When you read “McLaren Senna Validation Prototype 736,” that middle bit doesn’t sound particularly sexy or exotic. “McLaren” conjures up decades of Formula 1 teams and mind-bending road cars; “Senna” calls up images of one of Earth’s greatest ever racing drivers, probably staring off in the middle distance somewhere, looking epic. But “Validation Prototype” sounds like an electric shaver or a new recipe for protein drinks, as much as it does a near priceless early version of a supercar that someone has foolishly agreed to let me drive around Silverstone… in a light rain.
It’s one thing to drive someone else’s supercar at the track. This is quite different: McLaren built this car as the original demonstrator of the Senna – “It was only supposed to go round the lake” at the McLaren Technology Centre, we are told – but has been continuously refining and improving it as the final spec for the production cars has been developed.In fact, despite its very production-car appearance, inside and out, VP736 is very much an engineering work in progress. The final version, which I’m already invited to drive in a few months, could come away with any number of tweaks to the both software and hardware. In the meantime, the folks here from McLaren would really rather I not put their precious, millions-of-pounds test car into the wall. Now that they know I can actually sit in the car, that is.
The truth is I fit closely, but happily in the narrower of the two versions of the carbon fiber racing chair, fixed to its lowest setting. My helmet is just millimeters lower than the glass panel on the top of the door, but with enough clearance for me to easily move my head from side to side, and with a great forward view of the car’s sumptuous corners. The carbon fiber seat shell here is the larger of two sizes (thank God), and McLaren folks tell me that, while you can’t adjust it on the fly, the padding can be custom fit and seat height moved to fit the eventual driver pretty perfectly. In any event, the car fits me better than the overalls do.he car simply has all the power I can conceive of using on this fast, “international” layout of the track.
Despite the pinching, the biggest negative of the outfit is that the helmet is keeping the full opera of the Senna’s hot-rodded V8 engine from my ears. I know there are 4.0 liters of biturbocharged ferocity behind my head – good for 789 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque if I’m brave enough to run up to redline – but the headphones and helmet help to quiet the din. Even later in the day, when I’ve worked up to wide open throttle at the entrance to Silverstone’s Hanger Straight, the chaotic “WHAAAAA” bellow from the exhaust sounds slightly less hellacious than I know it’ll be when driven on the street.
Ungodly fast, unflappable, and yet drivable in a way that defies its brutal styling; it’s utterly true to the McLaren formula that makes me love these cars.
And I’m not done with it yet. Look for Motor1.com to have yet another go with the Senna, this time with a fully finished car, in the coming months.