I don’t think love at first sight is a phrase that you hear very often when it comes to the McLaren Senna.
Its unseemly form is backed by explanations a plenty as to why it looks like this – its lines, angles and shapes are the results of countless hours of testing in wind tunnels and massage sessions backed by reams of computational fluid dynamics data, more so than the romantic flow of a designer’s pen.
It looks the way it does so that it can perform like it does. Fine, we thought – it’s simply function over form – as you were.
But as I stood in front of the first ever Senna GTR prototype at the 77th Goodwood Members’ Meeting, I remember trying to make sense of what I’m looking at, but couldn’t help but feel like it’s all a bit convoluted.
There’s a bizarre flow-chart in mind my that doesn’t really go anywhere.
The (now ‘vanilla’) McLaren Senna is a road car, a very expensive and exclusive road car. That much is a fact. But it’s a road car with so much obvious emphasis put on its performance that it shows, at skin-level. Its very ability to function as a road car is also compromised. Certainly, you could never reach anywhere near its full potential on the road such is its blistering performance, and by all accounts actually using one on the road is nowhere near as pleasurable an experience as you’d imagine.
Aha, but the Senna is really a track car you say – that much is blindingly clear. McLaren didn’t design the Senna the way that they did for it to do 0-30mph pulls on Sloane Street surrounded by car spotters. They designed it to perform above all else. Yet as a track car, the Senna is also compromised by its need to remain road-legal.
Yes it’s wild, but not as wild as it could be because it’s still bound by the rules and regulations that make it a road car.
Cue the Senna GTR. The GTR is just about as wild as a Senna can be. With its huge front aero additions, wider fenders, cuts, swoops and slashes through the bodywork and extended and widened rear wing and diffuser, increase in power and downforce (and not to mention slick tyres), the Senna GTR looks like a car designed solely by computers with no human input. It’s data in the form of a car. And it’s undoubtedly a machine that could never see the road.
It’s not being built for homologation purposes – there’s no rulebook defining it and no specific race series that it can call home. It’s a toy for those who have both the means and the connections to own one (all 75 were sold for £1.1million plus tax each before they even went on sale).
Part of me wonders how Senna owners who bought the car solely for track use are feeling about the GTR right now…
But underneath all of this, two or three layers deep, is still a compromise. When I look at the Senna GTR I don’t see the ultimate McLaren track car, I see a very, very capable track car, but one built upon the confines of a road car that in its very nature is somewhat compromised, both on its ability on the road and on the track.
It’s hardly an immaculate conception, is it?
The very fact that the GTR now exists makes the Senna a contradiction on wheels, to me at least.
Perhaps all of this stems from the initial hurdle of how the Senna looks. McLaren have made, and still make, some of the most beautiful cars on the planet in my opinion.
The Senna, however, is one that I can’t see ever growing on me.
The 77th Goodwood Members’ Meeting on Speedhunters