McLaren P1 & LaFerrari: witnessing the arrival of supercar royalty

Published: 08 March 2013

The world premieres of the LaFerrari and McLaren P1 were special, rare moments: it’s a decade since Ferrari unveiled the Enzo, and twice that since McLaren stunned the world with the F1. Yet the planets all aligned at the 2013 Geneva motor show, where production versions of both supercar heavyweights’ latest flagships were shown, ten minutes and a few hundred yards apart. That’s no coincidence – these two are sworn enemies, with near million-quid prices to justify. It was a privilege to witness both of the reveals, and to spot the differences between how the two most hyped machines of 2013 were first shown to the world.

The men behind the machines

We tend to think of McLaren as an ice-cool, clinically successful outfit, and Ferrari perhaps instinctive and soulful. That’s certainly something reflected by their respective CEOs. Ron Dennis talked up the McLaren's downforce, grip and on-track ability, ending with a casual mention he’d smashed the Pagani Hauyra’s current Top Gear test track record by 10 seconds while testing the P1 at Dunsfold. If true, Ron’s 1min 3sec time is within four seconds of a V10 F1 car around the airfield circuit.

Luca di Montezemolo played the showman rather than top trumps. With the covers whipped off the LaFerrari, he turned to the thronging mob of world media and simply asked: 'you like?' Countless fervent replying nods cracked a wry smile from the Ferrari frontman, though there wasn’t as much approval for the name – more on that later.

Ferrari whips up crowd fever – McLaren plays it cool

The crowd reaction is worth a mention too. The Ferrari was always going to generate more anticipation given it hadn't leaked out online, nor been scooped undisguised. The McLaren P1 had been seen in official shots even before its Paris 2012 debut, so the element of surprise had long gone. McLaren didn’t even hide it under a shroud until the opportune moment.

When the covers slid off LaFerrari, you'd have thought Alonso and Massa had taken a one-two in front of the Monza Tifosi. Whooping, whistling and hearty applause showed the aura of a new supercar is still one hell of a tonic – the car’s reception was like a teen heartthrob One Direction (swoon) gig. McLaren was at a disadvantage there, like Paul McCartney's Olympics closer: yes, you're marvellous, but we've seen it before...

On the F1 driver topic, funny how the LaFerrari promo film showed only Fernando Alonso (no Massa) helping develop the car. McLaren's rolling promo still briefly showed Lewis Hamilton hammering a pre-production 12C!

LaFerrari & P1: the pub facts

Bringing some stats into the mix, LaFerrari looks to have a nose ahead over TheMcLaren. Ferrari claims its contender is lighter, more powerful, and faster. From the videos we’ve seen of both cars testing, LaFerrari certainly sounds better, but McLaren counters with its estimates of 600kg of downforce and NASA-spec brakes. Both cars should be capable of sub-7min Nurburgring times – on a par with not-so-very-old Le Mans prototypes.

Keen statisticians will here point out the McLaren nails the Ferrari for mpg, CO2 and EV-only range. And if you can find a single punter who'd call that the deciding factor in which gets their bonus, I'll valet their hypercar free of charge for life. The McLaren scores points for a better name at least: the cheekily presumptuous 'P1' is fighting talk of pole position in the exotic car realm, whereas 'Ferrari LaFerrari' is clumsy. De Montezemelo explains it as ‘‘LaFerrari’ is the pinnacle of what Ferrari stands for: excellence’. Whatever that means.

It’s such a definitive title though – what’s the next one going to be called? In any case, cars shouldn't have names like novelty fragrances. We’d love to read your suggestions for better Ferrari names: click ‘Add your comment’ below to get involved.

Roll on the Ferrari v McLaren drive verdicts

Before a wheel has turned in anger, it's round one to the men from Maranello. The Ferrari LaFerrari has usurped the P1 as the supercar of the moment, just as the McLaren barged the hybrid Porsche 918 Spyder from the spotlight.

The McLaren's up-sleeve tricks of GT3-racer aero, turbo-torque, and push-to-pass boost systems give it one hell of a fighting chance of emerging victorious if it ever meets its nemesis on the same piece of track/road. That’s no mean feat given Ferrari’s much more extensive road car back catalogue. Who doesn’t love a British underdog, after all? I can't wait to see which way this fight is called. Tell us where your stake is going in the comments below.