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The nature of design

McLaren chief designer Rob Melville reveals that his inspiration for the new 570S Coupé, the first McLaren Sports Series model, comes from the animal kingdom

What was your first role at McLaren?


Rob Melville: My first project was working on the 916PS (903bhp) McLaren P1 hypercar. We had our 2008 Formula 1 championship-winning MP4-23 in the design studio for six months, so we could really understand every corner and radius. The intakes of the MP4-23 have a “bullnose” form to energise the air and keep it attached to the bodywork, and you’ll see the same shapes on the McLaren P1 – and now on our first Sports Series model too, the 570S Coupé. It’s a collaborative approach between the design team, the engineers, the materials team and the aerodynamicists. The solution is not doing what’s expected because it’s been done before, but finding the best technical solution.

Where do you find the inspiration to achieve that?

We are inspired by nature. Whether it’s the bullnose of a whale shark, the sharp edges of tailfins or the swept-back wings of birds of prey when diving, there are so many hints and tips in the animal kingdom. That biomimicry philosophy means our form language isn’t inspired by the latest fad, but by the correct conditions to keep the air attached to or detached from the car for the best possible performance. It’s a privilege to work for McLaren, where those are the values – it’s a purist’s approach that will stand the test of time and won’t just follow trends. There are no arbitrary lines on a McLaren and the “shrink wrapped” design of the Sports Series carefully channels airflow over every panel.

How is the McLaren philosophy reflected in the design?

The 570S has been designed to be beautiful yet functional and we aim to capture and visualise our philosophy, to show the way air flows around the vehicle. For example, strong horizontal lines at the front of the 570S highlight where the air is split above and below the bodywork, and also to either side, for optimal cooling and downforce. The intricate door design is inspired by that on the McLaren P1 but goes a step further. A “floating” tendon works to channel air into the door ducts (which are there because that’s the optimum place for them) and the layered panels remove weight from the vehicle. Every effort has been made to optimise aerodynamic performance on the 570S – we revised the design of the wing mirror arms to improve cooling efficiency by two per cent. Towards the rear of the 570S the superformed aluminium body panels are peeled back to expose our technical detailing, and the way the bodywork is sliced away helps yaw control and stability. Like a tailored suit, the more you look at one of our cars, the more detail you’ll detect.

How close is the production version of the 570S Coupé to your original sketch?

Incredibly close. The door tendon is an incredible piece of engineering but also pure design sculpture, and is not only there for proportional reasons, but also to guide and clean up the air flow, and improve the efficiency of the side-mounted radiators. And the flying buttresses at the rear are not only incredibly elegant, but increase downforce, minimise drag, and help heat evacuation by improving the flow of cool, clean air over the engine bay. I’m really proud that the final design has captured the spirit and emotion of the original concept sketch, and that owes a great deal to the collaborative expertise of everyone at McLaren.

What’s the next design step for McLaren?

The laws of aerodynamics don’t change over time, but our ability to understand and manipulate airflow does. It might be a dimpled surface or a new paint finish, but through the latest technologies we are able to constantly improve.


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