1 at the heart of McLaren Automotive
Ron Dennis may be the inspiration behind the company, and Antony Sheriff the man best placed to deliver the vision, but it is the shared drive and ambition of McLaren's management and employees that make the company's objectives achievable. It is this conviction that drives McLaren to ever more challenging goals and the culture within Woking is one of ‘can do', not let's take the convenient or the obvious road.
"Our entire approach to the way we do things is to take qualified risks and push what is possible," explained Sheriff. "While many competitors move towards the ‘edge' of what is possible, we go to the ‘edge of the edge'. Only by pushing the extremes of what is possible can we produce a car and ownership experience that has a shot at challenging to be the best. If took the easy road, we would not produce something that was worthy of bearing the McLaren name."
So, it is in the cultural attitude of its people that McLaren's heritage begins. While no one would claim that building a road car is inherently the same as designing a Formula 1 racing car, the attitudes of the 12C's creators are highly influenced by the culture that is borne of Formula 1.
The interplay between engineers in Racing and Automotive, and career moves from one to the other, provide a cross-pollination that benefits the whole company.
Dick Glover, McLaren Automotive's Technical Director, outlined the benefits that McLaren's Formula 1 expertise brings to the McLaren Automotive project.
"With the technologies available to all car companies today, it's not, in principle, difficult to build a relatively fast, exciting and dramatic sports car, but that's not our ambition. We want to deliver the best possible high-performance sports car from day one into a mature global market of very good cars.
"Having come from the McLaren Group's Formula 1 operation, I know first-hand the benefits of integration in areas such as aerodynamics, simulation or packaging.
"The culture and attitudes from Formula 1, the state-of-the-art development programmes, processes and hardware, and the access to the best drivers in the world give us a serious advantage in developing this car," he concluded.
A roll-call of names offers evidence of how McLaren is integrating Formula 1 with the development of the 12C:
Simon Lacey - previously Head of Aerodynamics in McLaren Racing; is now Head of Vehicle Technology for McLaren Automotive, responsible for aerodynamics, thermal management, structural analysis and systems engineering.
Marcus Waite - previously Senior Test Engineer at McLaren Racing; is now Vehicle Development Team Leader for McLaren Automotive.
Richard Hopkirk - previously one of Lewis Hamilton's race tacticians; is now part of the McLaren Automotive vehicle projects team.
Paul Burnham - previously the racing team's dynamics engineer for tyres; is now responsible for ride and handling development, including the car company's use of the Formula 1 simulator.
Richard Felton - previously responsible for vehicle instrumentation, harnessing and electronics in the racing team; is now McLaren Automotive's Vehicle Controls Manager responsible for software and electronic control systems.
Felton summed up the value that racing experience can bring to road car design: "I came from the defence sector to join McLaren Racing, bringing my experience of test rigs and simulation, before transferring to Automotive. Did racing change my approach to engineering? Absolutely. It changed how I behave and how I approach my work. It is a matter of achieving performance targets by lateral thinking.
"In Formula 1, development happens at an incredible pace - the regime has to be more flexible and rapid, and so engineers are responsible for making changes and adding features; the individual then carries out the testing that he decides is necessary rather than against a rigid process. It unlocks the depth and richness of individual creativity, and with that comes the responsibility of maintaining high standards under pressure.
Naturally, high performance road cars demand high levels of integrity for the vehicle's control systems, and at McLaren Automotive we complement the rapid development approach of Formula 1 with rigorous testing; firstly in a controlled development environment, and then under extreme vehicle dynamics and road and weather conditions. The end result fuses Formula 1's thirst for performance with the rigours of high performance road car control system development.
"If you seek to achieve a certain goal and you follow a well-trodden path, you will end up with the same answer as everyone else. Most engineers in Formula 1 have a different mindset: they do not take the most obvious or direct route. People generally are very quick to say why something won't work. More creative people will find ways to make something work. It is a lateral mindset and Formula 1 has influenced the work we do in the McLaren Automotive team," he concluded.
A prime example of Felton's work and how it has benefitted from his time in Racing can be seen on the software for the 12C's Powertrain Chassis Control Unit (PCCU). A traditional car company could take up to two months to develop the software solutions that Felton and his team were able to develop and test in a matter of hours. For example, the software for the Pre-Cog function on the transmission (see p.18). Once Pre-Cog was agreed as a concept and specified for the 12C, Felton and his team had written the software and released it into the PCCU with a steering wheel that could demonstrate it within a couple of days. Within 72 hours, McLaren Automotive test drivers were able to assess the system.
Alan Foster, McLaren Automotive's Operations Director, offers another example of how integration between, and development within, Formula 1 and the automotive business is inherent within McLaren: "A key member of our production team, Metin Afiya, started out 14 years ago as the offside front wheel changer in the Formula 1 team. Through the company's development programmes, he was offered an engineering role in Racing. Then he came across to be a development driver for the SLR, moved on to production and has since progressed to General Assembly Manager on the production line.
"The link between Formula 1 and road cars is often trumpeted by manufacturers but, with our teams and processes under one roof at the McLaren Technology Centre, we have a huge advantage in truly integrating the best systems, people and practices," explained Foster. "On a daily basis we are inspired by McLaren Racing's ethos. The McLaren Technology Centre encourages transfer of Formula 1 technology and creativity and it brings urgency to problem solving.
"A ‘can do' attitude pervades everything McLaren people do. But we only do things if they improve performance and quality - form follows function. All our people are schooled in these philosophies and the propagation of intellect, ideas and knowledge across the group's companies is an incredibly powerful asset," concluded Foster.
It is this link between Formula 1 processes, people and technologies and the new car company that fundamentally drives McLaren Automotive's programme to-date. Decades of successful motor racing across a unique blend of racing series and two iconic road car projects are distilled under one roof at the McLaren Technology Centre (MTC) to produce the unique car that is the McLaren MP4-12C.
Racing and road car heritage
McLaren now has a heritage of 47 years, in 44 of which it has been represented at the pinnacle of motorsport. As of the end of the 2009 Formula 1 season, it has won 164 of the 664 Grands Prix in which the team has competed. It has been home to seven world champions (Fittipaldi, Hunt, Lauda, Prost, Senna, Häkkinen and Hamilton), who delivered 12 Drivers' Formula 1 World Championships. It has won eight Formula 1 Constructors' World Championships. McLaren has achieved 145 pole positions, 436 podiums, 44 double wins (one-twos) and 136 fastest laps. On average, McLaren has been on the podium on two of every three races in which it has competed.
In addition, McLaren has won 43 Can Am races taking five titles, and three Indy 500 victories, as well as the Le Mans 24 Hour race on its debut in 1995. McLaren has even won the Goodwood soapbox downhill race organised at Lord March's Festival of Speed - in 2002, MP4-T5 won on its only appearance and set the course record, piloted by Chris Goodwin, McLaren Automotive's Chief Test Driver.
However, this proud and unique motor racing record should not overshadow the achievements made by the company in road-going cars.
The McLaren F1 was, and in many eyes remains, the definitive sports car: the first road car with a carbon fibre construction. Only 107 examples of this iconic supercar were made, but at a recent auction one sold for £2.53 million, almost five times its original retail price and unheard of for a modern car. It was also the last true road car to win Le Mans and the first to achieve this feat since the ‘60s. It was the most expensive, the most exclusive, the fastest and the best to drive.
The second car was the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren that completed its production run in December 2009.
The SLR was conceived and styled by Mercedes-Benz as a powerful, touring sports car before being presented to McLaren Automotive to engineer, develop and manufacture. The SLR was prodigiously fast, exclusive and a technological tour de force. With over 2,100 examples produced, the SLR became the most successful ultimate supercar ever built.
The F1 and SLR projects have earned McLaren its credentials as the world's most experienced car company working with carbon.
Carbon composite - the Formula 1 connection
The carbon composite monocoque, or chassis, is a trademark feature on both McLaren production cars, but the company's involvement with carbon goes back much further.
McLaren was, in fact, the pioneer in bringing this strong, light and safe material from the aerospace industry to Formula 1 in the 1981 McLaren MP4/1 - Ron Dennis' first Formula 1 car at McLaren. At the time, carbon fibre composites were reasonably commonplace in the aerospace industry, but as the basis for a racing car chassis it was entirely new. Its impact in motor racing was absolute, and McLaren's application of carbon technology was even recycled back into aerospace.
Aerospace engineers were astounded with the MP4/1's crash performance in the 1981 Italian Grand Prix when John Watson's car was sliced in two after he went off the road. The carbon monocoque structure remained intact, even as the engine and transmission were torn off, and Watson walked away unscathed from a 140mph impact. The team was subsequently approached by Britain's Civil Aviation Authority whose technical officers wanted to share the data arising from the Monza incident.
Having set the trend, all McLaren's competitors were compelled to follow suit. Firstly, carbon fibre was light and weight reduction has always been the Holy Grail for racing car designers. Not only is it light, its strength to weight ratio is considerably greater than that of aluminium alloy structures that were the accepted norm of the time.
Furthermore, carbon fibre is torsionally rigid creating a sound basis for locating moving parts such as suspension, thereby offering greater accuracy in maintaining geometry and tyre contact with the road. Its other main advantages are strength and safety: in a sport that lost many drivers, a carbon safety cell does much to help them survive massive impacts.
Another huge benefit of carbon technology can be seen at any Grand Prix when cars come in to replace the nose structure after contact.
"The whole operation to change a nose cone takes a matter of seconds," explained Mark Vinnels, McLaren Automotive's Programme Director. "The reason it is so simple is the extreme tolerances and accuracy that can be achieved with carbon structures. However many times one manufactures a component from a carbon fibre mould it will fit...time after time after time.
"This has a real benefit for our future 12C owners," Vinnels continued. "No car has such a modular interface between the cockpit safety cell and the front and rear sacrificial structures. In the event of a crash, a new aluminium front or rear structure can be taken off the shelf and fitted quickly, accurately and safely to the MonoCell. With a fully welded or bolted aluminium structure, such an impact would require cutting, welding and adapting the new parts into the structure that remains undamaged.
"Clearly, such an occurrence will be rare for 12C owners, but it was still vitally important for us to ensure that ease and accuracy of repair has been integrated into McLaren's design process," he concluded.
It was natural that McLaren would feature a carbon monocoque in the 12C; it has never made a road car without carbon fibre and hasn't made an aluminium race car for 30 years. The carbon MonoCell that forms the 12C's structural core is a direct descendent of McLaren's pioneering role in employing this medium, therefore all of this expertise lies at the heart of the 12C...and no other car in its class. It is commonplace in racing but still rare in road cars, and McLaren is the first company to bring carbon chassis technology to the ‘core' market sector of performance sports cars priced between £125,000 and £175,000.
Like carbon composite technology, aerodynamics filtered into motor sport from aerospace. Early attempts at aerodynamics in motor racing consisted of attaching strands of wool to the body surfaces and filming where the airflow blew them. This evolved into using scale models in wind-tunnels to measure aerodynamic forces. As computers have grown in power, Computational Fluid Dynamics programmes (CFD) have come to the fore, allowing the complete air flow around the car to be mapped and predicted, (CFD - predicts the behaviour of fluids - gases and liquids - by advanced computational methods).
Naturally McLaren has played a major part in honing the accuracy of wind tunnel use and data interpretation through its work with the Formula 1 team. This experience, and its own in-house wind tunnel and aerodynamic expertise at the MTC, has considerably benefitted the 12C's development.
Simon Lacey, McLaren Automotive's Head of Vehicle Technology, explained: "Formula 1 requires small, multi-disciplined, fast-working teams where people can see an idea through from conception to the end product. Bringing that working ethos into McLaren Automotive, combined with using the same CFD software and development methodology as the racing team, is a huge advantage for us.
"Typically, car companies can have dozens of people working on CFD; we have far less. But our Formula 1 codes, knowledge and mindset allow them to operate ten times more effectively. Plus, add to that the fact that our methods have been developed and proven on Formula 1 cars' aerodynamics, which work the air far harder than even a sports car, and it allows us to have absolute faith in what CFD tells us.
"The next step is to take our aerodynamic simulation results to the test track," continued Lacey.
"This is often a case of simply proving what we already know from years of experience, but incredibly we still find one of the best methods to confirm the flow of air over the car is as predicted, is by placing a special oil-based paint on key areas of the bodywork. Seeing where the paint travels as the car cuts through the air at speed can be very insightful. We do this in both Formula 1 and on the 12C testing programmes."
Testing, simulation, validation
Although testing on track within the Formula 1 season is now banned, developments can be made by simulation. Witness the massive improvement made by the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team during the 2009 season: the MP4-24 was off the pace at the first race by over a second. In the first nine GPs the team managed to score just 14 points while the team leading the championship scored 112. In the last eight races, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes won two races and scored 57 points, almost as many as the eventual Constructors' Champion. If the season had been run over the last eight races, Lewis Hamilton would have retained his Formula 1 Drivers' World Championship.
What this shows is that the Woking organization has the skill, drive and focus to bounce back from a below-par position at the same time as every other team is still trying to further improve their own cars - in other words to make progress up the leaderboard it is necessary to be faster, more responsive and more flexible than competitors. With the testing ban in place the burden of driving forward Formula 1 car development has fallen even more on the shoulders of simulation, so McLaren has developed one of the most sophisticated driving simulators in the world. It is an immensely powerful tool that can be used to predict handling, performance, and a multitude of other dynamic properties.
This is the simulator that has also been used intensively in the design and development process for the 12C. It saves both money and time and is perhaps the most effective technology transfer from Formula 1 to road cars. For example, modelling offers the opportunity to test likely outcomes without having to build a component that might turn out to be inadequate, and the 12C's handling and suspension was developed using exactly the same tools and techniques as the McLaren Formula 1 cars.
The crash test requirements are also a good example of how simulation helps speed up development. Long before the first carbon MonoCell had been constructed, the design had been through hundreds of passive crash test simulations. When the time came to submit a real world crash test, the MonoCell passed with flying colours.
"Outside McLaren, it is almost unknown to meet our standards out of the box," said Dick Glover, "but simulation worked out perfectly for us. It is difficult enough to achieve first time success like this with just a relatively predictable, ductile aluminium structure yet McLaren managed first time out with its MonoCell and added aluminium structures. We are very proud of that."
Simulation didn't stop at the design stage. Although over 20 prototypes have been built for an exhaustive test programme around the globe, the simulator remains a key tool and a differentiator from most competitors. Before the first prototype was available, the dynamic test team, aided by professional racing driver and McLaren Automotive's Chief Test Driver, Chris Goodwin, tested early parts on the simulator as well as a development chassis and various engine mules. When dynamic testing started, development and constant refinement of engine, gearbox, tyres, aerodynamics, braking, steering and suspension began in earnest to match all projected values and targets.
"The simulator enables a driver in a real cabin environment to drive on a virtual representation of a test track or race circuit through the use of sophisticated dynamic computer models," explained Geoff Grose, McLaren Automotive's Head of Testing and Development. "We get a very realistic assessment of how the car reacts to, say, Brake Steer. If an adjustment improves the performance we can add it to the car and test it on track almost immediately. It saves time and money," Grose confirmed.
The testing programme moved into a more ‘aggressive' phase in late-09 with a series of XP Beta test cars, following the principles of Formula 1 testing where a car and a team of between 20 and 30 development engineers and technicians maximise track time during the day and work on improvements overnight. The principle is ‘why test one thing when you can do 10?'
Prototypes went to a test track in Spain with the McLaren Automotive development team and key suppliers. The cars followed a rigorous regime of testing almost 24 hours a day, seven days a week for six weeks. This turbocharged programme accelerated the development time and benefitted from a multi-skilled test team, composed of engineers experienced in Formula 1 and road car development, as well as experienced racing drivers.
"Combining our Formula 1 experience, the sophisticated and rapid simulation programmes, and the use of professional racing drivers is the ultimate package in developing a sports car," said Geoff Grose. "Working with racing drivers and racing car development techniques allows us to achieve targets that others may not even contemplate, both in ultimate performance as well as the overall package.
"We can relatively quickly deliver a dynamically impressive sports car that leaves ample development time to achieve our ultimate goal: to make its performance rewarding for every owner, no matter what their driving ambitions. So, the 12C is very fast and engaging at speed, but also very comfortable and easy to drive day-to-day," he concluded.
Engine development: power, speed and efficiency
Racing engines are designed to produce high power, as much usable torque as possible and to be light and reliable. Although not all these characteristics have the same priorities for road use, they are all relevant in the development of an engine for a sports car in many ways.
The 12C's M838T engine is a brand new unit designed for road use using racing principles. It is bespoke to McLaren Automotive and is undergoing final development with engine specialist Ricardo. It meets all the objectives the company set for an engine that complements the whole package of the car.
Like a Formula 1 engine it is both light and compact and features a relatively small swept volume of 3.8 litres. Cylinder block and heads are made from aluminum alloy, whilst the entire intake manifold and cam covers are constructed of high-performance lightweight plastics. The M838T is a low weight alternative to the larger capacity engines that power all other cars in the 12C's market segment.
Power and driveable torque are the requirements in motorsport but for road use there is a requirement for greater flexibility with less focus on absolute output. Yet, in the 12C, the M838T still aims to marry a huge output for this size of engine - around 600PS - with prodigious torque (600Nm) spread over a wide rev range.
The wide, flat torque curve is achieved courtesy of twin turbochargers, a form of forced induction that reigned in Formula 1 between 1983 and 1988. It is notable that in three of these years McLaren won the Formula 1 Constructors' Championship.
Not only is the race-derived M838T powerful, flexible, compact and light, it also sits low in the rear subframe - the race-derived dry sump and flat plane crank maintains a very low centre of gravity - another quality prized in racing.
It is also the most efficient engine ever seen in a high-performance sports car. One doesn't normally associate fuel economy with Formula 1 but, of course, the less fuel a racing car carries, the lighter it can be built. And with new rules for the 2010 FIA Formula 1 World Championship ruling out fuel stops, efficiency and performance have never been closer bed-fellows.
In the case of the 12C, McLaren Automotive is only too aware that efficiency in terms of consumption and emissions is just as important in the sports car sector as it is in any other. And, just as in McLaren's motor racing development, any efficiencies that can be achieved are a sign of good engineering husbandry - the difference between winning and losing. The 12C will, therefore, be the most efficient car in its segment, as well as being the fastest and the most effective at coming to a stop.
Behind the engine lies a seven speed Seamless Shift dual clutch gearbox (SSG). This unit, too, has been influenced by racing design, seamless shifts having been pioneered in Formula 1 by McLaren. This lightweight bespoke and multi-programme gearbox is operated by a Formula 1-inspired rocker mounted on the steering wheel, thus enabling gear changes to be made by either hand, even when lock is applied.
Completing the driver-powertrain connection is a further Formula 1-inspired asset. Nowhere is the direct link between McLaren's racing pedigree and its road car aspirations felt more directly than in the steering wheel.
The driver's grip is the most tactile component of any car: it is the tool that gives the most feedback to the driver and, therefore, assumes a huge responsibility in communicating what the car is doing.
A Formula 1 steering wheel per se would be of little value in a sports car, being covered in buttons and switches that allow the driver to alter a multitude of car characteristics whilst racing; sports car drivers on the road tend to set-up the car's various handling and dynamic parameters before setting off. However the steering wheel on the 12C does have one very close tie to Formula 1. Its shape is modelled exactly on McLaren's Formula 1 drivers' hand grips. A Computer-Aided Design of past world champions' grips were captured and the steering wheel thickness replicated to match.
Formula 1-inspired electronic systems
McLaren established its own electronics company, McLaren Electronic Systems, in 1989, anticipating that this discipline would form a greater part of the company's future success. Many of the electronics innovations developed by McLaren have now been banned from Formula 1, but that does not prevent their use in road cars.
A direct outcome of FIA regulations saw electronics standardised in Formula 1 from 2008. McLaren Electronic Systems, with its technical partner Microsoft Corporation, was awarded the contract to supply the electronics and software to all Formula 1 teams. McLaren Electronic Systems also supply ECUs to the 12C.
"McLaren Automotive is in a great position to benefit from Formula 1 electronics innovation, especially when new technologies on racing cars are subsequently ruled out whether through cost or perceived unfair performance advantages," said Dick Glover. "There are no such rules for road cars, so we can stretch minds and utilise innovations from previous Formula 1 campaigns to push performance, but also improve safety and efficiency," he concluded.
Sophisticated traction control and engine management systems were developed intensively by McLaren for its racing cars in the 1990s. The store of experience built up within the company has played an important role in the development of the 12C. Brake Steer, the Powertrain and Chassis Control Unit (PCCU), and a function called Pre-Cog on the SSG transmission are unique electronic applications that highlight McLaren's advantage in this area.
- Brake Steer is a development of a system used by McLaren's 1997 MP4-12 Formula 1 car. In essence, it is a system that constantly assesses the car's behaviour on entering or exiting a fast corner, braking the inside rear wheel to ensure power is put down as effectively as possible, preventing understeer that would force the car to slide. It assesses the steering angle to determine the driver's intended course and, without the driver noticing, applies the inside rear brake to increase yaw rate and maintain the desired course and power. It is both a safety tool and a performance aid. When the car is entering a corner too quickly to make the desired radius, it will manage the tendency to wash out and bring its nose back on line. Under more controlled conditions, it will fine-tune a good driver's ability to maintain power going into a corner, and allow power to be put down earlier in a controlled manner on exiting a corner when the inside rear has a tendency to spin. It exceeds the performance of a limited slip differential and obviates the need for such a complex and heavy unit, thus saving more valuable kilos.
- The Powertrain and Chassis Control Unit (PCCU) is an in-house development that manages the relationship between ‘Powertrain' (engine and transmission) responses, and ‘Handling' via the McLaren ‘Proactive' Chassis Control system. Powertrain and Handling have three modes each that are selected on the Active Dynamics Panel between driver and passenger, which adjusts numerous parameters in each system. Both feature a ‘normal', a ‘sport' and a high performance mode (termed ‘track').
McLaren found on testing benchmark cars, that such sophisticated electronics can either mask a car's character or offer no real discernible benefit, but in the case of the 12C it is really possible to feel each of the three modes. The 12C has a variety of distinct and distinctive characters. It even changes the aural sensations according to mode to give the driver another sensation by which to judge his involvement with the car. This, too, is controlled by the PCCU.
- The 12C's SSG transmission is complemented by Pre-Cog, another derivation of McLaren Formula 1 technology. Pre-Cog is actuated by applying initial pressure on the gear change rocker which primes the clutch and torque handover. Second pressure completes the desired change and Pre-Cog saves milliseconds in the process. Pre-Cog offers new levels of driver engagement for a seamless shift gearbox - the driver either actively priming the ‘box ready for gearchange if he knows the road or the track and the point for the perfect gear shift, or simply pulling through the gearchanges rapidly, allowing the electronics to prime the ‘box accordingly. Either way, gear changes themselves are faster.
The final, and probably overriding, influence from McLaren's motor racing endeavours is the constant battle to reduce weight. Weight is the enemy of performance in every area of car design, whether it is in Formula 1 or road cars. It affects acceleration, speed, handling, comfort, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions - everything. McLaren Automotive engineers pursued weight saving obsessively. And, like a domino effect, form then follows function throughout the car.
For example, using a carbon MonoCell, as the core structural element of the car allowed for lighter weight and more aerodynamic body panels to clothe the 12C: aluminium for bonnet, front wings and roof; low-density SMC for all other panels. The panels have no structural requirement and are therefore very thin and work purely on aerodynamic principles. Curves, lines and edges are designed to aid air flow rather than being limited in their form by structural necessity and tooling limitations.
Not only that, but the MonoCell has been designed to present what McLaren considers the perfect driving position for a two-seat sports car. Driver and passenger sit close together, as close to the centre of the car as possible. This makes the car easier to drive at high speeds, and narrower, therefore easier to manoeuvre at slow speeds and lighter in weight.
Just as important as overall weight is the way it is distributed to achieve handling, traction and grip. Again, weight distribution is a fervent passion for racing car designers. The key objective is placing weight where it complements the handling of a car. That racing mindset transfers through into McLaren Automotive. It is why the 12C has as much weight as possible low in the car, to lower the centre of gravity, and has its weight balanced in a 43:57 ratio, front to back.
Neil Patterson, McLaren Automotive's Chief Engineer for the 12C said, "Our goal for the 12C, and future McLaren cars, is to offer ‘accessible performance', no matter what the driver's ability. With that in mind, and with a small and lightweight, low- and mid-mounted engine, we have been able to deliver what we feel is a perfectly balanced chassis.
"Rear bias offers us better traction and a more neutral balance. Anything nearer 50:50 on a mid-engined car would tend towards understeer, which would have to be controlled by electronics for many drivers. We prefer to let the driver take control."
The chequered flag
Unlike race day, it is not all one-way traffic for technology and knowledge transfer between McLaren's racing and automotive businesses. As McLaren Automotive grows and develops, McLaren Racing benefits from the processes and programmes required in the traditionally more commercial world of road cars.
Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren Racing's Team Principal explained, "Having delivered two very successful road cars in the F1 and SLR, McLaren Automotive is now in a strong position to move towards the full-scale design, development and production of a series of high-performance sports cars. The great engineering expertise within our Racing division is assisting that journey, and the whole McLaren Group is now also reaping the benefits of increasingly seamless communication within the MTC.
"Responsible financial housekeeping is becoming ever more important in Formula 1, and that has naturally led us to develop best practice when it comes to managing budgets, deploying manpower and optimising reliability in all areas. Working closely with their Automotive colleagues, our engineers within Racing are now looking at development and design with a fresh pair of eyes.
"More than that, though, they've been able to re-evaluate how we do business. In the vernacular of motor racing, supply chain management, lifecycle protectiveness, design for manufacture, and quality assurance and control are hardly common phrases, but we have seen how McLaren Automotive is achieving high quality across these areas - and Racing is following suit. Ultimately, that will leave us with greater budget and manpower with which to develop the best racing cars.
"So, in summary, the close relationship between McLaren Racing and McLaren Automotive is a win-win for both companies," he concluded.
Antony Sheriff, McLaren Automotive's Managing Director, summed up the relationship: "There is no doubt in my mind that 12C owners will benefit from the huge store of knowledge and experience we have gained in the world of Formula 1. Our new sports car has probably a closer connection to the pinnacle of motor sport than any car available today and it is the drive, creativity and conviction of our teams at Woking that will then bring a new driving experience from track to road for our customers."
The McLaren MP4-12C
When the McLaren Automotive team set out on the road to design, develop, build, sell and service its own range of high-performance pure McLaren sports cars in 2005, they based their plans on three key factors: what they knew of the sports car market, the potential for technology and process transfer from Formula 1 within McLaren, and the knowledge built up from the F1 and SLR road car projects.
Initial plans were therefore based on a solid foundation: all indications showed that the high-performance sports car market was growing, there was an atmosphere of collaboration at the brand new McLaren Technology Centre (MTC), and the company's engineers and designers had already proven themselves in developing two iconic performance cars.
But engineering and designing 107 McLaren F1s, 198 Formula 1 cars, and 2,114 SLRs is a different kind of challenge to taking on the world's biggest car companies in the battle to build the world's best high-performance sports cars. Especially when that challenge involves:
- developing innovative new technologies that offer unique benefits to a sophisticated group of customers
- designing every part of the car from scratch
- forging a car from those components that offers the ultimate performance for its price-point
- combining that performance with new levels of efficiency, safety and quality
Only when those cars are finally driven by the first customers in 2011 will McLaren Automotive know if it has delivered on its objective.
The company's passion for engineering and car design, combined with its winning mentality, offer an indication for the potential. And the chance to start with a clean sheet of paper in developing a car that is truly unique in its talent is a rare opportunity.
McLaren Automotive believes that its 10 building blocks of success are in place for the first in the range of cars, the MP4-12C:
- A pure design concept: a rear-mid engine, rear-wheel drive, two-seat sports car, built around the driver and passenger, from the inside, out
- Carbon at its heart: The 12C should be based on a strong, light and rigid carbon chassis - just like all McLaren race- or road-cars since 1981
- An obsession to reduce weight: Lightweight engineering solutions enable the most powerful, most frugal, and most dynamic car in its class
- Day-to-day practicality: The car should be well packaged, fully equipped and a comfortable place to be on a drive from London to Monte Carlo, New York to Miami or Sydney to Perth
- Rational passion - design driven by function: In order to remain timeless, the car's exterior design is driven by its aerodynamic properties, not by the whim of a stylist
- Tomorrow's innovation, today: The 12C, and all future models, will feature innovative technologies that add value to the customer, for performance, comfort and safety, and could be cascaded down to mass-market cars in the future
- Formula 1 focus on development: Testing would be incessant, covering all markets where the car will go on sale: the 12C will be developed over one million miles
- Quality begins with design: Engineering, design and production teams are integrated to ensure the highest possible quality for the customer
- Bespoke production in England: McLaren will hand-build the 12C in a brand new production facility at its UK headquarters
- Obsession with customer service: The world's best retailers are lined up to deliver the best customer experience and aftersales support seen in the industry
The McLaren MP4-12C is a mid-engined two seat sports car. In this, it is not unique but the packaging of the 12C is based upon this layout for very good, historical reasons.
Almost all racing cars up until the late 1950s had a traditional bonnet housing the engine in front of the driver. In a revolutionary move, Cooper Cars, who were to be Bruce McLaren's first British employer and Ron Dennis' first racing employer, placed the engine behind the driver and within three years all other Formula 1 cars had moved to a mid-engined layout. Sporting road cars followed this lead towards the end of the 1960s and most cars claiming a sporting intent since have stayed true to this pattern.
The fundamental advantages for a sports car lie in the physics of the moment of inertia, weight distribution, the division of steering and drive, grip, traction and handling.
The moment of inertia describes how easy or difficult it is to turn an object. In the case of a car, the more weight that is located near to the centre between the axles, rather than towards the front or rear, then the easier it will be to change direction. This reduces the polar moment of inertia, or the tendency of heavy items at the front or rear to act as a pendulum. In short the polar moment of a car determines its agility, therefore weight distribution is crucial to balanced handling.
The natural starting point for weight distribution is 50:50 on the front and rear axles in order to have an equal weight acting on all four wheels, which in turn affects the level of grip each can provide. Determining a preferred level of understeer or oversteer alters the 50:50 displacement and then gives a car its own personality.
A 43:57 ratio was preferred by McLaren Automotive to offer better traction and a neutral balance.
The 12C also has as much weight as close to the road as possible in order to lower the centre of gravity, and these objectives of positioning weight where it can best help the car to react positively to the driver's commands provide the safest and soundest foundation for an agile, fine handling performance sports car.
Driving the rear wheels and steering with the front then helps retain a purity in which drive is delivered to the rear axle, allowing the front axle to concentrate on steering without being polluted by torque.
This is why McLaren chose the classic rear, mid-engined layout as the basis for the 12C and from this basic principle all the other elements of the car were developed. Reducing weight throughout then became an almost obsessive goal across all engineering disciplines, starting with the core of the car, the carbon MonoCell.
Carbon fibre heart
Light weight and performance are defining philosophies at McLaren. Outright power alone is of little significance if a car's weight saps output, or if that power is unmanageable and compromises the driving experience, or if it results in unacceptable emissions. Fundamentally, it is critical to keep weight as low as possible, yet increased customer demands for safety and advanced features all mean that shaving weight is ever more difficult.
Saving weight is therefore an obsession at McLaren, so at the heart of the 12C is a carbon fibre composite chassis: the Carbon MonoCell. This forms the basis for all the 12C's targets for light weight, and adds stiffness, efficiency, safety and integrity to the package.
This revolutionary structure is the automotive version of a McLaren innovation that started with Formula 1 back in 1981. It is the latest step in a technology cascade that started when McLaren brought carbon composite technology from the aerospace industry to make the MP4/1 Formula 1 car, the first Formula 1 car to benefit from the strength, low weight and safety properties of carbon fibre.
McLaren's Formula 1 carbon fibre experience subsequently offered the company the opportunity to apply its expertise to a production car. The first ever road car to be constructed of this material was the McLaren F1 produced from 1993, albeit in small numbers. The F1 was followed by a handful of cars from other companies and, at McLaren, by the SLR.
A small number of other cars in the market offer such technology today and all of them lie in McLaren's definition of the ‘ultimate' segment - a select group of ultra-low volume cars priced far over £300,000. No manufacturer has commercially introduced the advantages of carbon composite technology to a more affordable sector of the market. But the 12C does, through engineering passion and a relentless pursuit of efficiency.
So, McLaren did it first in 1993 with the F1, the world's fastest ever naturally aspirated production car, then in the highest volume with SLR. Selling 2,252 cars, more than doubling the volume of its nearest peer, the SLR became the best-selling carbon fibre-based car ever.
Now, through the revolutionary one-piece moulding of the MonoCell, McLaren brings a carbon composite chassis down from the ‘ultimate' segment to the ‘core' segment - cars priced between £125,000 and £175,000 - where currently only traditional metal structures are offered.
McLaren has pioneered a sophisticated new carbon fibre production process that allows the MonoCell to be produced to exacting quality standards, in a single piece, in only four hours. This is a significant advantage when compared with the marriage of dozens of components (and many production hours) that normally feature in a carbon fibre chassis structure. This brings huge performance, efficiency and quality benefits.
The advantages this technology brings are:
- Light weight: The 12C MonoCell weighs less than 80kg, some 25 per cent lighter than a comparable aluminium chassis. Carbon fibre forms the structural basis for the whole car and contributes to the car's low overall weight and overall efficiency.
- High torsional rigidity: The MonoCell is 25 per cent stiffer than an equivalent all metal structure and provides the 12C with a higher torsional stiffness to weight ratio than competitors. This inherent rigidity means the unique front suspension system, mounted directly onto the MonoCell, requires less compromise for the flexibility of the suspension itself. Therefore, it is easier to develop the unique balance between supple ride and precise handling that McLaren has targeted.
- A very strong safety cell: The MonoCell offers greater occupant safety. It acts as a safety survival cell, as it does for a Formula 1 car.
- Ease of repair: Aluminium extrusions and castings are jig welded into the finished assembly and bolted directly to the MonoCell. In an accident, the light weight aluminium alloy front and rear structures absorb impact forces and can be replaced easily, whereas cars with full aluminium chassis use their structure to absorb and crumple on impact, causing more damage (and expense) to the whole structure, including the passenger cell.
- Low perishability: Carbon composites do not degrade over time like metal structures that fatigue. One is able to get into a 15-year-old McLaren F1 and there is none of the tiredness or lack of structural integrity that afflicts traditional cars that have suffered a hard life. The 12C will feel as good as new in this respect for decades.
- Extreme dimensional accuracy: There is absolute predictability in the production process. In any plane or dimension, between two points, every MonoCell will be within half a millimetre level of accuracy. This ensures an extremely high level of build quality and predictable performance.
The MonoCell project is managed by Claudio Santoni, McLaren Automotive's Body Structures Function Group Manager.
"It was clear that we needed to develop a car with a carbon fibre structure. After all, McLaren under Ron Dennis has never made a car with a metal chassis!
"So, the whole 12C project is based on the concept of the MonoCell. This means that McLaren can launch into the market with greater performance than our rivals, a safer structure, and a better built car.
"To put into perspective the great strides we have made with the 12C's MonoCell, if the costs and complexity of producing a McLaren F1 carbon fibre chassis are taken as a factor of 100, the 12C chassis production costs are reduced to a factor of seven or eight, without degrading the strength or quality of the carbon structure. And this huge step-change in technology could make its way into more mainstream cars," he concluded.
So, how has McLaren managed to cascade carbon composite technology to a car that is half the price of any other carbon-based car on the market? It is all about process and concept.
The tub for the McLaren F1 was made from pre-pregnated carbon fibre, like a Formula 1 racing car, and took 3,000 hours to prepare with 100 people working on it. It was a highly intensive and time-consuming process and in its best year only 24 F1s were made - two per month. The process developed for the SLR resulted in a much reduced time of 400 hours for each tub made of six pieces, and involving resin infusion moulding and resin transfer moulding which gave McLaren a wealth of further experience in the field.
Following McLaren's design of the MonoCell, it has pioneered a new production process with global partner companies Carbo Tech (Austria) and Toray (Japan). This allows the tub to be produced through a new single moulding process to exacting quality standards, in a single piece, in only four hours. Naturally this brings cost benefits and could revolutionise automotive chassis development.
The MonoCell is made in a new Resin Transfer Moulding process. Dry carbon fibre pre-forms are cut to shape and laid out in a multi-piece complex part metal mould with coring technology that adds a further unique property - the MonoCell is hollow. All the different parts of the tool close simultaneously. The tool then goes into a press which restrains the mould against pressure at a constant temperature. High-performance epoxy resin is injected at very high pressure, permeating the whole tub, and the resin cures to deliver the tub's strength.
The finished tub emerges in one piece and various finishing processes are completed on a computer-controlled milling machine. This is the stage where the interfaces between the tub and the front and rear aluminium crash structures are machined to ensure accuracy every time.
"Because we are machining the interfaces so accurately, it makes sense to machine locations for other ancillaries too," explained Santoni. "Things like the wiring harness. Although it doesn't need to be so accurately placed, the MonoCell enables us to use the accuracy of the concept to build a car to exacting McLaren standards."
"The MonoCell is such a fantastic platform on which to build the rest of the car," Santoni said. "Everything is where it needs to be: from the driver down to fitting a piece of carpet. The fit is always perfect and it is located in a nice, smooth and accurate area. It is quite another thing to fit carpet in a rough aluminium spaceframe where parts are often fitted to an accuracy of plus or minus five millimetres."
There is no need to bond different parts together to make the whole tub, as with the SLR. It is hollow, saving further weight, and the integrity of production ensures that drilling for the location of suspension and ancillaries is accurate to the finest of margins. Ease and accuracy of repair has been an integrated element of McLaren's design process for the 12C.
"Getting the production process right is the result of five years of extensive research. Now that the process is perfected, it allows McLaren to produce the MonoCell repeatedly with a consistently impeccable quality," said Santoni
"The process is efficient, clever, cost-effective and accurate, but for me the most important thing is the concept - the contribution of the MonoCell to the concept of the whole car," Santoni enthused. "It is not just about a clever tool and meticulous preparation, it is the principle of ‘form follows function' or why the MonoCell has the shape it has.
"If you spend time around the MonoCell you can see why it is this shape. Every other carbon monocoque I have seen has a square front end without pontoons. When the 12C's concept was finalised we established the value of every single line on the MonoCell. There isn't a single line on it that does not have a function. It is all down to load paths and we have specified every single area to ensure that we have exactly the right ply and the accurate thickness for the load that section must bear. The crossbeam is a perfect example of this minute attention to detail. No other carbon monocoque has this feature," he said.
The crossbeam at the front of the MonoCell has been designed to share the distribution of impact forces across both sides. So, in the event of an offset impact that would normally see all impact forces taken on the impacted side of the car, the forces are distributed and shared on both sides of the 12C.
"It is rare in the automobile world to work to the standards demanded by the aerospace industry," claimed Mark Vinnels, McLaren Automotive's Programme Director.
"Our ability to analyse and predict the performance of carbon fibre is in line with aerospace technology and is truly world class, particularly in the sense of predicting failure, which is obviously key in managing crash events and passive safety. We can now predict failure levels at individual ply level in the carbon composite and the results are absolutely correlating with what we predicted.
"We recently put the MonoCell through an extreme crash-test programme, including putting the same chassis through three high energy crashes. The MonoCell survived unscathed and uncracked, as did the car's windscreen, showing just how strong it is, but also how good it is at absorbing and channelling loads," he concluded.
Weight is the enemy of performance in every area of car design. It affects acceleration, speed, handling, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions - everything. Whilst the MonoCell offers huge weight savings (and performance gains) over competitors, it has not been the sole focus of attention. McLaren Automotive's engineers have pursued saving weight in every single aspect of the car.
"At a very early stage in the 12C's development we held a competitive ‘weight-down' workshop with a team of our senior engineers and a team from McLaren Racing," disclosed Neil Patterson, Chief Engineer for the MP4-12C. "The idea was to pool all our collective intellect and feed off one another to reduce the car's weight to the lowest possible level within reasonable financial constraints. In the room we had an array of lightweight parts from Formula 1 cars and a McLaren F1.
"Throwing all our best ideas into the ring generated one hundred kilos of opportunity in one day. This kind of cross-fertilization exercise emphasises the holistic approach taken during the development of 12C and these ‘weight-down' days have continued throughout the 12C's development programme.
"It has been my job ever since to ensure that not one gram was added during development without it being reclaimed elsewhere. We are aiming for 12C to be at least 75 kilos lighter than the published dry weight of any competitor," Patterson concluded.
"We have spent most of the programme ‘adding lightness'," said Mark Vinnels, Programme Director. "If the cost of reducing weight brought performance gains in speed, handling or economy, we did it. However, if that cost could deliver even better performance elsewhere we didn't pursue it. We never set weight targets as such; we set cost-to-performance targets and examined everything in this way.
"A good example of this philosophy is that we considered carbon fibre body panels. They would have reduced weight but added little benefit as the new one-piece carbon MonoCell provides all of the torsional strength the body needs. The costs saved were used elsewhere for greater weight reduction and efficiencies overall. We focused on an holistic approach to weight saving throughout," he concluded.