Q&A with McLaren Design Director Robert Melville

The McLaren Senna is the most extreme road car the brand has ever produced. Bristling with technology mastered in motorsport, it’s expected to be the fastest McLaren road car to date. Designing such a track focused car while keeping it road legal must have been a huge challenge for its designer Robert Melville. We caught up with him to pick his brain on this 789-hp supercar.

Senna Carbon Theme revealed:

2018 McLaren Senna - Wheels And Brakes
2018 McLaren Senna

Was there ever a clash between form and function on this car?

"I think there’s a clash on every car. On a car that is so extreme, so single-minded in its goal, there could have been many clashes. But we understood what the visions were, we shared the same vision, therefore we are working towards the same goal. I knew that for it to be the quickest we had to make visual compromises, it then becomes about minimizing the impact of those to get the right proportions whilst maximising downforce. It is a balance, but the nature of design is compromise. On cars like 720S and 570S more of the technical attributes were compromized to deliver the car’s look."

What was the most challenging part of designing the Senna?

"The most challenging part was bringing together such extreme performance requirements. The downforce at 1,764 lbs (800 kg), how do you produce that? We have to take attributes like that whilst meeting all of the legal requirements, building on the brand identity, surface language and bringing all of that together. These ingredients go into the melting pot that is design to create something that communicates the car’s intentions."

McLaren Senna at the MCTC

What is your favorite design element of the McLaren Senna?

"I think my favorite element of the exterior would be the pods. So, you have the central main fuselage of the car with four pod-like elements that are attached. The pods are there to meet the aerodynamic requirements. Starting at the front you have the central low temperature radiator, but outboard of that lives the car’s active aerodynamic features within the pods. Moving to the rear, they house high temperature radiators and feature those louvers that extract the air from the rear. It’s a really visual communication of the car’s functionality."

What is the most unique feature of the interior?

"It’s a close one between the seats and the doors. The door glass influences both interior and exterior, that’s why I like that as a feature, but I think the seats really stand out. They look special and communicate the skeletal lightweight look. They’re not just there because they look cool, they are born out of necessity to reduce weight."

How would you spec your Senna?

"That’s the hardest question you can ask. I keep changing my mind! It’s either black or white, probably white as its a traditional on-track color and a great base to put your own liveries on. Maybe get MSO to detail the splitter and diffuser with green or blue as a little nod to Ayrton Senna."

Gallery: 2018 McLaren Senna