Flat out and Fearless with McLaren
Rob Melville, Chief Designer talks about the inspiration of the marque’s new models
Article by Marc Stickley
With over 50 years of racing heritage, most people will have heard of the McLaren Formula 1 team. Few, however, know that McLaren have long manufactured road cars. Some are well known to car enthusiasts like the iconic 1992 F1, but others were one offs, or exceedingly limited run creations. McLaren Automotive is linked – both geographically and in terms of ethos – with the Formula 1 team yet commands its own identity. Responsible for the MP4-12C, then 650S and recently the breathtaking £1m P1 hybrid hypercar, McLaren Automotive now bring us the Sports Series – the 540 and 570S coupes.
Showcased at Goodwood Festival of Speed, the new model range of sports cars offers an attainable McLaren, designed to introduce people to the brand, the luxury and performance. McLaren are geared to produce 2500 of these £145,000 cars a year, to complement the 650/675 Super Series and the P1 Ultimate series. Riddle was lucky enough to be given a guided tour of the 570S by Rob Melville, Chief Designer for McLaren Automotive.
As Rob introduces me to the car, he ties points to McLaren’s design ethos – ‘Everything for a Reason’. This is the first car that Rob has taken “from doodles to sign off – from the sketch stage, through clay mock-ups and finally authorising manufacture”. He was previously involved in the 650S and P1 design evolution, but as he takes me through the car, it is clear he is especially proud of the new range as his first complete design. Rob enthused how the nose strake and bonnet crease encourage air to split in the right manner to flow over the car, guiding the air exactly where it needs to be – into radiators, to cool brakes, to provide downforce. As we approach the rear of the car and admire the exposed engine bay, the mantra ‘Everything for a Reason’ is evident. Rob explained how flying buttress pillars were added to the design: “after the notchback rear screen providing the view of the engine led to a lack of clean airflow over the rear spoiler, losing essential downforce, the curved buttresses were added”. This elegant design feature guides air from the rear wings, up and over the rear of the car and onto the spoiler, providing up to 50kg extra downforce – essential for stability at speed.
Rob popped the scissor door and as I climb into the car he points out more features: “the reduced sill thickness provided by the newly designed carbon mono-tub allows for easier ingress (compared to the 650S of the Super Series) and makes the cabin much more spacious than the two higher model ranges. This allows for excellent visibility and more room for luggage”. With an increase of 15 litres in the footwells alone and bag room behind the seats you get a distinct feeling of comfort, despite being in a very high performance space. In the cabin you are ensconced in leather, across the dash, around the windscreen pillars and lining the roof. With a minimalist, but effective display layout – a touch screen central console and a multi-function display in place of traditional instruments – there is little to distract from piloting the car. This is an exceptional place to be, and from my experience of Aston Martin and Porsche cabins, a touch above the competition.
Rob went on to explain that form and function are equally important to him – he sees himself as a designer and not a stylist. Inspiration for designs can come from anywhere: “I was inspired by nature since I started sketching as a boy”, he said, recounting how he would walk through his back garden and down to a stream to sketch the water flow; “if a bird or rabbit came along, I would sketch that, comparing the flow lines and features I saw”.
Natural inspirations are frequently featured in Rob’s designs – shark profiles, the peregrine falcon in its high-speed stoop and the flow of water in a Utah cave structure. Questioning how things work and remembering the title of his sixth form essay “What did British design stand for?” Rob compared design stereotypes of Italian passion, German quality, Japanese reliability and Scandinavian safety features. “For me, British design stands for innovation, invention, technology and quality. Those principles are paramount at McLaren and I’m incredibly proud of the reactions I get from people”. As he pointed out, the laws of aero do not change, but the understanding of them evolves. This is important for McLaren – they could have recreated the features of the ’92 F1 and had a design hit, but technology has moved on: “While the performance increases may seem small over 20 years, the gains in production techniques mean that performance can be more accessible to more people”. While the F1 could crack 60mph in 3.2 seconds and went on to 242mph – there were only 106, but there will be 375 P1s (all sold) and a 1000 Super Series (650/675) this year.