x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

When deluded dreams took root in reality

In a world populated with amazing supercars, the F1 may just have been the most fantastic of them all.

The F1 rewrote the rule book for road cars. Each car was custom-built for its owner and placed the driver in the centre of the cockpit.
The F1 rewrote the rule book for road cars. Each car was custom-built for its owner and placed the driver in the centre of the cockpit.

Car manufacturers have gone to remarkable lengths to replicate a race track experience on the road, to enable the millionaire magnate and enigmatic entrepreneur to imagine that the Burpham bypass is, in fact, a Silverstone chicane. However, put Michael Schumacher in such a car and he would quickly turn up his nose at the formula faux pas. But then came the McLaren F1, and deluded dreams suddenly found a root in reality. For this wasn't a road car with a body kit, but a sports car with genuine racing pedigree. It was 1992, and the conception of the car would never be the same again. It was so far in advance of its challengers that it was as if it had been left as a gesture of goodwill by an advanced alien race from a distant galaxy. To attempt to compare it with any other vehicle is not just difficult, it is disrespectful.

It was the fastest production car up to that time, with a top speed of 386kph. That kind of performance sorted the men from the boys. As did the whopping $1 million price tag - you could buy a mansion with a moat for less. But the F1 wasn't merely a mode of transport, it was a piece of motoring history, a technological marvel. It isn't an exaggeration to say that it was the most sought after object on the planet. In six years of production, only 64 individuals were lucky enough to get their hands on the keys, as each model took more than three months to build. What is the saying? The few; those lucky few.

The F1 was an aberration. Generally in automotive development, evolution is the rule of thumb: a cassette player makes way for a CD; a crumpled road map is made redundant by GPS. But McLaren took one look at the rule book and promptly tore it to pieces. The F1 was so technologically advanced it made other sports cars look like a rag and bone man's cart. For a start, it was the first production car with a carbon-fibre chassis. With cost not a limiting factor, the engine bay was lined with gold foil, not for show but to maximise engine cooling. The car's bolts and fixings are not made of steel, but magnesium. The driver sits in the middle of the cockpit, simulating an F1 setup, and can be flanked by two passengers slightly behind him.

The cars were custom-built. The seats were moulded according to the drivers dimensions and the steering column and pedals were built to measure. It included some creature comforts, such as a defrosting windscreen, air conditioning and a CD changer. A radio was considered surplus, but a modem was fitted to enable communication with the engine management computer in the event of a breakdown. The F1 has been widely heralded as the best car ever made; the very pinnacle of perfection all others have sought for but not attained. Even though it is no longer the fastest production car or the most technologically advanced, it retains an almost mystical allure as a motoring icon.