Skip navigation

* Watson pilots new carbon-based MP4-12C prior to the 30th anniversary of McLaren introducing a carbon monocoque to Formula 1
* Strength, light weight and structural integrity are key features of carbon fibre chassis in both MP4/1 and MP4-12C
* B-roll video footage and high resolution images from Silverstone anniversary event now available from

On 4 March  2011, John Watson, former McLaren Formula 1 driver and 1981 British Grand Prix winner in the MP4/1, was invited to Silverstone by McLaren Automotive to drive the new McLaren high-performance sports car, the MP4-12C. The 12C is the first in a new range of carbon-based road cars from McLaren and the first car to feature an innovative one-piece, hollow carbon chassis structure: the MonoCell. The MP4/1, also on display, was the first racing car, and first car of any kind, to feature a carbon chassis.

Watson was joined at Silverstone by former McLaren Technical Director John Barnard, McLaren Automotive Technical Director Dick Glover, and Claudio Santoni Function Group Manager for Body Structures at McLaren Automotive, as McLaren celebrated its role as a carbon pioneer in the automotive industry over the last 30 years.

Arguably the world’s greatest ever sports car, the McLaren F1, featured the world’s first carbon chassis in a road car. This was produced manually and took up to 3,000 hours to complete each unit. The bonded carbon chassis of the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, the world’s most commercially successful carbon-based car, reduced that manufacturing time ten-fold. The new carbon manufacturing process developed by McLaren for the 12C will mean the MonoCell can be produced in a four hour cycle.

Pioneering this industrialisation process means McLaren Automotive is making carbon a reality to car enthusiasts seeking the ultimate in lightweight and safe chassis construction at a price point more affordable to a wider market.

The new MP4-12C is the first sub-£200,000 high performance sports car in the world to feature a one-piece carbon chassis. The MonoCell weighs just 75kgs (165lbs), and is a safety cell which, like the MP4/1, is unique in offering an unrivalled package of strength, light weight and the structural integrity and dimensional accuracy to form the bedrock to segment-beating performance.

The MonoCell’s composition and construction process were defined over a three year period as the first, and vital, step in McLaren Automotive’s launch as a fully-fledged sports car company.

Dick Glover, McLaren Automotive’s Technical Director, said: “It was a real privilege to see our past and present coming together over our first and latest carbon chassis. John Watson and John Barnard are great characters from our past, and for many of the current McLaren team to meet them today felt really special. They both highlighted the pioneering spirit that led to the development of MP4/1 and that passion to innovate remains intact at McLaren Automotive: the 12C’s MonoCell is living proof.”

Claudio Santoni, Function Group Manager for Body Structures at McLaren Automotive, said: “The MonoCell is extremely light, which helps reduce the 12C’s CO2 emissions to unprecedented levels for high-performance sports cars.  It is also incredibly strong and predictable in form and behaviour, providing a great foundation to world-beating performance; acceleration, braking, changes of direction and vehicle stability are all significantly better than on any car with aluminium chassis that I have ever known. This is because, using a carbon composite means we can manufacture the MonoCell with aerospace industry levels of precision, which is fundamental to accurate dynamic suspension geometry control,” Santoni concluded.

On March 5, 1981 McLaren Racing introduced the carbon monocoque to Formula 1 in the McLaren MP4/1: it offered an unbeatable combination of strength and lightness.

It had an immediate dynamic impact, with John Watson winning the 1981 British Grand Prix at Silverstone. It also proved an effective safety cell, with Watson walking away from a dramatic high-speed crash at Monza later that season. Within a few years, every other Formula 1 team on the grid had followed suit, and McLaren’s place as carbon innovators was sealed.

John Watson said: “I’m very proud to have been a part of McLaren launching the first carbon fibre chassis in Formula 1. After that crash in Monza, I was back driving one of our Formula 1 test cars within four days at Donington. Despite the accident appearing horrific to those watching, I was clearly protected by a safety cell of the strength and rigidity the world of Formula 1 had never before seen. I’m sure that because of that innovative technology, I walked away unscathed.”

After making his track debut behind the wheel of the 592 bhp, 3.8-litre twin turbo V8 12C, Watson exclaimed: “The MP4-12C is mind-bogglingly quick! It is by far and away the fastest road car I’ve ever driven. Between 80-130 mph it really feels as fast as my old Formula 1 car. I only drive it in Normal mode, so I can’t begin to imagine what it is like in Sport or Track modes!”

%d bloggers like this: