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Reflected Glory?

FEATURE BY MAX NOBLE
18/12/2017

So the might that is the McLaren road car division is releasing a limited run hyper-car (Super not being, well, super enough these days) called the Senna.

Now there is a mighty F1 link if ever there was one. Great idea to link a road car company to the legends and dare-doing of the pinnacle of motor sport! Hurrah! A hero of a recent yet bygone era with enough Halo effect for all (the deity kind, not the "it makes something somewhere safer some time" kind).

Hang on. Doesn't McLaren still have a racing division? Oh yes! A quick google and it appears it does.

Yet, with an active F1 racing team, that during the 2017 season used an engine developed by their now ex-engine partner Honda, the McLaren road division elect to use a family name from a great man dead over twenty years and not current direct Formula One links! How so? We all cry.

Senna was a remarkable character, rightly respected around the planet for his spirit, fierce racing, and remarkable wins. He was far from flawless, yet he was the stuff of legend even before his tragic early demise.

Yet, on reflection, Formula One provided him with a stage on which to present his greatness, rather than making him great, if you follow me. It is not difficult to imagine him being respected on any field of conflict, sporting or battle, because of his essence. Heroes walk around us each and every day. What is rare is that confluence of fate, ability, and timing such that these hidden heroes are presented the chance to reveal themselves to the world.

Senna strode into the light, revealed himself to the world, and the world blinked in awe.

Now, after a decades long flow of books, articles, and a remarkable documentary (along with a few less well produced media reviews) we still blink in awe. The transcendent might of true heroes rings through the ages.

So no wonder McLaren should look to the name of a hero that is not just for the world of motor sport, but transcends that to embody fighting spirit, total dedication, and a ruthless will to succeed that is known and respected outside the limited universe of Formula One.

Compare that spiritual and marketing might with the actual fact of the car, with Formula One and the McLaren racing team this past season.

Rather than a rare limited edition, the McLaren Senna car could be more rightly considered a modestly limited serial production run. It is after all based on the "mass produced" McLaren 720, which at a production rate of around 800 units in 2017, and around 1,500 units per year after that, is not exactly the most common car you will reverse into while navigating the Aldi car park. Just ask Felipe Massa, who no doubt with more time on his hands will spend more time with some of his beloved watches in his hands. Anything with a production run in double-digits is not a limited edition Felipe will most assuredly tell us. Bash out more than ten of anything and you have entered the world of limited serial production.

So 500 Senna cars, all taken.

They have moveable aero devices that are banned in Formula One.

They have trick adaptive suspension, which likewise is banned on the track.

They have a true rip-snorter of a bellowing V8 (dry sump, 4.0L, twin turbo) strapped in the back, as now banned in Formula One.

It is to be believed it will rocket to 100kph (a tad over 60mph) in around 2.5 seconds, before storming on to a more or less unusable across the roads of the planet 300kph+.

Not bad for around $1,000,000... until one reflects on Elon Musk planning his next roadster to abuse the air with a ripping 1.9 second hammering to 100kph, and a cost of around $250,000.

Of course Elon sadly cannot claim all that Formula One derived technology that will breathe life into his charging beauty. Oh, hang on, McLaren didn't directly use any of their Formula One technology either.

And rather than looking back and grabbing one of motor sport's great names to add shine to his roadster he has challenged Boeing to a race to Mars, and states he will put his new roadster in orbit around Mars before Boeing get there.

Now that's a race I'll be watching with interest.

If one really wants to feel a spiritual connection to a hero who transcends time I recommend buying a well-cared for (most of them are) Honda NSX.

A highly capable road car built at a time when Honda was getting it right on the track and off it.

Senna was being powered by their engines to the stuff of legends on the track, while he was helping them refine the handling of the NSX for the open road. Each time you sit in an NSX and do your best to take that sweet winding road home you are sitting in a place where the spirit of Senna is strong and the hero actually sat. You are sitting in the driving seat having precisely the driving experience you are, directly because of him.

Each time you sit in a McLaren Senna (should you get the chance) you will be reminded that all the great parts of the car are not directly evolved from Formula One or the mighty Ayrton. It doesn't even use a Honda engine, thus ignoring a Senna link, and the racing division's 2017 engine supplier.

The car that slapped on the Senna name for halo effect is being promoted by a man that did the same. Young Bruno knew the value of that name, and his respect for his heroic uncle is beyond question, utter, complete, and respectful.

Over the years humanity has found many ways to honour our fallen heroes with respect and dignity that recalls their greatness while flattering their failings.

For the life of me, I'm not quite sure what the McLaren Senna is supposed to be or do. The great man neither raced it, engineered it, or, obviously, drove it.

He drove the mighty McLaren Formula One cars to three World championships at a time when both the world and racing were far simpler than today. I believe the original McLaren F1 road car, with a suitable mighty Honda in the back, would have been a fitting tribute. Yet the company elected not to put Senna's name on that car. Then Honda declined to meet Gordon Murray's challenge for the V12 engine he desired, so the F1 uses a BMW engine that propels it at titanic speeds without energy recovery, super-charging, or turbo-charging.

It is a mighty statement for the great McLaren to honour their greatest ever driver. And truth is, by the standards of 2017, the McLaren Senna is a mighty hyper-car. Yet is this how we should honour him?

Why not look back with honour and if you feel the need for something material go buy a second-hand NSX. Or look to the future, buy a Roadster from Cheeky Elon, and simply carry the spirit of Senna in your heart.

Either way you've significant spare funds remaining from having not purchased a McLaren Senna. So now spend some of the $750,000 you've just saved on a driving holiday to Imola.

Piloting the NSX you will have Senna with you through every corner along the way. In the Tesla Roadster Senna will be in your heart, and he will respect your world class choice of weapon. And then, exiting your car of choice, brakes pinging behind you as they cool, walk and stand in that place of battle. Breathing deep and slow, eyes closed, feet on the ground, feel the spirit. Ignore the latest marketing exercise and channel the passion.

That's honouring Senna.

Max Noble.

Learn more about Max and check out his previous features, here

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by Spindoctor, 17/02/2018 8:06

"@Max Noble
The name strikes me as tasteless, but in the early 21st Century I fear that's par for the course. In the so-called Regan\Thatcher era, Accountancy ruled the roost: everything was continually "audited", and (as you note below) we were obsessed with the price of everything, and had liitle concept of the value of anything.

It is consequently no surprise that today everything is fair game for the marketeers, especially as technology means that in absolute terms many differently branded products are functionally near-identical. Your smartphone probably uses the same Qualcomm chipset as mine. Apple make their own chips, but use the same ARM technologies as Qualcomm.
The iPhone X at 1,000 shares technologies and components with the "cheap" Samsung S8 (a mere 600+). The 400 difference is mainly about Marketing.
Apple shamelessly draws on the legacy of Steve Jobs: a perfectionist to the point of OCD, to sell products which increasingly are poorly-designed and under-developed. Jony Ive hasn't had an original design idea since Jobs died.

In such a context McLaren's use of Senna's name is unsurprising. What IS surprising is that they've done this when the product didn't need the specious association with the Great Man in order to sell-out. If Ron were still at McLaren, I'm pretty sure it wouldn't have happened. Ronspeak may have been corporate gibberish, but riding the coat-tails of a dead hero isn't part of Ron's vocabulary

As to the car itself, according to McLaren, it is categorically NOT a modified 720S. This starts with the Monocage which is Version 3 (720S V2), and extends to most aspects of the car. I can't recall the exact numbers but I suspect it shares very little with 720S.

"

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2. Posted by mickl, 22/01/2018 19:37

"Max. Can you do a piece on 'limited edition' Tag Heuer watches?"

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3. Posted by Max Noble, 28/12/2017 8:13

"@Steve W - Tesla are selling on technology and future dreams. Senna is a hero being used for what? McLaren cars sell on technical merit while ignoring their own current F1 links and reaching into the past. Why on so many levels...?"

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4. Posted by Steve W, 28/12/2017 8:09

"Guess I got lost at the bakery here... What does Tesla and Senna have to do with each other?"

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5. Posted by Max Noble, 22/12/2017 8:48

"@The Edge... yes, rather amusing! The “McLaren Bruce” while historically spot on, does not have that marketing ring to it!

Good point about a current driver switching teams and making the entire thing awkward. It would tend to suggest waiting until they have retired as a prudent move.

Yes, the original NSX was tuned by Senna. The latest one, while no doubt a remarkable car, does not have this classic link. A few years back they were simply an ageing coupe. Now they are starting to climb in value as the first Japanese car to worry Ferrari, and the only one tuned by Senna.

...all of which is not to say the McLaren Senna is going to be anything less than mind blowing to drive... so why did it need the marketing link...?"

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6. Posted by The edge, 22/12/2017 8:38

"Max I see what your saying but if it weren’t for McLaren would we even remember Senna to the same degree? After all he did win all 3 of his championships racing for them. I suppose they could of named the car the McLaren Bruce, but that doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, or the McLaren McLaren, oh wait Ferrari beat them to that one already ;-)

You make a good point about Senna honing the NSX, i didn’t know that, but Honda didn’t call the car the Honda Senna because of this, and would you really think it wise for McLaren to name a car after a current race driver? What if he switches teams next year before it’s even turned a wheel in a customers hands"

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7. Posted by Max Noble, 21/12/2017 12:30

"@mds167 - well... quite. Knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing. I like to see honest passion over marketing hype anytime. Alonso does passion. He is now chasing legacy. He could be building that legacy one person at a time in a series of Track day events built on Mindfulness, the creed of the Samurai, and breathless road cars that he has personally helped shape.

..or he could be... makin’ a left turrrnnnn.....

The victor writes history. "

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8. Posted by mds167, 21/12/2017 10:33

"@Max Noble - why not "An “Alonso Track Special” - where Alonso has not only honed the handling, but can meet lucky owners at track days... " Possibly because his involvement (time and image rights) might cost even more than the donation to the Senna Foundation?! Whilst Alonso is diversifying his racing portfolio, is he that interested in road cars?

Senna is an easy sell for McLaren.

Thing is, this marketing hype either works or is totally irrelevant - all the cars are sold."

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9. Posted by Max Noble, 20/12/2017 1:52

"@The Edge - Apologies if the message was not clear. It is all about ignoring current F1 links (why, one must ask...), while ignoring historic links that do exist (why, one must ask...), while generating hype links that while they exist, have no point (why, one must ask...). Then, I ask myself one last question. “Would Bruce like this?” - and I do not mean Bruce Wayne (who would love it in black-on-black), but Bruce McLaren. He was an engineer’s engineer, and a racer’s racer. Not sure what he would make of this (very well executed) marketing exercise.

@ClarkwasGod - Bless me! Until you reminded me I’d quite forgotten that somewhat cynical exercise. And totally agree that no respectful cyclist ever buys a copy of the Maillot Jaune. Sure buy the team top, but not THE top. You’ve nailed the theme I was discussing.

Now a “Gordon Murray” signature edition, where Gordon is involved, that’s a worthy special edition.
An “Alonso Track Special” - where Alonso has not only honed the handling, but can meet lucky owners at track days... that’s a worthy special edition... So why ignore all that and reach back to a (stunning) name from the glowingly distant past...?

Hopefully no one reading this wants a V6 hybrid replacing a beast of a V8... :-)

...and yes, a neat Senna S (or small logo of his helmet design) gracefully added to the front wing or rear of an NSX would be a perfect understated reminder."

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10. Posted by ClarkwasGod, 19/12/2017 18:09

"Do you remember, not long after his death, Ducati brought out a 916 "Senna" - a few trick body parts, and, I think a donation to the Foundation for every bike sold. Having already bought one of the more mundane (if you could ever call a Ducati mundane) models, I did look at one - very briefly. As far as I could see, it was as you describe the McLaren - no connection to the man, just a marketing "tribute" - and as such, to me, rather tacky. Something akin to seeing some middle-aged bloke riding along the road on his bicycle wearing a TdF Maillot Jaune. Maybe original NSX owners should put a very small, discreet Senna "S" somewhere unobtrusive, as a reminder of him. "

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11. Posted by The edge, 19/12/2017 15:31

"I read your article twice, still haven’t a clue what your point is, why should it be powered by a Honda just because the F1 car was? Why should Senna fans by an NSX just because sennas title winning car was powered by Honda? Why will Elon musks car be quicker round a track than the Senna? What has a space race got to do with the price of bread?"

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