Group tests

Litchfield Type-25 v Caterham CSR 260 v Lotus Exige S v Radical SR3 1300 v Ariel Atom v Porsche Carrera GT v Ford GT v Ferrari Enzo v McLaren F1 - McLaren F1

Gordon Murray’s vision, BMW’s power, Peter Stevens’s design and McLaren’s obsessive attention to detail - it can only be the legendary F1

We’ve got one more roll of the dice left, and it’s the one that I, Harry and doubtless our insurers have been dreading: the McLaren F1.

In truth we’re not expecting even the combined genius of Gordon Murray’s vision, BMW’s peerless power, Peter Stevens’s timeless design and McLaren’s obsessive attention to detail to scare the pointy end of the order, for it’s a decade and a half since the F1 altered our perception of performance, packaging and price tag. Hell, when the McLaren F1 was new I had a 28in waist.

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As with many of the cars here, six or seven laps are barely enough to scratch the surface, but thanks to the generosity of this particular F1’s owner (Pistonheaders amongst you will know him as ‘Flemke’) I’ve got the opportunity to throw myself in at the deepest of deep ends. Oh yes, and he’s sitting just behind my left shoulder.

A man of sharp wit and rare comedic timing, as the driver’s door is pushed shut, Flemke decides to give me his unique brand of pre-flight briefing. ‘Err, I think this is a good time to remind you that the chassis stinks, there’s no downforce and the brakes are terrible. But it’s got a great engine!’ Err, thanks, you’ve been a big help.

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This is the point at which the day gets serious. The central driving position, the convoluted start procedure, the overwhelming value and the legendary reputation (good and bad) are oppressive. The fact that everyone, and I mean everyone, has gathered on the pit-wall to watch twists my guts into knots. Most of all, I don’t want to let the F1 down.

Once again, the cold manifests itself with the impression that the West Circuit has been surreptitiously smeared with butter. I decide to take a couple of laps to put some heat into the tyres, resorting to race-style zig-zagging down the straights.

When the time comes to get on with it, my heart’s punching a hole in my chest, but strangely the all-encompassing, jagged induction roar of that amazing V12 has a soothing effect on my nerves. This, I decide, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and nothing’s going to stop me from savouring every last moment. Well, nothing except the pant-soiling moment on the exit of O’Rouge that has me reaching for several armfuls of right lock in a desperate effort to save the car, the magazine and, ultimately, my skin. Flemke, to his credit, doesn’t even whimper.

During the three laps that follow I make many major discoveries. The first is that the brakes are indeed terrible. In fact, they’re shite. The second is that the absence of a rear anti-roll bar means you’re always chasing the F1’s tail, be it under power through a corner or under braking into a corner. The third is that the steering really is as heavy as contemporary road tests would have you believe, the fourth that BMW built the finest, sharpest, most beautifully responsive engine ever to grace a road car. The fifth, and frankly unexpected revelation is that despite the obvious and at times unnerving flaws, the F1 remains an intoxicating challenge, a car you could dedicate your whole life to learning.

The sixth is the lap time – a highly creditable 1.21.20 – which eclipses the Enzo, a cutting-edge supercar benefiting from 15 years of engine, chassis and brake development. True, Flemke’s car has had some subtle development of its own, most obviously the bigger wheels and modern rubber (the same type and size as the Enzo), but it’s by no means a complete reworking of the original. To my great relief, the F1’s honour is upheld.

Specifications

LayoutMid engine, rear-wheel drive
EngineV12, 6064cc
Max power627bhp @ 7500rpm
Max torque480lb ft @ 5600rpm
Weight1140kg
Power/weight559bhp/ton
0-60mph3.2sec
Max speed240mph
Price when new£630,000
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