Last week, Woking-based McLaren Cars released photos of the much-anticipated "spiritual successor" to Gordon Murray's landmark McLaren F1 - the McLaren MP4-12C shown, above. The Woking boys dug deep into their Formula 1 mythology on this one, calling upon the spirit of the great MP4 series of racecars, and (somewhat less directly) the relatively forgettable 1997 F1 contender of the same name.
On the surface, the MP4-12C ticks all the right boxes ...
- Monocoque tub? Check.
- Swoopy, rakish lines? Check.
- Powerful, high-revving engine? Check.
- Lightweight, negative-lift bodywork? Check.
- High-tech electronic wizardry? Check and double-check.
... and yet - something is missing, isn't it?
We've seen the basic shape of the MP4-12C before, back when it was being called the P11. We saw the car's outline almost a year ago, heavily camouflaged on public roads. Surely, then, we must have known what was coming.
We KNEW, didn't we?
Why, then, is this MP4-12C such an overwhelming disappointment? I can't pin it down, myself. Certainly, though, the problem lies not in what this newest road-going McLaren is, but in what it is not.
Simply, I knew the McLaren F1, and the MP4-12C is no McLaren F1.
We weren't promised a new F1. That's not the problem. We were, however, promised a new McLaren, and McLaren cars are simply something else. Murray's F1 redefined the supercar genre. The MP4-12C ... does not.
McLaren's MP4-12C has a funny name. Its looks already feel dated, like one of those late-90's Lotus Esprit concept sketches by Mark Sterehnbereger you'd find at the front of Motor Trend or Car and Driver. It's got "normal" side-by-side seating, not the three-across layout of the F1, that made you feel like you were driving a formula car. In short: rather than set a new standard for modern supercars, this new McLaren does nothing more than what McLaren's F1 team has been doing for years: chase Ferrari.
The MP4-12C might have had an edge over the F430, but Ferrari's new 458 Italia will raise the bar over the 430 - exactly what McLaren obviously hoped this car would do. The only question that really matters now: did McLaren steal the blueprints for the new Italia, as well?