Inside the McLaren Technology Centre

The McLaren Technology Centre

The McLaren Technology Centre

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.”

Pacific carp

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.

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99 comments on Inside the McLaren Technology Centre

  1. I didn’t get the MP/4-20 reference either. At a guess, did you mean the 2007 car, the MP/4-22?

    One nerdy point: negative-pressure ventilation is a standard feature of building design for kitchens (and bathrooms) and has been for many decades. But on the subject of McLaren precision, I did hear that Ron Dennis was personally involved in dictating details such as the precise order of the cables in electrical cable trays hidden above the false ceilings!

    • Chris said on 10th August 2009, 16:04

      Also Ron had all the fire exit signs made in the Mclaren type face and the depth of stairs in the building is diffrent from standard depths becuase Ron said so!!!

      • mp4-19b said on 10th August 2009, 18:27

        Ron Dennis is a PERFECTIONISTWe’ll not find many people like him. sad to see him leave f1 :( but at least his ideology remains in place.

  2. Nefer said on 10th August 2009, 14:43

    Did you mean to say MP4-23? Cause isn’t that in Germany at the Mercedes HQ?

  3. F1Outsider said on 10th August 2009, 15:31

    So Keith, will you clear up this mp4/20 comment you made?

    • mp4-19b said on 10th August 2009, 17:33

      maybe he meant mp4-19b, cuz i’m here :) but i would love to be an exhibit at the MTC any day. keith must be one of the luckiest people in the world!!! not many people get invited to MTC. BTW keith just wanna ask one thing, how did the food taste at Absolute Taste ?? finally is there a lewis hamilton gold-plated accelerator footpedal, with a little Pussycat Dolls logo stamped on it?? just curious :)

      • Cridland [Cridcomment @ gmail] said on 10th August 2009, 21:46

        gold-plated accelerator footpedal, with a little Pussycat Dolls logo

        Hey! Who told you about that?

  4. Amazing building. Who wouldnt want to work in a place like that!?

    Be interesting to see what some of the other teams have. Remember looking at pictures of the Tyrrell ‘shed’ a while back – things have changed a bit! :)

  5. Bartholomew said on 10th August 2009, 15:44

    Extraordinary ! as a Mclaren fan, I love these pictures.
    Looks very “spacial”
    Ground control to Major Ron

    Ron is much happier here in his laboratory instead of having to deal with that rabble of FIA, Lou, Flav, Max, Todt Newman, Miss Meuw and the whole lot

  6. Jonathan said on 10th August 2009, 16:14

    The MP4-20 never won a world championship…

  7. I assume Keith meant the MP4/20 does sit in the lobby amongst other championship winning McLaren’s, as Ron Dennis said, Kimi was the “champion” that year, and that the title itself is just a badge.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 10th August 2009, 19:31

      On the MP4/20 – sorry I might not have been very clear above, but Matt’s closest to nailing it.

      Every recent McLaren car in that room was a championship winner. The MP4/20 was also in there, even though it didn’t win a championship. But there is a reason why they chose to include it…

      • Jonathan said on 10th August 2009, 22:14

        Oh I see what you meant… no, your wording wasn’t very clear!

        They probably included the MP4/20 in the collection because it is the fastest McLaren of all time, and arguably the fastest F1 car.

  8. mp4-19b said on 10th August 2009, 17:50

    I dunno why the Scottish Parliament Building won the 2005 Stirling Prize :( MTC is the best building in the whole of europe imho & ron dennis deserves every possible accolade for consulting Norman Foster and his company for the construction. i’ve never ever seen a building like the MTC, it is a modern engineering marvel. Ron must be throughly complimented for achieving his life time dream

    This was the mclaren factory in 1986(guess who was visiting :) )

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XLf-yjLCyaM

    • mp4-19b said on 10th August 2009, 17:57

      proud to be a mclaren fan & member of the british empire & commonwealth. mclaren technologies is the pride of Britain & her commonwealth.

  9. mp4-19b said on 10th August 2009, 18:31

    Good to see that mclaren are using CATIA :) other PLM softwares are crap, NX included. guess what?? BMW uses NX :)

  10. Sush Meerkat said on 10th August 2009, 18:59

    Wind tunnels produce enormous heat and the vast lake that borders the MTC is used to keep it cool. This means the make is 3-4 degrees warmer than other nearby bodies of water.

    A large body of water is called a “Lake”, not a make.

  11. Ronman said on 10th August 2009, 19:03

    I got a nice book about the MTC when i attended a regional launch of McLaren Automotive. although i am not a fan of the F1 team, I am a fan of Ron Dennis’ school of thought, and next time I’m in the UK, i will be visiting their place. Because despite what team you actively root for in F1, i think McLaren are a symbol of the modern Era, and soon it will be evident that they will be the symbol of technological progress, not just in automotive but other sectors as well.

  12. Oliver said on 10th August 2009, 19:34

    Great article Keith. A very magnificent structure and interior. It’s almost futuristic and well worth whatever was spent erecting it.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 10th August 2009, 19:43

      Thanks Oliver – no idea how much it cost actually, anyone?

      • An amazing place; a far cry from when I used to occasionally deliver to McLaren’s place in Colnbrook in the early 70s. A figure of $600 million for the Technology Centre I’ve seen.

      • Oliver said on 10th August 2009, 23:27

        It was well over 250million pounds. And that was pre recession money. :-)

      • Martin said on 11th August 2009, 12:06

        Hi Keith,

        I was working in Woking at the time of the build. The Financial Times did a brilliant piece on the project to build the MTC which came in under budget and ahead of time. This was credited to Ron’s attention to project management and proper change control procedures. Interestingly, all construction vehicles were washed on and off site daily.
        Keep up the excellent work.

  13. verasaki said on 10th August 2009, 20:01

    Was the mp4-20 the first car built in the new facility? other than being kimi’s championship car that’s tne only other thing i can think it might be.

  14. sato113 said on 10th August 2009, 21:48

    so nice. probably the best place to work EVER! with a gym and a pool! by the way Keith, what’s the ‘autoclave’???

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 10th August 2009, 22:44

      It’s not a gym, it’s a “fitness and wellbeing centre” :-)

      An autoclave is what they use to create the carbon fibre components for the car. It’s basically a big oven in which pieces of carbon cloth are baked together using a resin to bond them.

      • michael counsell said on 10th August 2009, 23:21

        Is the idea of a “fitness and wellbeing centre” to attract people who would be put off by the thought of going to gym. Once they start going they then say they are going to a gym, but its not like other gyms…

      • Oliver said on 11th August 2009, 0:04

        More often thant not, in a vacuum also.

      • sato113 said on 11th August 2009, 2:12

        thanks. looked complicated!

        It’s not a gym, it’s a “fitness and wellbeing centre”

        ha much like how they call a motorhome a ‘brand center’ lol

  15. Keith,
    I think it’s great that you have got to do these kind of behind the scenes visits lately; Ferrari at Silverstone, now the MTC.What’s next, Bernie’s paddock motorhome? Then I’d be impressed!

    I went to the Red Bull Technology HQ in Milton Keynes about a year ago for an interview. At the time it felt kind of surreal bring there, but from your pictures I hasn’t got. A patch on the MTC. I used to dislike Mclaren for their corporate image around the late 90’s but now I must say I really admire the way they seem to conduct their business in that minimalist, clean cut kind of way.

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