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McLaren Senna First Drive Review

On Wednesday, June 27th, 2018

Ferrari owners don’t just buy a car, they buy an image of performance and sophistication. Let’s be honest: this reflected glory is a primary motivating factor for supercar ownership, and it’s great for self-esteem. More to the point, it’s sustained Ferrari for the last 70 years. And now McLaren, on a much steeper learning curve, is catching on that supercars need more than just dominating performance figures to reach the next level. If you’re going to name your car after Ayrton Senna, it had better be something special.

McLaren Senna

Evidence is provided by the fact that the McLaren Senna isn’t just wickedly fast, it puts you in the driving seat of a car named after one of the most revered F1 drivers in history, built by the road car arm of the team that powered him to three championships. Driving it might not make you his equal, but the marketing gold is self-evident.

McLaren isn’t letting this opportunity slip through its grasp, not least in its choice of launch venue — Estoril circuit outside of Lisbon, the scene of Ayrton Senna’s first Grand Prix win back in 1985. The manner of that victory, conducted in pouring rain and seeing him lap all but one of the field, set in place a legend. OK, he did it in a Lotus and not a McLaren. But given how many of the people behind this car also started their careers at Lotus, that’s kind of appropriate, too.

The Senna’s 1,764 pounds of downforce at 155 mph is an impressive number, but pretty much an abstract concept unless you live on the track. But its 0-124 mph time, a whole second faster than a hybrid-enhanced P1? That’s one to wake you up. Likewise, a track briefing before heading onto the track revealed that our braking point from 180 mph for Estoril’s first turn will be 60 feet past what it would be in a 720S.

Like all McLarens, the pedal is perfectly aligned with your left foot, making it easy to trail-brake in and bury the nose into the apex while overlapping your throttle input to power through while leaning heavily on the abundant downforce. There is, no doubt, all manner of clever stuff happening with interlinked aero, springing, damping and anti-roll — but the real trick is making you forget about that and concentrate on the honest feedback through fingertips and seat of the pants. Trust quickly replaces fear.

This, arguably, is its biggest win. You may indeed bathe in the reflected glory of driving a car named after F1’s most celebrated hero. It’s a reflection of McLaren’s growing self-confidence it feels now is the time, and this is the car, to do the same. That’s a bold play in every respect, and one that McLaren has just about pulled off perfectly.

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