MAURICE HAMILTON

The McLaren MP4-12C: in your dreams


I'm not into high-performance road cars for the simple reason that I can't afford one. Sure, I'll stop on the street and admire a passing example; I'll grin rather foolishly if it makes a lusty sound as the driver blips the throttle with his Gucci loafer. But I don't devour every written word extolling the advantage of having 592bhp at 7,000rpm, or 600Nm of peak torque at 3,000 rpm (to quote the McLaren MP4-12C macho minutiae).

It used to amuse me but, with middle age, I now quickly reach the point of irritation when I browse road tests and watch television programmes discussing performance cars. These guys (and girls) always strike me as a nerdy bunch of failed and frustrated racing drivers as they do nothing but show off the leaden ability to plant their right foot and apply opposite lock when the thick end of that 600Nm kicks in.

I mean, where exactly in South-East England am I likely to be poking a Mercedes C63 AMG Coupe or a Ferrari 458 into a broadside, tyre-smoking power slide? The chances are as slim as grandprix.com paying me enough money to buy one in the first place.

So, I'm reading a report on the MP4-12C with its brake-steer system pioneered in F1 until ace snapper Darren Heath stuck his camera inside the cockpit of David Coulthard's abandoned car at the Nurburgring and captured the second brake pedal. The road tester says the brake-steer on the MP4-12C is 'detracting from the driving experience, rather than adding to it'. Well, I suppose it would if you want to drive to the shopping mall or the country club as if you were Lewis Hamilton hunting down Felipe Massa.

It occurs to me that reports on very quick cars ought to carry an additional heading along with the usual categories of 'Styling', 'Driving', 'Interior' and so on. They need a section entitled: 'DNA'. So, for Ferrari you would mention the throaty V12 tradition, the massive racing heritage and the fact that Enzo Ferrari didn't give a stuff about road cars or rattling glove boxes and liked to keep his wealthy customers waiting.

For McLaren, you would simply write 'Ron Dennis'. Nothing further needs to be said. Ron's legendary pursuit of cleanliness and perfection goes far beyond the McLaren Technology Centre (home to the F1 team and other branches of the McLaren Group) having lifts driven by hydraulic rams rather than greasy dust-gathering cables and weights. Or the absence on all surfaces throughout the magnificent building of cables, wires, screw heads and routine service paraphernalia that would detract from the purity of form and function.

In a television programme this week dedicated to the opening of the nearby McLaren Production Centre for the MP4-12C, Ron spoke in the opening sequence of how annoyed he becomes when a cracked floor tile means it will be replaced by one which, no matter how hard the manufacturer tries, will always be a slightly different shade to the original.

I can see his point. But I wouldn't lose sleep over it. Which perhaps explains why Ron Dennis is one of the most successful businessmen in the UK and I'm sitting in a little office above a charity shop writing about him on a beaten-up laptop. (Dear God; if he could see coffee-stained floor covering in here, he'd have a total fit.) Sorry, I digress.

I'm not that familiar with car production lines, unlike Prime Minister David Cameron who came along last Thursday to open the MPC. Cameron said he had never seen anything quite like it. I can understand why.

I wasn't sure what to expect - and yet, ultimately, I wasn't surprised. The floor area - big enough to accommodate three Jumbo jets - was predictably immaculate and gleaming white, the ordered lines of cars being rolled silently from work station to work station at 45-minute intervals.

Everything has its place and its purpose; even the trolleys carrying parts have their wheels tucked underneath and out of sight to help create a floating effect. To be honest, I wouldn't have noticed such a cosmetic detail unless it had been pointed out. But you have to say if Ron Dennis applies that much attention to a trolley then you can be sure the MP4-12C will want for nothing. Except, according to the aforementioned road tester, 'the pure ability to thrill' - whatever that means at such tingling heights on the car performance scale.

Priced at £168,500, the MP4-12C is pitched £5,000 below the Ferrari 458, thus drawing a handy comparison between the two. I haven't sat in either, let alone driven one, so I'm not qualified to discuss this further. All I know is that the editor of the respected German magazine, Sport Auto, took an MP4-12C round the Nurburgring Nordschleife in 7m 28s. That'll do for me because I'll bet he drove the thing in the way it was intended.

As far as I'm concerned, a Ferrari is a Ferrari and a McLaren is a McLaren. You pays your money and you makes your choice, depending on how sideways you intend to get at 2am on a deserted highway when the average road test hack is tucked up in bed thinking about the ability to thrill - probably as a Formula 1 driver. In your dreams, mate.

Maurice Hamilton , a freelance motor sport writer and broadcaster since 1977, is the author of more than twenty books and contributes to websites and magazines worldwide.

His weekly column for Grandprix.com was Highly Commended in the 2011 Newspress New Media Awards.

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