The McLaren P1 isn’t a normal car. It isn’t even a normal supercar. A combined power output of 903bhp, a top speed of 217mph and unprecedented levels of downforce are impressive enough, yet until you see it in the flesh its unwavering focus on rewriting the hypercar rulebook doesn’t truly hit home.
The P1 is based around a modified version of the McLaren 12C’s carbon tub, and the bodywork is shrink-wrapped around the mechanicals. Visually, few machines this side of a fighter jet look so ferociously dedicated to the flow of air, the expulsion of heat and the delivery of power.
Reach inside the large side air intake for the hidden handle, and the large doors swing open like a fly’s wings. The cabin is typically minimalist McLaren, but visibility is surprisingly good.
It’s also pretty easy to drive the car slowly, with the silent all-electric E-mode uniquely enjoyable – for around seven miles at least, before it runs out of charge. As with the 12C (no longer in production) and the 650S, the drivetrain and suspension can be independently switched between Normal, Sport and Track modes (Normal in the P1 is equivalent to a 12C’s Sport).
What distinguishes the P1 is its performance. McLaren’s 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 has been totally reworked to produce 727bhp, while the electric motor chips in with an extra 176bhp.
The end result is simply staggering – our test took place on a disused airfield, and even with the speed-masking factor of a wide runway, the P1’s acceleration is mind-warping.
The hybrid boost from the batteries is used to “torque fill”, in McLaren-speak, which means the electric power helps deliver sensational throttle response and a wide power band. As a result, it’s hard to take on board just how quickly you need to grab the paddle and let the dual-clutch gearbox snatch the next ratio. The breathy intake noise and fluttering turbo wastegate just add to the drama.
The acceleration may be impressive, but it’s the P1’s braking and cornering abilities that really take your breath away. Press the Race button, and the P1 is transformed. It sits 50mm lower, roll bars and dampers are stiffened, while the vast rear wing rises and extends out beyond the tail, allowing the active suspension and aerodynamics to create ground-effect suction and lots of downforce.
In a high-speed corner, there’s no roll and unbelievable grip for a car on road tyres. We can see why McLaren claims the P1 can generate over 2G of cornering force.
Turn-in and front-end bite are amazing, and there’s a playful agility to the car’s responses in tighter corners. If your reactions are up to it, the tail can be balanced into a slide on the throttle, and there’s a decent sense of the limit of grip.
The ceramic brakes offer good pedal feel and massive stopping power. However, you’ll need the freedom of a track to even scratch the surface of the P1’s performance. A Porsche 918 sounds better, and has a more glamorous cabin, but the McLaren feels faster – and the 375 people lucky enough to own one have got their hands on something very special indeed.