Asia Tatler: Speed of Light

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Adam Hay-Nicholls reports from the 2013 Geneva Motor Show, where three of the boldest supercars created a big bang.

It makes sense that the Geneva Motor Show at Switzerland’s Palexpo centre is situated roughly on top of the world’s biggest and most powerful particle accelerator, CERN’s $6 billion Large Hadron Collider, because for a couple of weeks in March it played host to some of the fastest, maddest, most powerful and expensive supercars ever built.

 

In a tangy yellow and with its carbon weave glinting under the hot spotlights, McLaren unveiled the production version of its P1. But before that it was off to CERN to learn a little about particle physics. Innovation was the theme, and the P1 is so fast that if you were to thrash two of them around a 27km loop in opposite directions and smash them into each other the result would be a supermassive black hole.

 

Ok, there was a lot of science to digest but I’m pretty sure that was the message. McLaren chairman Ron Dennis is en route to discovering his very own boson (take that Peter Higgs). The P1 not only hits 217mph (and that’s electronically limited – it’s capable of 239mph) and 0-60 sub 3 seconds, it has the best aero performance of any road car and a very clever hybrid powertrain.

 

In 1992 McLaren unleashed the F1, the Gordon Murray-designed 241mph road car that rewrote the supercar rulebook. Then there was the SLR, a Mercedes-led project which was pretty but frustratingly compromised. Next, the MP4-12c reflected McLaren’s new-found independence, packing a 616bhp in-house V8. Now, the P1 ups the stakes with 903bhp and goes head-to-head with the Bugatti Veyron and Ferrari’s forthcoming range topper (more of which later).

 

“This car captures more technology than we have ever brought to any of our production cars,” explained Ron, who has stepped down from the Formula One pitwall to concentrate on making McLaren a rival to Maranello’s finest on the public roads too.

 

At 150mph the McLaren generates a breathtaking 600kg of downforce, and that means your neck’s going to give out through the corners. You’ll be pulling 2G over roundabouts. You’ve got KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) and a 170bhp electric motor designed to speed up gearshifts and eliminate turbo lag, but which also allows you to cruise fuel-free at 30mph for short-range city driving. There’s an active rear wing which can be DRS (Drag Reduction System) enabled, unique Pirelli Pzero Corsa tyres designed to cope with extreme downforce, and advanced new carbon silicone brakes, because even the biggest speed freak needs to stop.

 

Ron was bullish: “It’s gonna brake all the records. It’ll be the fastest car in the world. We’re confident no one’s going to get anywhere near this car”. I wonder if ‘hubris’ features in the McLaren boss’s normally over complicated vocabulary. I can think of a couple of Italians who might take issue with his claim.

 

The Ferrari stand drew the biggest crowd on press day, as president Luca di Montezemolo took the shiny red sheet off his new baby, the Ferrari LaFerrari. Like the McLaren, it’s all carbon and packs over 900 horses.

 

Let’s deal with the name first. The name is daft. Imagine a Jaguar TheJaguar? But that’s where the laughter stops because the car looks the berries.

 

Born of the F40/F50/Enzo bloodline (they should have just stuck with ‘F70’), the car is more beautiful than any of its forebears. It’s also unmistakably Ferrari, and that’s where it overshadows the McLaren. Despite its LED headlights shaped like the McLaren logo, and stellar-designer Frank Stephenson’s best efforts, the P1 just doesn’t have the same visual identity as the machine bearing the prancing horse.

 

As the covers were drawn from the Ferrari’s sleek scarlet bodywork, Ron Dennis, his arms crossed, looked on disapprovingly. You’ve got to love these supercar wars, they are pure pantomime.

 

Beauty is one thing. What about brains? That’s the McLaren’s strong point, but the Ferrari is no dunce. One’s MIT, the other’s blue-blooded Harvard.

 

LaFerrari’s direct-injection V12 is an evolution of the mighty F12 Berlinetta’s powerplant, producing 790bhp and, like the P1, there’s a 160bhp electric motor giving it extra boost and KERS developed by Gestone Sportiva, aka Scuderia Ferrari F1. Suddenly, hybrid got sexy. But are Ferrari serious about going green?

 

“Hybrid for Ferrari is not just about reducing emissions, it is about enhancing the experience of our cars,” explains CEO Amedeo Felisa. “Otherwise we risk losing their fundamental character”. They didn’t bother mimicking McLaren’s 12km-range all-electric setting. “We don’t like the idea of an electric car because one of a Ferrari’s main characteristics is the sound of its engine,” Felisa says. “We imagine that the system will see the car always mixing the two power sources at the same moment.”

 

This car is five seconds faster than the Enzo around Ferrari’s Fiorano test track. With the electric motor aiding low-end torque, it touches 9250rpm at the red line. It too has custom Pirellis, it’s slowed by Brembo’s latest carbon ceramics, and enjoys an active aero orchestra that will see it corner on rails yet dump drag on the straights.

 

Whereas the Ferrari is Candice Swanepoel in the looks department, Lambos always look like they were designed by 10-year-old boys and that’s why we love them, but the Veneno’s sketch artist must have been on bath salts when he penned this. Nevertheless, it looks sensational – like a Le Mans prototype with a number plate.

 

Built to celebrate the company’s 50th anniversary, the Lamborghini Veneno is about as limited edition as you can get. The engine, adapted from the Aventador’s, produces similar power to the Ferrari and McLaren but without the hybrid. It’s carbon, like its rivals, tipping the scales at 1,450kg – 150kg more than the LaFerrari and 55kg fatter than the P1.

 

If its rivals could be classed as Ivy League academics, the Lambo is here on a sports scholarship. It’s about brute force and cheerleader-winning swagger, rather than IQ.

 

But performance and technology are only part of the appeal of these cars. To spend over €1 million for a car, what you want is exclusivity.

 

It’s worth noting that sharing the stand with the P1 was a McLaren F1 LM, the Le Mans-derived orange road car of which only five were produced back in 1995. This car cost £800,000 back then. Today, it could fetch £10 million. Even regular McLaren F1’s have quadrupled in value. That, to a salivating audience of collectors, is the selling point.

 

McLaren will build 375 P1s, priced at £866,000 (€1 million). The Ferrari will go for about the same, produced a less restrained 499 times. But the Veneno takes the cake. Just four examples will be built. ‘Car Zero’, the one on the Geneva show stand, will see out its days at Lamborghini’s museum. The other three have already been sold for a cool €3.12 million. In 20 years just imagine what they could be changing hands for.

 

 

AUTOBIOGRAPHY: MCLAREN P1

ENGINE: 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8

POWER: 903bhp (inc. KERS boost)

TOP SPEED: 350km/h (limited)

PRODUCTION RUN: 375

PRICE: €1 million

 

AUTOBIOGRAPHY: FERRARI LAFERRARI

ENGINE: 6.3-litre V12

POWER: 950bhp (inc. KERS boost)

TOP SPEED: 350km/h +

PRODUCTION RUN: 499

PRICE: €1 million

 

AUTOBIOGRAPHY: LAMBORGHINI VENENO

ENGINE: 6.5-litre V12

POWER: 740bhp

TOP SPEED: 355km/h

PRODUCTION RUN: 4

PRICE: €3.12 million

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