IVE or take the odd week, assembling the test of these three machines was a six month project. It had to be done right, and that meant using factory cars. That way it’s definitive, and I don’t have to pay anyone if I crash one.
Anyhow, that was the first issue – I won’t list all the issues or this entire story would be consumed by descriptions of the inner-workings of three very different, very proud car companies – but at first only two of them wanted to be represented by their own, as opposed to privately owned, cars. And then the other company relented.
And then one of them wanted to have a say in which circuit we used, and then one of them couldn’t lend us a car because it was crashed and, suffice to say, at least once a week I received information that led me to strongly suspect this test would never happen. It had the feeling of doom; mission impossible.
Then, at some point months after the initial idea, it somehow did happen. The circuit was booked, the cars were in transit and – allowing for one final skirmish about tyre choices – we were ready to drive the three most exciting road cars on the planet, back-to-back, and to understand their differences.
G And to see which was fastest around one of the finest race tracks this planet has to offer.
The deal was simple. Turn up with the cars, let me attach some timing gear, record a lap time and then once we’d had a look at the data and identified any obvious issues, pack me off again to improve. We’d then leave it there. No messing about, no revisiting, no days spent trimming tenths. This was about my lap times, not Lewis Hamilton’s.
Instead, the cars are the stars. Each expresses the latest thinking on hypercar technology from three brands that know the game best. Each uses a form of hybrid propulsion, but deployed in different ways.
All are fascinating.
Ferrari’s naff-named LaFerrari (‘The Ferrari’, if your Italian is that bad) borrows extensively from Maranello’s F1 know-how with its carbon tub and HY-KERS energy recovery system. But where Porsche is keen to espouse the 918’s efficiency, the Fandango uses its electric motor to fill the bottom-end torque delivery, allowing engineers to focus on the midmounted, naturally-aspirated 6.3-litre V12’s top-end power delivery. And boy, does it deliver. Revving to 9250rpm the combustion engine peaks at 588kW on its own. Working with the electric motor the result is a combined 708kW and more than 900Nm.
The hybrid kit and its battery pack adds only 146kg to LaFerrari’s weight, for a total 1430kg. Fuel consumption? 14.1L/100km.
There’s a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox sending drive solely to the rear wheels and giving the 345mm rear rubber plenty to think about. Active aerodynamics produce 360kg of downforce at 200km/h and the driver can set variable settings for engine, gearbox, damping, stability systems and differential from the cockpit.
With its outrageous DRS-equipped rear spoiler and adjustable ride-height, adaptive roll-control suspension, the P1 appears even more alien, especially in the race setting where the spoiler extends to 300mm as the P1 drops 50mm. Set up this way, McLaren claims 600kg downforce at 260km/h.
Under that aero-optimised body lies McLaren’s familiar – but specific to P1 – 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8, coupled to its own multi-mode hybrid system and seven-speed dual-clutch transmission driving the rears. Combustion power sits at 542kW, but in conjunction with the electric motor power swells to 673kW and 900Nm.
The electric motors and battery hardware add around 170kg for a total kerb weight of 1497kg, but the batteries provide more juice than those in the Ferrari; as a result the Macca can run as an EV for around 10km, if you care for such things. Fuel use is a claimed 8.3L/100km, far better than LaFerrari.
If that sounds faintly unbelievable in a car with over 900 old-fashioned horsepower, consider Porsche’s fuel claim for the 918 Spyder: at 3.1L/100km it puts even micro cars to shame.
As per the others, carbonfibre features extensively in the 918’s construction, the tub housing a midmounted naturally-aspirated 4.6-litre V8 that revs almost as hard as the V12 Ferrari (9150rpm) and makes 447kW off its own bat. Combine that with two electric motors (one front-mounted, one rear) and you have 652kW and up to 1280Nm – plenty for the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox to handle.
Exclusively among this company the 918 features all-wheel drive (thanks to that front-mounted electric motor; the petrol engine drives the rears only) and is further enhanced traction-wise by a four-wheel torque vectoring system. It’s also a plugin hybrid with an electric range of 32km, but the hybrid kit and associated battery packs add 315kg, or 1675kg all up – the heaviest car here by some margin.
Active aero is also present, with adjustable-height and angle for the rear spoiler, an extendable front spoiler and functional diffusers maximising airflow.
After the months of planning, the stage is finally set, but it was perhaps inevitable that there was some further housekeeping to attend to. Upon our arrival at Portimao circuit in Portugal, we discovered McLaren had brought along a sticky (and factoryoptional) set of Pirelli Trofeo R tyres in order to extract the best-possible lap time. No such tyre
its claimed 1634kg kerb weight is the largest, even if the Weissach Pack as fitted here trims 41kg off your regular 918.
Using the claimed figures, the respective power to weight figures have the Ferrari up-front at 495kW/ tonne, followed by the McLaren at 450kW/tonne and the Porsche’s 395kW/tonne; a whole 100kW/tonne down on the Fezza.
Even on shagged tyres and on a circuit littered with chunks of rubber from a recent long distance GT3 test, the 918’s dynamics are eye-opening. I am very familiar with this car, but even a short absence makes you forget just how well it hides its mass. And then there’s the forces it places on your body, the combination of lateral and longitudinal forces throwing you around as the car continues to pummel the circuit. Glance down on the long straight and the 918 indicates a 285km/h peak.
That’s insane in a street car.
The Ferrari is the first to have the timing gear strapped to it. We’re using a Racelogic system to record not only lap times, but to ensure there’s no interestingly-shaped data traces that could indicate if any of the cars have been tampered with.
There are two technicians present from Maranello,
along with test driver Rafaelle Simone. We bolt on some new tyres, I go and run two warm-up laps to bed them in and ensure the battery is fully charged and then, with the manettino in CT Off, but with the ESP still on, I try a fully committed lap.
Then it dawns on me that this really is the most incredible test I’ve ever been involved in. The car is sensational – traction, grip – but none of it can ultimately cope with what is the most impressive powertrain here. The Porsche may do the full electric trick better, the McLaren at times feels even more of kidney-compressor under full-boost, but neither of them can match the sound and that sense of almost limitless propulsion provided by this Ferrari.
The electricity slams home the moment you think about pushing the right pedal. I’d like to say you then sense the moment electric melds into that gorgeous V12, but the truth is you’re too busy holding on for dear life and wondering why a 345-section rear tyre is going off after just half a lap.
It’s a mighty ride in LaFerrari. You need to manage oversteer wherever you might be able to hit the throttle – so pretty much anywhere on this circuit.
The steering is so light after the 918’s shoulder work-out that it takes a few minutes to settle-in but the turn-in is sensational and the brakes have great feel, although they do trigger the ABS very early and slightly clumsily.
I jump out grinning like a lunatic, grab a drink and take a look at the data. Simone spots some areas for improvement, seems happy with the overall effort and then packs me off on a fresh set of Corsas – the ones I provided – and I run a best of 1min54.2. The last corner is costing me a few tenths, there’s loads of pick-up and I’m hanging the throttle to get through some understeer because of the loose rubber on the
surface. It may be losing time, but it’ll be the same for all of the cars. On the straight, the Ferrari hits 296km/h, translating its power advantage to speed on the tarmac.
The McLaren is up next. The car is lowered in race mode (McLaren went to the trouble of developing the function for track work, so we’re using it) and is on the more road-biased Pirelli Corsa tyre.
The seating position is higher than the Ferrari’s and the conventional seat is more supportive. Its steering feels the best of the three, perfect in weighting and easily the most communicative. Like the others the McLaren’s power delivery is magical, allowing pure electricity to immediately fill any gaps in the torque curve. The chassis seems to bridge the gap between the vastly complicated and sometimes mind-of-itsown Porsche and the flatteringly binary Ferrari.
The P1 uses McLaren’s clever hydraulic suspension and doesn’t run a locking differential; instead it uses brake intervention to manage traction, even with the ESP switched off – which it was for this run.
Compared to LaFerrari, the P1 feels smaller and more nimble. You spend less time managing the power-to-grip relationship and more time aiming at the apex and maximising the entry speed.
The brakes are the best here, with top-ranking pedal feel and the strongest stopping power. This feels the lightest car on its feet, too, and that slammed splitter-and-wing combo feels like it brings an advantage in the quicker turns, too. I peel in after my flyer and immediately feel I’ve gone miles quicker than I did in the Ferrari. It turns out that the P1 has indeed gone faster, but at 1min53.5 the margin is barely more than half a second.
The 918 runs last. I feel a little sorry for it really; after the raw, cantankerous thrust of the other two it seems a foregone conclusion that it won’t stand a chance, but three corners into my first lap it’s clear the 918 is playing a very different game.
The Porsche uses crazy torque-vectoring to conjure entry speeds that subjectively feel higher than the others. It doesn’t appear as explosive during the exit phase, but then with all-wheel drive traction you just pin the throttle and it zings away with no fuss and no throttle management. It’s the car that most feels like it was developed to extract the absolute maximum from its tyre.
It is a handful though. If you’re anywhere over the limit with the systems off you need to be very careful, but stay smooth and it links the corners with an athleticism that makes it feel like a 1400kg car.
The only real downside is the braking – the big ceramics do the job, but you can clearly feel the energy regeneration phase kick in, and at times that translates to a dead-feeling pedal. It stops well
enough, it’s just not that easy to work with.
And the lap time? It’s completely staggering, being two-tenths quicker than the Ferrari with a 1min53.9.
I really didn’t see that coming.
Just to show off, the 918 then sets a lap-time in full electric mode, because it’s the only one that can with any sort of speed.
All that’s left is to bolt on the Trofeo-Rs and see just how insanely fast the McLaren can go on its special rubber. The answer is pretty shocking – at 1min51.8 it improves its own benchmark by 1.7 seconds.
Of course, the Trofeo lap wasn’t really a part of the discussion, and as it turned out the sticky tyre issue was a non-issue anyway. Numbers do not lie: the McLaren was unquestionably the fastest car around Portimao.
The Porsche made the very best of its resources to come second and the Ferrari was third – but that’s not the interesting bit. No, the fascinating thing is that three such disparate routes to hypercar performance resulted in just six-tenths of a second between the fastest and the slowest time, not much more than the blink of an eye. They are, to all intents and purposes, as fast as each other. Only when you change the McLaren to special tyres does it disappear into another dimension.
There is no loser here, and no winner either.
Perhaps there are three winners? Each model has sold-out, each is already worth far more than when new and each signals a new design and technology direction for the hyper car.
Three absolutely stunning machines. M