The McLaren F1’s advanced-composites monocoque comprises the entire chassis/body unit, combining both uni-directional and woven carbon fibre materials. Most primary structure panels are double-skinned and stiffened by aluminium honeycomb. The McLaren F1 hence possesses immense torsional and bending stiffness.
The primary structure was designed and developed using a computer-aided-design finite element analysis programme to optimise both material thickness and fibre orientation for maximum strength, stiffness and safety – sophistication impossible with traditional chassis materials.
The monocoque’s primary strength derives from two longitudinal large-section floor beams, uniting lateral cockpit bulkheads. Behind the driver’s seat, a sturdy pier rises integrally with the engine air-box to provide exceptional roll-over protection, integrated into the roof and A- and B-pillars, to form an enormously strong “survival cell”. This is augmented by a tailor-made driver restraint harness and laminated fixed cabin glass throughout.
The front and rear crash structures – composite forward mouldings and the Inconel rear silencer box – far exceed all legal requirements worldwide. The Formula 1-specification puncture-proof fuel cell is also safely centre-mounted.
The engine doubles as a load-bearing chassis member, mounted against the rear cockpit bulkhead and attached to two monocoque shoulder beams at the rear. In each front engine mounting, intricately tailored semi-flexible bushes rigidly transmit traction and braking loads, while absorbing vibration and noise. All major torsional loads from the rear suspension are similarly absorbed via flexible bushes uniting each cylinder head to the shoulder beams.
The totally integrated carbon structure has been created entirely within McLaren Cars’ own advanced composites facility, incorporating materials and techniques at the forefront of this technology – several of them unique in road vehicle manufacture.
The McLaren F1 achieves its astonishingly lean target weight of only 1018kg thanks largely to its moulded advanced carbon-composite monocoque chassis/body structure. In fact, it was McLaren International which pioneered modern automotive moulded carbon-composite chassis technology in 1981 with its race-winning Type MP4/1 Formula 1 design.
Carbon fibre simply offers an immense stiffness-to-weight ratio, hence its use in chassis construction of every significant racing car built today. The contrast in technology between Formula 1 and everyday car production is starkly demonstrated by the fact that some major manufacturers are only now beginning to consider aluminium chassis structures over steel, whereas leading Formula 1 designers abandoned steel for aluminium 30 years ago.
It is over 10 years now since McLaren International led the way in rejecting aluminium in favour of advanced composite construction. For McLaren’s first production sports car, therefore, nothing other than carbon composite was ever considered.
The F1’s styling reflects the structural freedom offered by McLaren Cars’ advanced composite moulding techniques, and combines purely functional aerodynamic form with aesthetic appeal. The F1 incorporates dramatic aerodynamic design derived from long experience of Formula 1 frontier technology. It is the first production car to be developed aerodynamically by an expert team of Formula 1 aerodynamicists employing the latest in moving-ground wind tunnel technology.
Formula 1 engineering typically unites multiple disciplines in singular components, combining light weight with strength, form with function. This same engineering ethic is now embodied within the McLaren F1.