Sitting above the Sports and Super Series models, the top-of-the-range Ultimate Series is well named. In a world full of supercars, real technological progress always comes from the top down. To this end the new Senna, announced at the end of last year, takes on the mantle of pathfinder and torchbearer for McLaren in that rarefied, sliver thin end of the market inhabited by the hypercar.
There are more than enough high net worth enthusiasts in the world to bankroll cars like the Senna, so it was no surprise to learn that the entire production run of 500 was sold out very quickly.
It might seem strange to say that the £750,000 (or SGD$1,365,023 accurate as of 9th March 2018.) asking price in the UK makes it good value for money, but not only will this car become an appreciating asset in a world where bank interest rates hover around zero, compared to the likes of the Pagani, Koenigsegg, and Bugatti hypercars costing between £1.0 (or SGD$1.82) and £2.5 (or SGD$4.55) million, the Senna actually is a relative bargain.
Some manufacturers are noted for innovative ideas, others for their designs, or prowess in disciplines like engine or chassis engineering. McLaren Automotive has consistently brought all these qualities together in cars that succeed not just in impressing, but also creating genuine surprise and delight in those like myself who have driven enough supercars to become slightly jaded.
The Senna, named for Ayrton Senna, triple Formula 1 Champion for McLaren, and arguably the greatest natural F1 talent ever, especially in wet conditions, is a heavily track focused street legal machine designed to raise the class bar another notch.
A track-only GTR version costing £1.0 million (or SGD$1.82 million) is being developed in parallel for those who want an even more authentic racecar experience. Needless to say these 75 cars are also sold out.
Compared to the current McLaren road car range, attractive cars by any standards, the Senna is not going to win any beauty contests. Aesthetically, it comes from the ‘form follows function’ school of design, doing what it says on the (carbon-fibre) ‘tin’ by chasing outright performance, handling, and aerodynamic downforce in the most empirical and uncompromising ways.
You get a good idea just how track focused the Senna is by the 800kg of peak downforce that its active aerodynamics can produce. To put that in perspective, the 2018 Lamborghini Huracán Super Trofeo EVO, a racecar of not dissimilar size and weight, has 600kg of total downforce. In parenthesis the Senna GTR will be able to achieve 1,000kg of peak downforce!
While said to confer good comfort on the road, the RaceActive Chassis Control II active suspension increases its stiffness with speed, supporting the increasing aerodynamic loads and maintaining the correct ride height.
To get the full story on the Senna’s active aerodynamics, we spoke to Dan Parry-Williams, Director of Engineering and Design at McLaren. “The Senna is not the ‘next’ P1 nor is it a direct replacement for the P1. Rather, it is the second car in our Ultimate Series, and a car with different goals from the P1,” he explained.
“Where the P1 was about a huge breadth of capability as a car you could drive long distances yet would be totally at home on a racetrack, the Senna is very much more focused on track use with its aero, downforce, and chassis dynamics taken to the next level.”
“Development on the Senna began two years ago, and in principle we already had in mind what to do,” Dan continued. “In essence, the Senna takes a leaf from the P1 GTR book, but with front end aero that goes way beyond that level.”
“The main difference conceptually is that where the P1 used a hybrid electric motor system to boost its power, the Senna is an all-out assault on low weight and sheer speed using a conventional engine. Thus the heavy batteries and electric motor were the first things to go.”
As batteries and electronic do not like high temperatures the P1 required three radiators in front to keep things cool. The fact that the Senna only requires one radiator in front for its combustion engine means that the liberated space and the luggage bay could be arranged around the new active aerodynamics.
McLaren’s Formula One team are world leaders in aerodynamics so it was no stretch to imagine some of this knowledge would eventually find its way into one of the road cars in a more blatant way than we have seen up till now.
So while the Senna adopts a conceptually similar headlamp and air intake arrangement to the 720S, the horizontal front splitters on each side of the nose are each comprised of three tiers, the likes of which have never been seen before on a street legal machine.
In the vertical plane, the massive lower front splitter is anchored and supported by struts that also make up part of the front wings. It is so rigid that it barely deflects 10mm at 250km/h. The outer struts help to channel air past the front wheel housings, keeping the flow as clean as possible. Internal ducting sends ram air to cool the front brakes.