Last week I had my first chance to visit the McLaren Technology Centre.
I met Communications and PR head Matt Bishop (also former F1 Racing editor) for lunch and a tour of the factory – he pointed out some of its most extraordinary features and little-known facts.
The first thing I can report is yes, true to the word of the teams’ agreement, the mechanics had downed tools for two weeks and were on compulsory vacation.
I caught of a glimpse of a partly-dismantled MP4-24 where the mechanics had apparently stopped mid-work, tidied everything away, and headed out the door for the mandatory two-week break all the teams are sticking to.
Hamilton’s next car
At the entryway to the building sits an example of every Ron Dennis-era McLaren that has won a world championship (with one notable exception – the MP4-20 – I’m sure you can guess why in the comments!)
There’s also a carefully restored example of the first car raced by company founder Bruce McLaren. Behind it sits a bright orange beast that one Lewis Hamilton makes a beeline for every time he visits the factory.
A McLaren F1 is rare enough but this is an F1 LM – based on the car that won the 1995 Le Mans 24 Hours. The price tag in currency isn’t fixed but Hamilton has been told what he needs to do to get his hands on it – win three world championships. One down…
“What a lot of people forget about Lewis is he lives and breathes McLaren,” says Matt. “He’s been with the team since he was 11.”
“He goes up and has a look at the car whenever he comes here. He cups his hand against the window and peers inside.”
The building itself is as stunning a construction as the cars inside it. The wind tunnel is out of action because of the shutdown – “but even if it wasn’t you couldn’t hear it from outside”, Matt explains.
Wind tunnels produce enormous heat and the vast lake that borders the MTC is used to keep it cool. This means the lake is 3-4 degrees warmer than other nearby bodies of water.
Anyone who has a pond in their garden knows the curse that is algae, and that is a particular problem for McLaren’s warm lake. Ron Dennis’s solution was to import a variety of pacific carp that eats the algae, which are shipped in from time to time to keep the green weed down.
Details like that – like the lowered air pressure in in the canteen to keep food smells escaping into the rest of the building – are McLarenesque solutions to practical problems.
The same lake water flows around the lower levels of the building down elegant steps. When the wind tunnel is being used regularly, the flow gets quicker.
“What was the flow like when they were working on a fix for the 24?” I ask Matt.
“Niagra Falls,” he replies.
McLaren Technology Centre pictures
NB. The images above were supplied by www.mclaren.com and were not taken on the day of my visit.