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McLaren 650S

Case study: Carbon Fibre

In 1981 McLaren revolutionised the construction of racing cars with the creation of Formula One’s first carbon fibre monocoque. Today we continue that proud tradition: still a leader in the field of carbon technology, still an innovator and still committed to developing new composite solutions that offer lighter and stronger solutions than traditional materials.

When the MP4/1 rolled out of the garage on March 5th, 1981 it excited curiosity. In the hands of John Watson it took a first victory at the 1981 British Grand Prix. More significantly, it enabled the Ulsterman to walk away unscathed from a high-speed crash at Monza later in the year. Over the course of a season it rendered rival chassis obsolete.

Later in the decade, with carbon fibre ubiquitous in Formula One and fast becoming the material of choice across the world of motorsport, McLaren picked up the pace of development, taking composite technology onto the road via the McLaren F1. The advantages of a strong, lightweight and stiff chassis were as applicable to a supercar as they had been to a racing car on the track. The technical demands, however, were very different. Constructing a carbon fibre monocoque suitable for the uncontrolled environment of the public road, combined with the longevity required of the automotive industry, demanded McLaren rewrite the rules of composite materials technology.

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That knowledge has served McLaren well over the past two decades. The 12C, 650S and P1 models created by McLaren Automotive are direct descendants of the F1 road car programme – but our understanding of carbon fibre technology has moved forward at pace in the intervening years. We’ve continued to innovate with automation technology for greater precision, new adhesives, resins and processes to improve our products, making them not only stronger and lighter but also swifter to construct and spectacular to behold. These advancements place the modern McLaren Automotive MonoCell and MonoCage chassis on the leading edge of automotive materials science.

Still the pioneering work continues, and composites have never been more relevant. Today’s automotive industry demands stronger, safer structures but also lighter vehicles with better emissions performance. Mainstream automakers are increasingly open to the advantages of carbon fibre as they seek to either take weight out of conventional vehicles or compensate for heavy batteries in hybrids and electric cars.

Meanwhile our expertise has also spread far beyond the automotive industry. McLaren Applied Technologies (MAT) designed both the S-Works+McLaren Venge and S-Works McLaren Tarmac for leading cycle manufacturer Specialized and, through a partnership with UK Sport, created the carbon fibre skeleton sled with which Lizzie Yarnold won gold in Sochi.

But these are the tip of the iceberg: MAT’s expertise with carbon fibre is taking McLaren into an every widening range of industrial applications with the pace of innovation increasing all the time.