Reigning Formula 1 world champion, Jenson Button, along with team-mate, and 2008 Formula 1 world champion, Lewis Hamilton took to the wheel of McLaren’s newest model recently as the high-performance MP4-12C sports car edged towards one million miles of development.

Formula 1 development processes and principles lie at the heart of development of the first in McLaren Automotive’s range of road cars, providing the foundation for an exhaustive timetable of road-car test programmes. From 2007, through 2010, a highly experienced team of over 50 engineers with a range of automotive and racing backgrounds will have put over 40 development cars through more than one million miles of testing at over a dozen global venues.

McLaren Automotive is leaving nothing to chance in the development of the 12C. Inviting Button and Hamilton along for an exclusive test drive gave the team a point of view and commendations that no other car has ever received: those of the two most recent Formula 1 world champions.

Button and Hamilton joined McLaren Automotive at the famous Goodwood Motor Circuit in the UK in early March behind the wheels of XP8 and XP10, two of the latest generation of McLaren Automotive XP-Beta test cars. The Formula 1 stars do not have a formal programme of testing with the 12C, focusing their attention wholly on their Formula 1 commitments. But being self-confessed ‘petrolheads’ and having seen the 12C at the McLaren Technology Centre in February, were understandably keen to get behind the wheel and contribute their views.

Their time on the tight and fast circuit in southern England returned feedback on the 12C’s launch control, Brake-Steer application and threshold levels of the electronic stability control programmes, as well as driver comfort at speed.

Jenson Button commented, “The 12C is so easy to drive. Its cockpit is a nice place to be and really makes you feel at one with the car. The driving seat is very comfortable and the layout of the controls is completely logical. I like the fact that there’s no switchgear on the steering wheel. You simply select the mode you want before you begin driving and after that there’s no need to concentrate on anything but the driving itself.

“The car’s dynamic capability is fantastic at both high and low speeds. Within just a few seconds, I felt really comfortable with the car – and after only a couple of laps I was able to begin to push it hard through the corners. Yet, even though I was pushing, I was amazed by the car’s great stability at high speeds. It’s very quick in a straight line, too. In fact, the biggest problem with driving this car on a circuit is that sometimes you forget it’s a road car!”

Lewis Hamilton said, “The 12C is a real driver’s car; it delivered on all my expectations. The visibility is great from the driver’s seat. You really appreciate that in tight corners. I loved the McLaren F1 when I drove it and, like that car, the huge front windscreen of the 12C allows you to take in all the information needed for perfect lines through apex turns.

“It was clear when meeting the Automotive test team that they share the same competitive focus as our race team. We’re obsessed with winning and we’ll do all we can to make sure that happens. If the 12C team say they are aiming to make the best performance car on the market, then I’m convinced that is what they will do.”

The 12C is being developed to be enjoyed by a wide range of owners, from those new to the high-performance sports car segment through to drivers as skilled as the professionals. For that reason, Button and Hamilton’s advice will prove invaluable through the final stages of development and ahead of the first cars going on sale.

The 12C’s development began in the same simulator used to develop Formula 1 cars at McLaren Racing. The simulator is a perfect example of how McLaren has fully integrated road- and racing-car development, having been designed by a team managed by McLaren Automotive’s Technical Director, Dick Glover during his time at McLaren Racing.

Glover commented on the benefits that motor racing can bring to road-car development: “McLaren’s Formula 1 experience and development tools present us with a huge opportunity and competitive advantage through simulation and the feedback of racing drivers. Chris Goodwin and Kevin McGarrity are two professional racing drivers within our test team, dividing their time between real-world testing and sessions in the Formula 1 simulator. This unique combination has allowed us to make rapid strides in developing the 12C’s performance, quality and reliability.

“But having the opportunity of feedback from Jenson and Lewis recently was a huge boost for the team. Though in no way an official testing programme, they enjoyed driving the 12C under track conditions. Our aim with this car is that it should be both challenging for very skilled drivers and enjoyable within a novice’s limits. Jenson and Lewis absolutely confirmed that its comfort is well balanced with its performance and handling ability,” Glover concluded.

Simulation allows real-world testing around the globe to focus on fine-tuning the 12C to a state that presents McLaren with a genuine opportunity to challenge for the crown of the world’s best high-performance sports car company.

It has allowed McLaren Automotive to develop the 12C’s handling and performance parameters around many of the world’s most famous race circuits from its McLaren Technology Centre headquarters.

Through 30 years of motorsport in the Ron Dennis era, McLaren has developed an intimate knowledge of the world’s most challenging race tracks that have sealed its position as the most successful motor racing team ever. No other racing outfit has won the three crown jewels of motorsport – Formula 1, the Indy 500, and Le Mans.

Combining that experience with the company’s technology facilities and its innate, and natural, desire to integrate racing car and road car development, is helping to create a unique range of revolutionary road cars based on a revolutionary carbon-fibre chassis.

In the first half of 2010, McLaren Automotive will break through one million miles of testing during its cold and hot-weather testing programmes in New Zealand and Arizona, or during its latest visit to the world’s most challenging race track, the Nordschleife at the Nürburgring. These programmes will add to those that have been run as 24 hour Formula 1–style test sessions or in extreme climates such as:

  • cold-weather testing in the Arctic down to – 50 ° C
  • mid-summer in Bahrain that ran the car at over 50 ° C in dust storms
  • hot-weather programmes in South Africa at altitude in early 2010

Geoff Grose, McLaren Automotive’s Head of Testing and Development summed up the attitudes and applications inherent in McLaren Automotive’s testing programmes: “The 12C will be a combination of intelligent, obsessive and innovative design developed through an accelerated, rigorous and relentless testing regime. It is a programme that combines Formula 1 principles and performance-car potential to deliver the best of both worlds for the customer: a car that feels immediately accessible and comfortable, but challenges even the best drivers in the world.”

The McLaren MP4-12C goes on sale in spring 2011 from bespoke McLaren Automotive retailers in 19 countries across the globe. It sits in the market of ‘core’ sports cars that cost between £125,000 and £175,000 and will feature innovative technical and customer-focused engineering and design that will offer new levels of performance in its price bracket.

The 12C will be the most powerful, the most efficient, and the lightest car in its class – a unique combination driven by McLaren developments such as a one-piece carbon fibre chassis and a bespoke McLaren-developed small-capacity, twin-turbo, V8 engine. The 12C will also be more spacious and more comfortable than its competitors – lightweight engineering and driving enjoyment lie at the core of McLaren’s sports car business that will deliver a full range of cars over the coming years. McLaren Automotive expects to annually launch a new model, or derivative of a model, following the launch of the 12C.

The McLaren Automotive retail network will be confirmed through the second half of 2010, along with pricing of the 12C and final performance figures for the car.