Proof is supplied by the truth that the McLaren Senna is not simply wickedly quick, it places you within the driving seat of a automobile named after some of the revered F1 drivers in historical past, constructed by the street automobile arm of the group that powered him to a few championships. Driving it may not make you his equal, however the advertising and marketing gold is self-evident.
McLaren is not letting this chance slip by way of its grasp, not least in its selection of launch venue — Estoril circuit exterior of Lisbon, the scene of Ayrton Senna’s first Grand Prix win again in 1985. The style of that victory, performed in pouring rain and seeing him lap all however one of many discipline, set in place a legend. OK, he did it in a Lotus and never a McLaren. However given how most of the folks behind this automobile additionally began their careers at Lotus, that is sort of acceptable, too.
Fortunately it is not raining after I arrive at Estoril, so we can’t be required to show equally God-given driving expertise. That does not make it a lot much less intimidating, although. Having had the complete technical deep dive, I confess to approaching this drive with a level of trepidation. Certain, it is street automobile with avenue tires, air-con and touchscreen navigation. However 789 horsepower in a automobile weighing lower than 2,900 kilos, fueled and able to roll?
The Senna’s 1,764 kilos of downforce at 155 mph is a powerful quantity, however just about an summary idea except you reside on the observe. However its Zero-124 mph time, a complete second quicker than a hybrid-enhanced P1? That is one to wake you up. Likewise, a observe briefing earlier than heading onto the observe revealed that our braking level from 180 mph for Estoril’s first flip shall be 60 ft previous what it will be in a 720S.
A couple of reconnaissance laps reveal Estoril to be slim, technical, and with an odd mixture of sluggish, tight corners and massively dedicated high-speed ones. All with genuine, mid-1980s portions of run-off. Which is to say, not a lot. If this introductory session was purported to calm nerves earlier than the principle occasion, it comprehensively fails.
The Pure White Senna to which I’m assigned is principally an Imperial Stormtrooper in automotive kind. And about as heat and cuddly. I notice this automobile’s seems to be are divisive, however within the context of a dwell pit lane it makes a complete lot extra sense. Flashes of blue from the brake calipers and movable aero vanes throughout the entrance fenders are cool little thrives, and the fortunate 500 who’ve made the record will be capable of combine and match these visible options in accordance with style. Or lack of.
When configured to Race mode, the automobile adopts a decrease, raked stance, wheels sucked into bodywork race car-style whereas that rear wing casts — in each approach — a big shadow. With a lot of the sill lifting away with the door, entry is surprisingly good. Due to the guide adjustment to wheel and seat (the latter weighs lower than 9 kilos), you possibly can rapidly discover an acceptable race automobile seating place with the wheel proper into your chest. Warnings about braking forces famous, I settle for the invitation to nip the shoulder straps up tight in opposition to the HANS machine with out registering this additionally tightens the crotch belts. I will dwell to remorse this.
I haven’t got a complete lot of time to register the cabin, besides to say that it is minimal, carbon weaved and stylishly pared again to the minimal. Homeowners have the selection of barely heavier glass decrease door panels that almost all have taken, whereas this automobile’s mounted carbon bulkhead (you possibly can have a glass one) offers the cockpit an authentically claustrophobic race automobile vibe. The intercom clicks in and my brave chaperone cheerily informs me he will not have a lot time for route past the fundamentals of “brake” or “energy.”
After which we’re off, actually following the tire tracks of Ayrton Senna.
Charismatic engines have by no means been a McLaren forte, however what this uprated 720S motor lacks in operatic soundtrack it greater than makes up for in punch. Not like the P1, “torque fill” would not come from an electrical increase, it comes merely from lack of weight. Which means you possibly can brief shift and brace the accessible traction in opposition to the swelling 590 pound-feet of torque reasonably than danger it lighting up the rear tires on the extra explosive finish of the rev vary.
Not like different McLarens, there’s little sense of turbo lag, the transition between off- and on-throttle immediately communicated by way of neck muscle groups and an engine solidly mounted to the Monocell III construction you are lashed into. From the tight opening advanced of turns, the observe feeds into the again straight and an opportunity to actually let it rip, the 125 mph kink gone in a flash and one other 20 mph on the digital speedo between there and the braking level for the looming left-hander. My head is struggling to maintain tempo. A loud phrase over the intercom — “BRAKE!” — wakes me up.
Like all McLarens, the pedal is completely aligned along with your left foot, making it simple to trail-brake in and bury the nostril into the apex whereas overlapping your throttle enter to energy by way of whereas leaning closely on the ample downforce. There’s, little question, all method of intelligent stuff occurring with interlinked aero, springing, damping and anti-roll — however the true trick is making you neglect about that and focus on the sincere suggestions by way of fingertips and seat of the pants. Belief rapidly replaces concern.
Steering really feel is tremendous sharp, one other McLaren household trait, and you may sense an onset of intentionally engineered, rear-end-cooling understeer if you happen to overcook your nook entry velocity. However as soon as by way of that, the traction is simply immense. The P Zero Trofeo R tires all however chunk chunks out of the observe floor because the mixed mechanical and aero grip delivers unimaginable traction.
The seemingly infinite fourth gear last flip actually exhibits the downforce. Coming round, that whisper of entrance finish push alerts you to the boundaries earlier than the observe straightens, after which your eyelids are as soon as once more peeled again by the violence of the acceleration. After which there’s the braking into flip one, the wing shifting seamlessly by way of 35 levels of movement to go from drag-reduction mode to its most aggressive setting. It isn’t simply that over-tightened harness that has me crying out, the deceleration hurling me in opposition to the straps, however the automobile completely locked to its line because the automobile bleeds downforce off the entrance axle to counteract weight switch and maintain the automobile flat.
Like all McLarens, the Senna does with out mechanical sway bars, the black packing containers in command of the P1-derived Race Lively Chassis Management as a substitute utilizing the hydro-pneumatic spring chambers to help the automobile whereas the within wheel might be left compliant to run up onto enormous chunks of curb. The velocity is gorgeous. However so is the arrogance this automobile evokes in even a mean driver.
For all of the observe swagger, that is the place the Senna’s ambition turns into clear. McLaren might say it drives like a observe automobile for the street, however the reality is it is nonetheless extra the opposite approach round. This can be a delicate however essential distinction. We heard British proprietor intends to drive his automobile straight from the manufacturing unit and 800 miles throughout France to Paul Ricard circuit for a Pure McLaren observe day on the finish of July. Nothing in my expertise with the Senna suggests this proprietor shall be too challenged doing so.
And this, not the efficiency, is probably the most surprising factor in regards to the Senna. The issues that are supposed to make it intimidating — the numbers, the seems to be, the depth — really make it much less so. As a result of each enter has an on the spot output, you recognize precisely what the automobile is as much as. This accuracy is inspiring reasonably than scary. It is principally like a million-dollar, 800-hp Lotus Exige with air-conditioning. Which, given the shared historical past by way of Senna, this circuit and the fellows that developed it, is sort of acceptable. Likewise, that there’s a confrontational, ruthless streak in its pursuit of pure velocity — like the person himself, the Senna is not afraid of courting controversy. And the way in which it seems to be and the way in which it goes current challenges not everybody will settle for.
This, arguably, is its greatest win. You could certainly bathe within the mirrored glory of driving a automobile named after F1’s most celebrated hero. It is a reflection of McLaren’s rising self-confidence it feels now’s the time, and that is the automobile, to do the identical. That is a daring play in each respect, and one which McLaren has nearly pulled off completely.