Words: Darren Johnston
With some days, the anticipation of what is to come is too much. Difficult to get to sleep the night before. Waking up really early and hoping that it's not too early to get up.
Last weekend was just that way for me, because I had a pair of tickets for the McLaren+ fan day at the McLaren Technology Centre (MTC) in Woking, Surrey. I've been a McLaren fan since about 1984, when a friend of my parents gave me the factory address and said that if I wrote them a letter, they might send me some posters and stickers. I did, and a couple of weeks later I had a poster on my wall. Once Senna was driving for them too, I was confirmed as a McLaren fan boy, and have been ever since.
The MTC as a piece of architecture is stunning. I’d seen pictures and read about it, of course. About the awards, the low carbon footprint. About how the formal lake at the front helps to heat and cool the building by using the water in a heat exchanger as well as giving the curved glass main wall the appearance of floating on the water. To be driven towards the door though, is something else. The frontage is revealed dramatically as you approach and it's impossible to take your eyes off the building. The driver told us that each of the three cleaning shifts cleans the whole building every day. It wasn't difficult to believe.
The MTC was described as 90% NASA and 10% Disneyland, but for the fan day there was plenty of extra Disney. We were greeted at the door, handed freebies then encouraged to make ourselves at home and feel free to look around. It's nice to see the trophy cabinets, which are large and full but the view out over the lake, rolling grass and afternoon sun was just as good.
This is a building which is a statement of the brand philosophy and is perfectly integrated into its wider surroundings.
The stroll down the main boulevard took us on a walk through McLaren’s heritage. The first F1 and most recent road car models leading on to the racing cars starting with Bruce’s Austin 7 through the orange single seaters, a Can-Am car, on to the 70’s championship winning cars of Fittipaldi and Hunt.
Next came the start of the Ron Dennis era, the 1980’s MP4 cars of Watson, Lauda, Prost and Senna. The West liveried late 90’s cars of Hakkinen and Coulthard gave way to the silver of the Alonso, Hamilton and Button cars and finally up to date with the hybrids.
Everywhere you looked there was a reminder of the racing history.
Just before the race, most people gathered in the restaurant to grab a meal and settle in for the start. Watching Vettel beat Bottas into turn one had several hundred people collectively holding our breath then cheering. Ironically the biggest cheer came when Stoffel Vandoorne was out and David Croft on the Sky commentary mentioned the ‘Fans watching at the McLaren Technology Centre’ (Credit where credit is due..,)
After the race there was still enough time for a tour of the production car factory, connected to the main building by a 98 metre underground James Bond bad-guy’s lair type tunnel. No photography allowed in this area but the whole place was cleaner than the Starship Enterprise, and a little more advanced. There are plans to unveil a further 11 models in the next 5 years, and to build up production to a maximum of 5000 cars per year.
On the way out, having changed a wheel in the pit stop challenge and raided the merch stall, we were each given a cookie for the way home, which had the McLaren logo on it. Literally the icing on the cake.