Innovation is something that has driven humanity onwards since leaving the primordial soup and taking our first gasp of air. Finding new ways, better ways, of doing things has propelled us to the top of the food chain becoming the dominant species on this planet. It is this innate drive to do things differently and a continual strive for perfection that has fuelled McLaren. An invitation to visit the highly secure McLaren Technology Centre in Woking got us past the barriers and ultra efficient guards.
A single road takes you away from prying eyes and leads you to an impressive sight. Rounding a bend revealed the MTC in all of its glory. The almost alien structure appears to float on a lake glimmering in the summer sun. Light refracts off of the glass and metallic elements creating a real sense of importance. The building is both beautiful in form and function as the aforementioned lake serves to cool the Formula One teams wind tunnel.
Entering the rarefied space within provokes a true feeling of awe. A huge glass wall serves as a canvas shining its warm vista of the surrounding countryside inwards. Space grey tiles form a sea that contrasts the silver and white tones of structures within the room. Sculpted catwalks tower above the “Boulevard” and echoes of McLaren history. There to greet me was Flossy Bellm, McLaren Luxury Communications Specialist, and none other than Amanda McLaren. Amanda is the daughter of founder Bruce McLaren and she very kindly showed me around the McLaren Technology Centre. This was a great honour.
We began with not a McLaren, but an Austin 7. This quaint little open top car with its skinny wheels and modest proportions was bought in bits by Bruce’s father. Young Bruce was fascinated and helped his Dad restore that Austin. Setting up a figure of eight track in his mother’s backyard, he learnt to drive. One day he blew the head, but instead of trying to find a new one, Bruce fashioned one out of copper and designed a new exhaust. The net result was a car that went faster, evidently a key moment in his life. Entering hill climb events he got his first taste of competitive motorsport.
Moving along the Boulevard we came across many cars from McLaren history. Each machine must earn its place here by contributing to history in some way. From the original Ford powered Grand Prix cars to the McLaren M8 CanAM car cost Bruce McLaren his life, each example pushed the boundaries of technological understanding of that time. This timeline of cars serves as a truly visual representation of McLaren’s engineering and scientific development. From vehicles with very little in the way of aerodynamic structure to the highly intricate designs of the late 2000 era of F1, this is Darwin’s theory of evolution told through motorsport. Legendary names attached to these cars send shivers down the spine and cause goosebumps.
Nearing the end of the Bullied are two road cars proudly overlooking the still body of water outside. A prototype McLaren F1, McLaren’s first road car, stands proud. The brainchild of Gordon Murray, this incredible engineering achievement took every supercar that called itself quick and placed it into a box labeled “old hat.” Utilising exotic materials and pioneering a central driving position, McLaren F1 was the world’s fastest road production car for over a decade. That is just how far ahead of its time this car was. Not in its shadow, but casting one of its own, is the McLaren P1. A product of McLaren Automotive, this machine is one of the most technologically advanced man made objects on Earth. This car produces the equivalent downforce of a baby elephant being on the roof. It evolves dependent on its surroundings, morphing into optimal configurations drastically different from its state when at rest. Behind these cars you will find the bays where today’s Formula One combatants are prepared. It is a surgical environment where millimetre precision is the difference between winning and losing come race day.
Walking onward past the vast array of trophies, reminding each employee just why they are here, is a tunnel. Leading underground, this perfectly white corridor even feels over engineered. It wouldn’t be out of place on the set of Star Wars. The other end is connected to what is known as the MPC. This is where McLaren road cars are built. Within is another pure white room, much like the F1 bays, but instead of a few very intelligent men and women populating the room, there are many. In neat rows McLaren cars were in various stages of their build. Still hand built, these are the weapons McLaren are using to beat Ferrari at their own game on the road. For somewhere that mechanical machines are constructed there is no sign of dirt or oil, mess or debris. Instead the room works in harmony like an orchestra creating a highly efficient melody. You can follow the build with your eyes. From the beginning of these cars carbon tub through to the first time their tyres hit the ground, it is like watching a caterpillar become a butterfly. These cars are tested rigorously with a monsoon station and various mechanical trials to ensure they meet McLaren’s high standards. From the P1 to the new entry level 570S, each car shares the same customisable space. McLaren Automotive turned a profit within just three years which is a biblical achievement in todays world.
The MTC is an astonishing achievement in isolation, let alone all of the cutting edge work that goes on inside of it. Great Britain doesn’t have NASA, but it does have this place. McLaren isn’t planning on going to Mars, yet its quest for perfection is arguably a much tougher journey.
What is at the heart of the McLaren Technology Centre? The answer is innovation.