217MPH AND A 26 COURSE DINNER

It makes sense that the Geneva Motor Show at Palexpo is situated roughly on top of the world’s biggest and most powerful particle accelerator, CERN’s $6 billion Large Hadron Collider, because this week it has played host to some of the fastest, maddest, most powerful and expensive supercars ever built, such as the €1 million Ferrari LaFerrari (was there ever a dafter name?) and the €3 million Lamborghini Veneno, of which only three will be built (and are already sold, so tough titties).

I was invited to Geneva by McLaren to see its first production P1 supercar up close. But before that it was off to CERN to learn a little about particle physics. Innovation was the theme, and the P1 is so fast that if you were to thrash two of them around a 27km loop in opposite directions and smash them into each other the result would be a supermassive black hole.

Ok, there was a lot of science to digest but I’m pretty sure that was the message. Ron Dennis is en route to discovering his very own boson (take that Peter Higgs).

The P1 not only hits 217mph (and that’s electronically limited) and 0-60 sub 3 seconds, it has the best aero performance of any road car and a very clever hybrid powertrain.

In the polished white stand’s sunken lounge, guests including Sergio Perez, Adrian Sutil, Otmar Szafnauer and Mansour Ojjeh chowed down on salads of salmon, egg and green beens with chili sauce and mozzarella, mango and tsatziki. Delicious, but all a bit Ford Mondeo compared with what we were served that evening.

Again, the theme was innovation. Denis Martin is Switzerland’s answer to Heston Blumenthal. His eponymous restaurant in Vevey, an hour from Geneva past Lausanne and whipped by harsh winds off the lake, is actually a laboratory. After showing us his tools – the focus of which was a large fat of liquid nitrogen – we learned how to bake a cake in 10 seconds.

As Denis explained: “Technology in cars has changed so much in the last 100 years, from the Model T Ford to the comfortable, fast, hybrid, sat-nav, airbagged, climate controlled, aerodynamic cars of today. Food, though, has changed very little. The principles have been the same for more than a century. Until now”. You can tell why a place like this would appeal to McLaren’s engineers.

The fixed menu is 26 courses of culinary degustation. Yes, 26 courses! They were tiny, certainly, and like some sort of gastronomic lap dance I was left wanting more. Also, someone had to part with a large amount of money – 360CHF to be exact – but it was wholeheartedly worth it. The highlight was the most delicious pork meatball I have ever eaten, succulent with ginger and leek. Other memorable courses included something that looked like a cup cake but tasted of Peking duck, and a pigeon served in an airmail envelope. At the end, coffee arrived and it was just coffee. That completely threw me.

A very exclusive restaurant, then, to toast a very exclusive product, the P1. Exclusivity was the message Ron wanted to ram home. McLaren will build 375 units, and customers have to meet certain entry requirements. The main issue will be people who might trade the car on. That’s been a problem with the sister car, the MP4-12C, I’m told. Right now McLaren have 38 showrooms around the world and are selling 1400 units a year. The plan is to increase dealers to an ambitious 100 in the next couple of years, but manufacturing will remain below 2000. As McLaren Automotive’s PR chief Wayne Bruce (aka Manbat) told me: “Our customers want to know how many [cars we’re producing], and they want it to be limited. It’s got to be rare. They see all these Bugatti Veyrons parked outside The Dorchester and they hate that.”

It was worth noting that sharing the stand with the yellow P1 was Ron’s own McLaren F1 LM, the Le Mans-derived orange road car of which only five were produced back in 1995. This car cost £800,000 back then. Today, it could fetch £10 million. Even regular F1’s have quadrupled in value. That, to McLaren’s salivating audience of collectors, is the selling point.

The P1, incidentally, will go on sale for £866,000 – £331k more than the iconic, and even more exclusive, F1.

ImageThe McLaren P1 production car debut. The only change to the design study shown in Paris is a small modification to the forward air intake.

ImageF1 Social Diary swings by CERN, where the World Wide Web was born and physicists try to work out how the universe was created.

ImageRestaurant Denis Martin serves the first of 26 courses: A cloud of absinthe which evaporates in the mouth.

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