Did The McLaren P1 Get Beaten At The Nürburgring?

McLaren showed off a slide bearing 6:33 to "inspire" potential McLaren P1 buyers. Ron Dennis claimed the P1 would go sub 7 minutes and "break all the records." Now months of testing have gone by with no official announcement and every indication that McLaren got beat at the Nürburgring. Here are all the rumors, bits of evidence, and explanations why it doesn't (and really does) matter.


Let me break everything down from the beginning. It was at this March's Geneva Motor Show when McLaren head honcho and spiritual leader Ron Dennis walked on stage to present the production version of the P1 for the first time (you can watch the whole presentation right here.) He came out to talk numbers, because the numbers were enough to grab headlines. I mean, the car makes 903 horsepower, which is fairly bonkers.

What caught many people's ears was that Dennis said to his co-presenter.

...going back to the Nordschleife, it's going to be sub-7 minutes so its going to break all the records.

Well, that's very clear. At the time the only cars to have broken seven minutes on the 'Ring were Radicals, which are street-legal production cars in only the most liberal sense. They're just racecars with number plates.

A few months after Ron Dennis' announcement, Chinese news site Autohome leaked a slide from a McLaren presentation to foreign press.

Illustration for article titled Did The McLaren P1 Get Beaten At The Nürburgring?

As you can see, it's pretty obvious that the slide is meant to imply that the P1 can do a 6:33.26 lap of the Nordschleife. Given the car's huge power, massive grip, and advanced aerodynamics, this was shocking but believable.


McLaren denied the P1 ever ran that time.

The image in question was included on a slide which was part of a mood board to inspire the design team for the McLaren P1™, and not the engineers, who are working to a target time of ‘merely’ sub-7 minutes.


Well then. McLaren was later unofficially timed at 7:04 on the 'Ring, but surely they could do better. And at least running below seven minutes was still a record, right?

Not for long. A few months after that Porsche announced very officially that their hybrid hypercar broke seven minutes with a 6:57 lap. They ran the whole media circus. Announcements touting the car's 887 horsepower, its excellent factory driver Marc Lieb, and the awesome video of the run itself.

It was a big PR gain for the Porsche 918, a car that had been having a rough time in the media as it's heavier and less powerful than its Ferrari and McLaren competitors.


So that meant that going sub seven minutes wasn't a record anymore. No problem, surely the McLaren P1 would be faster than the 918. The P1 is lighter and has more power than the Porsche.

Videos came out late in October of the McLaren P1 testing at the 'Ring without camouflage, begging for photographers to take 'spy' pictures.

The rumors immediately swarmed out that the car had done a 6:47. McLaren gave no comment. McLaren fans waited for a statement the day after the videos came out; McLaren traditionally gives press announcements on Tuesdays and the vids showed up online on a Monday.

That Tuesday the 22nd passed. No comment. Then Tuesday the 29th passed. No comment.


Rumors continue that McLaren will make its announcement today, November 5th at the Dubai Motor Show, but that doesn't match up with two statements made by McLaren to EVO magazine and Jalopnik.

You see, McLaren helped feed this drama themselves by facilitating a story in the upcoming issue of EVO magazine out online only to subscribers.


McLaren invited EVO along to their Nürburgring 'testing' laps, but they did not give a final lap time. Editor Nick Trott gave this long explanation, released by the unofficial McLaren authority Peloton25.

Nick’s patience for the Nordschleife lap time war is running out

When we began negotiations with McLaren about joining the P1 test team at the Ring, it was expected that the ultimate lap time would be achieved and revealed in time for this issue. At the last minute, I got a text from McLaren that read: ‘I have a conclusion on the Ring question. And not sure if you’re going to like it.’ A few minutes later, I was on the phone to Woking.

During the conversation that followed, it was explained that (spoiler alert!) the P1’s lap time would never be revealed and that the official line was that McLaren ‘had achieved its objective of a sub-seven minute lap of the Nordschleife’.


Trott then rationalizes McLaren's decision to keep the exact time a secret.

I couldn’t give a monkey’s about the cult of the Nordschleife lap time. Never have. The chase for a notable lap time has become a form of motorsport in itself, but a motorsport without a governing body, without appropriate safety measures, without independent adjudicators, and a motorsport that is governed by the ‘competitors’ themselves. The result is a pissing contest, a trivialising of the Ring’s history and a chase for lap times that puts lives at risk.


Trott continues to defend McLaren's decision for secrecy, something even McLaren don't do.

McLaren may be pilloried for not announcing a lap time and you may think that it has dodged the bullet because it couldn’t beat Porsche. Either way, I’m glad we can put this to bed: had McLaren announced a quicker time there’s no doubt that everyone and his brother would attempt to beat it. But how many of those would exercise the same duty of care as McLaren or Porsche? After Sean Edwards’ death, and evo columnist Dario Franchitti’s terrifying accident last month, the world of performance motoring – and the Nordschleife – does not need any more tragedy or any more controversy.


Jalopnik reached out to McLaren and they gave us the same kind of clarification they gave to EVO: McLaren is not releasing a 'Ring time, 'Ring times are pointless, and 'Ring times encourage dangerous behavior. But first McLaren claimed that no one need worry about a lack of speed.

We reckon the Green Hell is one of the most challenging tests in the world of the all-round performance of any supercar. So one of the P1’s engineering targets was to reach a sub-seven time during testing. As you’ll have read, we have achieved that target. Comfortably. But we have no plans to give a time. We didn’t for 12C. We don’t intend to for P1 either.


Then McLaren gave their reasoning for keeping any lap times secret.

Why? Well, Nick puts it pretty succinctly.. But you and I know that any time we release would be compared and comparisons are meaningless in the ungoverned and variable conditions of the Nordschleife. And given the risks involved, it’s not a competition we want to encourage either. A position that our customers support.


This would be a very sensible opinion, were it not given just as people start to wonder if McLaren screwed up on the 'Ring. MclarenLife poster Walt of Destiny summed this skepticism up perfectly.

I fully understand Mclaren's decision that to take part in this ever increasing arms race of ring times is dangerous and unproductive. What I don't understand is the timing of that epiphany.


Is KERS The Cause?

So rumors of failure are in full swing. My personal favorite is that McLaren's hybrid system isn't capable of providing power through the whole 12.9-mile circuit. This post on the the seriously devoted McLarenLife forum explains that the Porshe 918 may have more battery capacity than the P1. Beyond that, the 918 may be better at recharging its battery than the P1. The 918 can recharge its batteries with its brakes, whereas the P1 can only recharge with engine braking, as this other McLarenLife post points out.


I've heard personally that the P1 might require two recharges for it to deliver full electric power over a single lap of the 'Ring.

Many on McLarenLife presume the car is running hot laps sector-by-sector rather than attempting full laps.


I'd be surprised to hear that McLaren is having technical trouble with any aspect of the car, given their engineering prowess, but even Ferrari may also be struggling with the LaFerrari to turn their F1-related hybrid tech into something that works in a road car.


So What Does It All Mean?

The perspective in the EVO story is right. Nürburgring laps have been played out since back in 2008, when everyone got tired of Nissan claiming they'd beaten Porsche with the GT-R and both sides going back and forth again and again. Chris Harris actually had a great story on the fatigue over the 'Ring those five years ago and the message is just as true today — there are too many variables that change a 'Ring lap. The track is so big that the weather on the close side of the track can be different from the weather on the far side. Every driver is different. Track temperature can be significant. A single 'Ring lap just isn't decisive.


Beyond that, a lap of the Nürburgring isn't all that important anyway. Just because a car handles well on a closed racetrack doesn't mean it will be nice on your favorite cracked country road, let alone on the way to the supermarket.

So yes, Nürburgring laps are pointless.

But there's a reason why everyone is latching onto this drama, and it's all McLaren's fault. You see supercars shouldn't be about big numbers. They should about drama and purpose and absurdity. Nobody cared that the Countach wasn't as fast as Lamborghini claimed because it looked like a spaceship. Nobody cared when Koenigsegg and Bugatti broke the old McLaren F1's top speed record because the F1 was still more lightweight and pure and gorgeous than either of those pretenders.


But McLaren made the P1 all about technology and numbers, measuring its maximum cornering g-forces and measuring its top speed in all-electric mode and broadcasting its downforce figures like they were something holy.

Horacio Pagani, who arguably builds the most 'super' supercars in the business these days, was right when he said that the P1 is missing the emotion you expect from it. Its carbon tub is too similar to the one in the 12c. Its engine is too similar, too. It's not as pretty as the old F1.


So now you can see the corner that McLaren backed themselves into with their predictions and hints and technical obsession. Without the sheer force of numbers on its side, what does the P1 have?


Top Photo Credit: NRCars


James Glickenhaus

For me the test is sub 7 lap after lap for 24 Hours.