“Well, I’ve never had this before,” says McLaren ambassador Kris. He is our guide for an afternoon at the McLaren Technology Centre and just as he clears his throat to introduce the MP4/13 from 1998 in all its monochrome glory, Mika Hakkinen unexpectedly wanders into earshot. No pressure, then, to remember that the Finn standing only five yards away won eight grands prix aboard this car to lead a drivers’ and constructors’ Formula 1 championship double.
Kris doesn’t miss a beat before Hakkinen steps into one of several cylindrical glass lifts, as conceived by ex-McLaren boss Ron Dennis and the MTC’s pre-eminent architect Norman Foster to mimic the pistons of an engine rising and falling. As it climbs, our guide notes that you won’t see any dangling wires since Dennis also specified the lifts operate hydraulically to banish anything that might be taken for mess or clutter.
These 60 seconds from our three-hour visit perfectly capture the MTC in bite-size form. Opened in May 2004, it remains a pristine, state-of-the-art facility that truly merits every one of the countless comparisons to a James Bond villain’s lair. Yet, it’s anything but sterile and soulless, as motorsport history oozes from every chassis and trophy on display along the famous boulevard.
Remarkably, this is all something that members of the public can also experience. Despite the secrecy that shrouds F1 design and the development of the latest McLaren Automotive road cars, the MTC is opening its sliding door to fans. This comes courtesy of online travel booking platform GetYourGuide, as part of its Originals by GetYourGuide collection.
GetYourGuide has been offering travel experiences for the last 14 years, providing over 75,000 experiences for in excess of 80 million users from more than 150 countries. The company exists to create trips and visits that aren’t everyday experiences. It enables privileged access; hence you can book a private tour of the Sistine Chapel rather than join the usual queue around the block. Likewise, the App Store and Google Play app allow you to reserve a space for an after-hours tour, including a private organ performance at Barcelona’s breathtaking La Sagrada Familia.
Photo by: GetYourGuide
Having witnessed a major growth in demand following the COVID-19 pandemic, GetYourGuide has now expanded its Original experiences to sports venues. Alongside being shown around Madison Square Garden by an NBA Hall of Famer, tours of the MTC – billed as the “crown jewel” in the ever-expanding GetYourGuide line-up – are now available to all.
After turning off at Woking’s Paragon roundabout, which takes its name from the original working title for the MTC while it was under construction at the turn of the millennium, you are greeted by an immaculate landscape – as tended to by five ground staff. The building itself is initially concealed, so it’s a slow and tantalizing reveal. You round the lake – and in our case wait for a duck to cross the pathway – before being confronted with the grand design.
For 2023, there’s a splash of color on the glass walls courtesy of some bright decals that celebrate McLaren’s diamond anniversary. It’s therefore fitting that the car that greets you on arrival is eponymous founder Bruce McLaren’s own 1929 Austin Seven race car. To mark the other end of the timeline, the reception desk is flanked by Lando Norris’ current ride: the MCL60, complete in its Triple Crown homage special livery. Teasing the rest of the line-up along this walkway, the 1970 Can-Am title-winning ex-Denny Hulme M8D monster and its eight polished velocity stack trumpets rubs shoulders with the Gulf-painted McLaren F1 GTR Longtail.
In the early years of the team, retired race cars were mostly sold to raise funds. But Dennis appreciated the power that race-winning heritage can play in energizing a workforce, so he insisted McLaren start to keep hold of its old chargers while simultaneously buying back some of its greatest hits. New McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown, himself a passionate custodian of historic race cars, has kept this up. That’s why the MTC is so well-populated today.
Pleasingly, though, these are no museum pieces under permanent lock and key. The cars are meticulously maintained so they can still be driven. They often serenade fans with runs up the Goodwood Festival of Speed Hillclimb or are sent over to the West Coast of America for Monterey Car Week at Laguna Seca.
Photo by: GetYourGuide
You then amble past the symbols of modern-day McLaren: the three-seater Speedtail hyper GT, open-top Elva and even the all-electric Extreme E off-road racer. These are all on the walk to the Thought Leadership Centre. This ground-floor theatre is where the team launched its 2023 F1 car, while upstairs is the circular presentation room that made its silver screen debut in 2019’s Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw. With much of the MTC sitting underground, the 360-degree screens in this nerve center can roll down to reveal windows that let the natural light flood in. As the MTC opens its doors to the public with GetYourGuide, this is also a room that can be hired and comes complete with its own café – one that has the CNBC news channel playing in the background in deference to the F1 team’s TV network sponsor.
For the next part of our tour, phones and cameras must be briefly tucked away. we're guided into the McLaren Production Centre, where all the latest automotive creations are assembled. The row of carbon-fiber tubs below the viewing platform gradually begin to resemble the new mid-engine hybrid Artura supercar the further down the line you cast your eye. That’s before they roll into the Monsoon and Dynamic test booths to ensure they are weatherproof and ready to be signed off for customer deliveries. It should be noted that even the trolley jacks are painted in traditional McLaren papaya.
The only other place where guests must be careful with their photography is with the clear windows into the race bays, where two MCL60s are being built up for Norris and teammate Oscar Piastri to drive ahead of the coming Canadian and Austrian GPs. But even if you can’t take a couple of snaps, there’s nothing to stop you from drinking in the detail of the fantastically intricate rear suspension and brake assemblies.
Piastri, on-site after flying back from the recent Spanish GP, says: “Funnily enough, I had a tour of the MTC in 2018 when I was 17. I was just starting in Formula Renault Eurocup. It was a very cool place to be. Walking down the boulevard, even now, it never gets old seeing those cars. And because we have so many, the line-ups usually chop and change from week to week.”
Photo by: GetYourGuide
As you navigate the MTC, the side corridors are also lined with F1 machinery. But these aren’t part of the rotating cast Piastri mentions. While the main boulevard is reserved for McLaren’s greatest hits, unpainted test cars and the less successful eras of the team (think the 2015-19 Honda and Renault-powered racers) are still held onto. But they’re out of the limelight.
By contrast, the trophies denoting every grand prix podium, win and championship title achieved are proudly on display. Whereas some rival teams opt to line their cabinets with replicas, McLaren has long written into driver contracts that the factory gets to keep the real thing. They are all present, polished, and correct, including the pot presented to Lewis Hamilton for winning the drivers’ crown in 2008 – McLaren’s most recent title success.
Just on from the trophy-lined walkway are four enormous towers. These hold 24,500 liters of water and will be used to cool the new F1 wind tunnel that is due to be completed imminently. As our tour comes to an end, we can’t resist peering through one of the cooling louvers in the facilities’ walls for a sneak peek at an infrastructure project conceived to guide McLaren back to the front of the grid.
“This is it,” Hakkinen tells us in the final act of a truly special day. “This place is timeless when you come here. The people working here feel comfortable, they feel good. It’s motivating to work in an environment with such high quality. It is an incredible experience.” And thanks to GetYourGuide, a tour of the world-famous MTC is an experience that’s no longer reserved for two-time F1 world champions.
Photo by: GetYourGuide