They say it can’t be done unless you’re a world champion called Lewis or Jenson, but no – Badger has managed to get beyond the entrance of the world-renowned McLaren Technology Centre (aka MTC) for a look around and here’s what we found...
Joining a group of like minded people in the MTC visitors’ car park we are whisked to the back of the factory in a silver shuttle bus to be dropped off at the VIP entrance with a view over the Twilit Lake in front of the building.
First impressions of the building? Wow! The photos just do not do it justice – the attention to detail built in by Norman Foster and Ron Dennis is simply unbelievable, with every tile in the building having been hand inspected as it was laid. If all the partitions were removed this floor area would hold five Boeing 747s so you can imagine the sheer number of tiles.
A glass hydraulic lift (no unsightly wires here) brings us up to level +1 and McLaren Marketing, who are to be our eloquent hosts for the afternoon. The lift ride gave us an elevated view of the concourse, which is dotted with McLaren F1s: Long tail, Short tail, and LM specs; Bruce McLaren’s very first race-winning Austin Ulster (found as a wreck in NZ and lovingly restored) not to mention Formula One cars from 1969 right up to 2008 – beautiful. The view along the top level and the seamless walkway takes in all the individual departments’ reception areas, all set up with matching Rocket Red floral displays.
Next we’re treated to a briefing in the marketing department’s theatre by a senior member of the Brand Centre set up-transportation team (did you know it takes 15 transporters – seven for the components and eight for support – to move the Brand Centre to races as far away as Turkey, where as Red Bull use 32 trucks to move their hospitality palace about). In fact they did look at taking the Brand centre to America, but it would need an Antonov cargo plane to do it. An intro to F1, its branding and world presence was then played accompanied by Yello’s The Race at full volume which left everybody in the mood to get onto their booking agents and start booking for the 2011 season.
Starting the tour at the trophy cabinets – picture two parallel rows of double shelf cabinets about 30 metres long with over 500 glittering silver and gold trophies, (polished yearly). These with a few exceptions are all the originals (the drivers having to commission a replica if they want one). The replicas are of one Prost dropped (oops!), and Lewis’ first win, first British and first Monaco wins and of course the Drivers World Championship trophy (the original sitting temporarily in the Red Bull cabinet after Sebastian Vettel’s triumph).
This led us onto the wind tunnel, cooled by the cascading fountain that runs along the side of the building and the huge lake (home to the swan’s and cute cygnets which have been made famous on McLaren twitter accounts @McLaren_eshop) to the front ensures that this monster of a wind tunnel can replicate pressure and temperature data from any of the world’s circuits on their FIA-limited 60% tunnel models. An example of a 2008 60% model was there for inspection (it would pretty good on my coffee table as well….)
We were then guided through the race bays (sadly empty as the normal occupants were at that time battling in Brazil) to the ex-test department which now has an MP4/2 in strip-down ready for next year’s Goodwood – that should be a treat.
Carbon fibre were busy with team members working on a 2011 gearbox housing (which will require a five-race lifespan rather than this year’s four) and, most surprising on a tour a 2011 chassis under laser guided carbon lay up. An overhead gantry plays a 3D laser pattern onto the chassis guiding the mere humans as to where to place the layers. The entirely in-house design and production can go from a change request through production and testing to fitting on a race car in just three days to production tolerance of five microns (a piece of A4 on your desk is 19 microns thick….).
The simulator – said to be world’s most advanced, with built in g-force simulation as well as track conditions – was off-limits, but the test bed was there in all its glory. McLaren are looking at improving the car-to-test bed data link times – it currently stands at two seconds, but they want real-time results and are working with newly-extended partner Vodafone to achieve this.
Back to the concourse for a look around the collection of historic cars (you can look and touch but don’t get in em!) These included Senna’s MP4/4 that Lewis took around the Top Gear test track and the MP4/2 that Jenson and Lewis took up the Goodwood hill climb. All the cars on show are original and ‘runners’, McLaren maintain a warehouse in Woking that contains over 150 of their cars they can call on – now THAT is a visit we’d love to do.
The two hours we spent in the care of McLaren Marketing shot by. As a parting memory as we left the building we pass the huge illumined McLaren sign next to their very own roundabout. A huge thanks of course goes out to McLaren for their time and hospitality in guiding us around their VERY impressive facility.
The landscaped site now contains a new addition with the MPC, (McLaren Production Centre), home of the new MP4/12C road going supercar – as this is under the guidance of the same duo who breathed life into the MTC project, it promises to also be stunning.