A poignant test in the McLaren F1 included playing co-driver to Jonathan Palmer at 200mph-plus
Arranging the McLaren F1 road test was not a simple question of ringing the press office and asking for a loan car. It took months to get McLaren to agree to provide the car for performance testing, and months more to set it up.
The venue would be the Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground, the date May 2, 1994. But that turned out to be the day after the San Marino GP where the greatest driver ever to sit in a McLaren lost his life.
Suddenly the idea of whizzing up and down a runway even in a McLaren seemed trivial, but with everything in place there was no choice but to continue.
I recall faint surprise when I saw the transporter unloading the blue XP4 F1. Senna died in a Williams, but after six seasons and three titles with McLaren there was a bigger concentration of Senna fans in Woking than anywhere this side of Sao Paulo. Yet here they were, Gordon Murray to see how his design performed (up ’til then not even McLaren knew how quick it was) and Jonathan Palmer to show me how to drive it. I knew Ayrton was JP’s hero, but he was there with the team when I’m sure they’d all have rather been alone with their thoughts.
The F1 did some extraordinary times that day, times it would take 15 years, 1000bhp and four-wheel drive to eclipse in the Bugatti Veyron. 0-60mph in 3.2sec, 0-100mph in 6.3sec, 0-200mph in 28sec. I got to 211mph and stopped with space to spare on the runway.
I only got nervous when it transpired that to get a picture of the speedo reading over 200mph, we had to bolt a camera to the windscreen in front of the driver, effectively blinding him. The photographer refused to go near the car, so JP would drive and I’d give directions and fire the shutter. Sitting in the passenger seat of an F1 at over 200mph saying ‘left a bit, right a bit’ was an unusual way to earn a living, but we got a good shot.
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