Overview: McLaren MP4-12C

McLaren Automotive has been created to manufacture road-going sportscars. The MP4-12C is the first, but more models are promised for the future. The new car is designed to sell in what McLaren calls the ‘core’ sportscar market — that is, its price will be between 125,000 and 175,000. With no real predecessor, the 12C’s design was carte blanche.

The new company’s relationship with the McLaren motorsport operation is close. McLaren has made it clear that the products it sells to the public will draw substantially on the technology developed for Formula 1 racing, largely in how the cars are developed and built.

McLaren MP4-12C prototype in general assembly.

Because of the need to improve and develop a racing car very quickly, as specific demands and problems present themselves, racing teams use computer modelling at a high level to save development time. This means that the amount of time spent physically testing, rejecting and re-engineering a component or a design element can be kept to a minimum. Computer simulation has reached a level of development that allows engineers and test drivers to gain insight into — for example — how mounting points for suspension components will deflect in corners, how air flows over the car, and even to some extent how the car’s handling will feel to the driver, without the need actually to build the components that are being tested. McLaren’s approach to developing its new car has been to has use its modelling expertise, and the rapid feedback between test drivers and engineers that characterises racing teams, to develop the 12C relatively cheaply and quickly.

The brief for the 12C was, it seems, rather hyperbolic. The car should be ‘ground-breaking, efficient, high-quality, lightweight, practical, dynamic, safe, comfortable, and visually arresting’. The words ‘efficient’ and ‘lightweight’ crop up a great deal in McLaren’s descriptions of the 12C and its drivetrain. Reliability and reparability are also regarded as priorities by McLaren.

McLaren M838T engine with mounting. Note the dissimilar turbocharger mountings. Click here for alternative large view.

As to the matter of engine performance, efficiency and driveability have been the main objectives. With 600PS available, the 12C is likely to be the most powerful car in its class; but McLaren has set out to keep the car’s carbon yield below 300g/km of CO2. In fact, the Company’s ambition is to make the power unit more thermally efficient than any car on sale today with any type of petrol, diesel or hybrid power unit. This is clearly a difficult target, given the thermodynamic efficiency of a turbodiesel power plant. Final figures won’t be available until Ricardo has finished with the engine.

“While many competitors move towards the ‘edge’ of what is possible, we go to the ‘edge of the edge’”

Antony Sheriff
Managing Director
McLaren Automotive

Within McLaren, the interplay between engineers in the racing and road car divisions provides a cross-pollination of ideas and insights. Several key engineers involved in the development of the 12C arrived on the project from McLaren’s racing division.

Simon Lacey: Previously Head of Aerodynamics in McLaren Racing, now Head of Vehicle Technology for McLaren Automotive. He is responsible for aerodynamics, thermal management, structural analysis and systems engineering.

Marcus Waite: Previously Senior Test Engineer at McLaren Racing, now Vehicle Development Team Leader for McLaren Automotive.

Richard Hopkirk: Previously one of Lewis Hamilton’s race tacticians, now part of the McLaren Automotive vehicle projects team.

Paul Burnham: Previously the racing team’s dynamics engineer for tyres, now responsible for ride and handling development, including McLaren Automotive’s use of the Formula 1 simulator.

Richard Felton: Previously responsible for vehicle instrumentation, harnessing and electronics in the racing team, now McLaren Automotive’s Vehicle Controls Manager, responsible for software and electronic control systems.

Richard Felton explained how racing experience can bring benefits to road car design, and also how changing jobs can help provide new insights to the task at hand.

‘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.

“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”

Richard Felton
Vehicle Controls Manager
McLaren Automotive

‘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.’

An example of Felton’s work, and how it has benefitted from his time involved with racing, is the software that has been developed for the 12C’s Powertrain Chassis Control Unit (PCCU). A traditional car company could take weeks to develop the software solutions that Felton and his team were able to develop and test in a matter of hours. The software to control the ‘Pre-Cog’ function of the 12C’s transmission was written and incorporated into the PCCU within a couple of days, along with a steering wheel that could be used to demonstrate the system. Within 72 hours, test drivers were able to assess the system on the track.

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McLaren MP4-12C with Frank Stephenson, Design Director, McLaren Automotive.
Claudio Santoni, Body Structures Manager, in XP13 rolling chassis.
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