What do you get when you mix a sailfish and a supercar? You get a McLaren P1.

Frank Stephenson got most of his inspiration from the sailfish, the fastest swimming fish in the ocean, reaching speeds of up to 68 mph.

While in Miami, Stephenson came across a fisherman who had just pulled up a sailfish onto his boat. He bought the fish, sent it downtown to get stuffed, and had it shipped to the McLaren aerodynamics lab in Surrey. There, the team would scan the stuffed fish, and figure out what makes it the fastest swimming thing alive.

McLaren’s designers applied the same texture as the scales of the sailfish to the inside of the ducts that lead into the engine of their P1 hypercar. This increased the volume of air going into the engine by 17%, improving the car’s efficiency: the P1 has hybrid engines creating 903 horsepower and thus needs large amounts of air pumped into the engine to help combustion and engine cooling.

The P1 also borrowed from the sailfish little ‘diplets’ on the torso of the fin where it meets the tail fin that the fish uses to straighten out the flow of pockets of air and water that move past it. This, Stephenson says, made the car more aerodynamic.

The sailfish has a permanent home at the aerodynamics lab wearing McLaren’s iconic F1 livery.


Peter Stevens on the McLaren F1 Project:

"Ron Dennis was extraordinary on this project. He didn’t really know any of us on the design team but he trusted us with his money. He just said ‘okay, get on with it lads, I won’t interfere, I’ll have a look but I probably won’t understand what you’re doing’, and until he saw the finished car, he really didn’t know what we’d been up to.

"We had 100% support from him, we had a brilliant facility, we didn’t lack any tools or apparatus, we had great food!

"The McLaren company culture is often criticised from outside, but from within the company the culture is very warm and friendly.’