The extraordinary thing about these three hypercars is not their price, nor their rocket-ship performance, but instead how closely matched they are despite the very different approaches taken by each of their makers – all of whom believe they’ve created the fastest, most advanced and dynamically accomplished supercar ever made.
Two of them are propelled by natural aspirated engines (the 918 and LaF), one distributes power to all four wheels (the 918), while only one – in theory – provides access to its full performance all of the time (the LaF). Both P1 and 918 can be driven by electric propulsion alone – although in practice we found the P1’s e-mode a little hit or miss, while the 918 and LaFerrari will harvest energy both under braking and from their combustion engines.
Engines range from a turbocharged 3.8-litre V8 in the P1, to a 6.3-litre V12 in the LaF, with the 918 pitching in with a 4.6-litre V8. Both Ferrari and Porsche rev to 9,000 rpm (or more), with the McLaren being the most relaxed of the trio, if such a phrase could ever be used to describe a car which produces 903bhp at 7500rpm..
But these are hybrid-powered supercars – true hypercars in both their speed and technical ambition – and the most hybridised of all is the 918, with not one by two electric motors – one per axle – delivering a mighty 285bhp and 398lb-ft of torque. The P1’s 176bhp and 96lb-ft seems almost paltry by comparison, while the LaFerrari’s 161bhp and 199lb-ft only slightly less so.
‘Torque fill’, you’ll hear that phrase a lot if talking to the engineers of these companies. It refers to the process of using electric power to offset the inherent shortcomings of a highly-tuned combustion engine. In the P1, it’s used to offset any turbo lag and allow larger turbos to be fitted, while in the Ferrari and Porsche it adds torque at lower revs enabling the combustion engine to be optimised for more top-end power.
And if the numbers above aren’t mind-boggling enough, then despite their combined output of close to 3,000 horsepower they’re each remarkably easy to drive, at least at the sane speeds which most will be driven at on the public roads.
But this isn’t a story about how easy these cars are to live with. They’re the first in a new breed of hybrid-powered supercars – the most technically advanced automobiles on the planet, and we’re keen to find out just how well they perform in practice.
So, earlier this year we sat down with serial car collector, Paul Bailey and indulged in a heated debate about which of these cars was fastest. You see, despite having driven thousands of kilometres in each, the answer was far from clear. Each feels unbelievably quick, but they go about their business in such vastly different ways that it’s impossible to judge which is quickest just by driving them.
“I do live a very surreal life,” says Bailey. “It doesn’t feel as if they’re really my cars. I think anyone who owns a Ferrari, a Porsche, a McLaren, is a very lucky person. For me to own all three (of the Holy Trinity) is just phenomenal and I never thought I’d be able to achieve that in my life. We’ve got the cars working really hard for our charities and thus far have raised £46,000 which makes me very proud.”
“..it’s impossible to judge which is quickest just by driving them”
At which point I suggested to Paul, that it would be a good idea to let a racing driver whom he’d never met, drive his cars flat out around a circuit in the interests of (scientific) discovery and perhaps raise a little more money for his charities. Unbelievably he agreed.
But before we did so, each was serviced – ensuring their brakes and tyres were up to the task – and we approached each manufacturer for advice on how to extract the best performance from their cars.
There’s a reason why this test has never been done before – first the difficulty in assembling all three at the same place and time, and then there’s Ferrari.
Anyone who’s owned one of Maranello’s finest will know how protective they are of their brand. In an age where modern digital brands are defined as much by their consumers as the companies which own them, Ferrari remains resolutely old-school.
READ MORE: The Truth About Ferrari’s Brand Power
Owning a Ferrari is a privilege, even more so for the car maker’s limited-edition models and the company make it clear that such a privilege must be earned by meeting their requirements – namely being a good ambassador of the brand. That’s unwritten code for saying that owners shouldn’t do anything which might undermine Ferrari’s reputation, and strapping a VBOX to your LaFerrari without the company’s engineers and technicians being on hand is frowned upon.
Unsurprisingly, most owners choose not to cross this line as the consequences are obvious, so we’re mindful of this but determined to pursue our goal and show the millions of people who’ll never drive these cars just how fast they really are. Hopefully the three tests we have in mind will enable each car to play to its own particular strengths and we’ll end up with an even draw. Here’s hoping.
Silverstone Circuit, Northamptonshire – 18, September 2015
Much has been made of their capabilities on track, but up until now they’ve never been tested on the same circuit producing lap times that could then be compared.
The LaFerrari was put through its paces at Germany’s Nürburgring, but a fast time was never recorded. While McLaren achieved a lap time in less than seven minutes, but refuse to say by how much.
Porsche was first to achieve a sub-7 minute lap of the Nordschleife, with factory driver Marc Lieb posting a time of 6:57 minutes, but insiders say it could go even faster if they needed to. Shortly after this record, Porsche upgraded the 918’s e-motor optimising it to run at 22,000 rpm rather than 10,000, and although official power figures remain unchanged it’s been tested by independent magazines at closer to 960bhp (up from the stated 887bhp).
Conspiracy theories abound. McLaren say their development targets were met (to record a time of less than seven minutes), but to publish the actual time would encourage further (dangerous) attempts to push this threshold even further. Rumours suggest the P1’s hybrid system may have been the limiting factor, and that it was unable to recharge its batteries around the 12.9-mile Nordschleife to maintain maximum power around the full lap.
That won’t be a problem around Silverstone. It’s less than 3 weeks since the MotoGP British Grand Prix, even so we’ve been unable to book the full Grand Prix circuit and will instead use the 1.64-mile National Circuit, home to the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) and therefore a familiar stomping ground for our driver – BTCC race winner and Silverstone specialist, Mat Jackson.
It’s 08:30am and we feel a mixture of apprehension and excitement. Apprehension, because the British weather has stayed true to form and tipped it down overnight. Excitement, because this will be the first time all three cars have been driven back-to-back, on the same track and by the same driver.
It’s a mild 17 degrees and despite the overnight rain, the circuit is drying quickly and there’s barely a breeze to trouble either Jackson or the film crew.
We take to the track to film a drone shot of all three cars. I’m in the 918 and just a flex of my right foot sees the car lunge ahead with unabated ferocity. I can comfortably stay with the P1, although the McLaren seems slightly stronger once its twin-turbo engine reaches full boost, while the Ferrari requires the upper reaches of its rev range to pull us both back.
This will be interesting. Straight-line performance will not be enough to separate these cars, but it will be a factor in how they tackle this short and technical circuit.
09:35am and Jackson starts the day in the P1, warming it up for three laps before bringing it back into the pits to lower its tyre pressures and put it into ‘Race’ mode. ‘Race’ mode is the P1’s party-trick; it stiffens the suspension by 300 percent, drops the car by 50mm to produce ground effect aerodynamics, and extends the active rear wing by 300mm. It’s the closest any road car gets to mimicking an Autobot from Transformers.
“I’m in the 918 and just a flex of my right foot sees the car lunge ahead with unabated ferocity..”
Of course Jackson isn’t fazed. Up until 18 months ago he was a development driver for McLaren Automotive, but he’s never driven a production P1 and is looking forward to discovering the improvements made since those early XP prototypes.
His first lap is far from tentative. Reaching 160mph along the pit straight he tips the P1 into Copse with barely diminished speed. There are only two high-speed corners on the National circuit, Copse and Woodcote, and Jackson is already pushing hard to find the limits of the P1’s chassis – fitted with the optional Trofeo R Pirellis. Reaching an identical 160mph along Wellington Straight, Jackson brakes hard for Luffield before that painfully slow wait before he can get back on the power through Woodcote and begin another lap.
Despite the P1’s ground effect aerodynamics in Race mode, the car is dancing on the edge of grip through Woodcote, giving Jackson a few bum-clenching moments as he contemplates what he’ll say to Bailey if he pushes the million-pound McLaren too far. But after two more laps there’s little more time to be found. 58.25 seconds is the time to beat and judging by Jackson’s expression when he returns to the pits, he’s really not sure the other two cars will be able to match it.
10:35am and it’s time to go out in the LaFerrari. Despite being the most powerful of the three (on paper), Ferrari’s Enzo successor is less of a track weapon than the McLaren. There’s no pure race mode like the P1, so instead we turn the steering wheel mounted manettino dial to ‘CT off’, which places it in a mode which compares the driver’s inputs to those on a reference map and adjusts the torque between the two driven wheels using the e-diff. It’s a clever system and rarely can a driver (even of Fernando Alonso’s ability) drive the car quicker with the control systems completely switched off.
As before, Jackson warms the car up and returns to the pits for a final check before heading back out to set a fast lap.
If there’s another car which sounds better than a LaF on full throttle, then I’ve yet to hear it. Its V12 engine is loud, but rather than the mad dash through gears of some turbocharged motors, the LaF seems to reach for the horizon in one single continuous lunge until at 9,500 rpm it’s time to snatch another gear. There’s more pitch and roll than the otherworldly P1, but it looks more stable into Copse and appears to carry more speed out of Woodcote.
Jackson confirms this when he returns to the pits. “Whereas the P1 corners flat, the LaFerrari has a more pointy front-end and refuses to understeer through the fast corners,” says Jackson. “It’s a surprisingly easy car to drive and I soon began to forget how much it’s worth! I’m pretty sure it was faster than the P1, but just in case can I go out again?”
Unfortunately not. We’re running out of time and we’re eager to find out if our Nürburgring record holder has any tricks up its sleeve.
Before we move on to the 918, we check the VBOX data to find out the LaFerrari’s lap time. At 58.58 seconds it’s three-tenths slower than the P1, but that’s not how it looked from the sidelines nor (apparently) how it felt from the driver’s seat. We’re genuinely shocked, but perhaps we shouldn’t be, considering the Ferrari was shod with Pirelli Corsa tyres, compared to the track-special Trofeo R tyres worn by the P1.
It’s 11:40am and Jackson heads out in the 918 Spyder. For the record it’s fitted with Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s – the same tyre used for that 6:57 minute Nürburgring lap. We run it in Race Hybrid Mode with the ‘Hot Lap’ button engaged, which harnesses the maximum energy potential of its hybrid batteries and should provide around 2-3 laps on full charge. Porsche say it accounts for around 4 seconds of its Nürburgring lap performance and up to 140bhp of its hybrid power.
Warm-up laps are even more important in the Porsche than the other two, those front and rear e-motors require plenty of battery power, but thankfully it takes just a few minutes to charge them up to more than 90% by driving at normal speeds. The 918 will stay in Hot Lap mode even when the batteries are low, but in practice you’ll notice a decline in performance if the charge level falls below 50%.
Out on the track Jackson must adapt his driving to get the most from the Porsche.
“Obviously it’s a different type of car to the other two in that it’s four wheel drive,” says Jackson. “It feels like it’s a little heavier – I don’t know the exact figures whether it is or not, but from a dynamic point of view it feels a little more lazy and a little less track focused.”
“But it’s still a phenomenal piece of kit and gives you a lot of confidence, like for instance Woodcote was easy-flat, whereas in the other two your bum is twitching a little bit.”
The end result was a lap time just two tenths slower than the P1, but with only three tenths covering all three cars the result could have gone either way.
As we finish for the day, there’s a palpable sense of relief on Bailey’s face. “I’m glad it’s all over,” he says “because you’re always nervous when someone else is driving your cars around the track – no matter how capable and experienced they are.”
“I’m just really glad I’m using the cars in the way the manufacturers designed them to be used, rather than being mothballed in a garage where nobody gets the see them.”
Amen to that. Now let’s see how they perform in a straight line.
Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground, Leicestershire – 16, October 2015 (08:00am)
We arrive at Bruntingthorpe with high expectations for the LaFerrari. On paper it’s the fastest of the three – Ferrari claim it will accelerate from 0 to 186mph in 15 seconds flat, while McLaren say the P1 will do the same increment in 16.5 seconds – a full five seconds quicker than the legendary McLaren F1.
With less power than the other two and carrying an extra 120kg, the Porsche looks like being the slowest with a 0 to 186mph time of 20.9 seconds or 19.9 seconds in Weissach Package form.
We’re joined this time by David Kibbler who brings his (non-Weissach Package) 918 along to do battle with the LaF and P1. On paper, his car is 41kg heavier than a Weissach Package model, but in practice nobody buys a car such as this without specifying air conditioning and a radio. So in practice the difference is likely to be around 15kg – or in other words three-fifths of naff all.
Our goal this time is to find out which is fastest to nearly 200 miles per hour. We’ll capture the full set of performance figures, from 0-60 right up to 0-186mph and distance increments covering the 1/8 mile, 1/4 mile and standing 1/2 mile.
We’ve got a 2-mile stretch of tarmac with a 2 per cent incline to see if we can replicate those manufacturer claims in practice and we’ll take the fastest sector times from a total of seven runs.
As before we warm the cars up and fully charge their batteries by running them around the perimeter of the track, then choose which mode to run each car in.
For the 918, this means using ‘race hybrid’ mode with the ‘hot lap’ button engaged, while the LaFerrari will also be run in ‘race mode’ and use its launch control function to optimise traction off the line.
We reach out to McLaren again for advice on which way to set up the P1. This time we don’t need ‘race mode’ and the 600kg of downforce it provides at speed, but we’d quite like to take advantage of its 50mm lower ride height.
Race mode will be give the highest level of drag, while with the wing fully stowed we’ll experience the lowest drag but also the least high-speed stability. Dave Eden, McLaren’s Global PR man suggests we try running it in Aero mode with both powertrain and handling set to ‘track’, then hold down the DRS button on the steering wheel to reduce the angle of the rear wing to zero.
Eventually we choose to fully retract the rear spoiler and hope it remains stable enough at close to 200mph.
We opt for automatic gearchanges over manual to ensure the quickest shifts and use each car’s launch control system to eliminate the differences caused by having different drivers in each car.
That’s far from a handicap with cars as complex as these – it’s the work of genius merely calibrating how much power should be channelled to each wheel and blending the right amount of torque from their hybrid powertrains – it would be safe to assume that if the engineers can figure out that little conundrum then they probably know best when it comes to maximising the car’s performance in a straight line.
We’re pretty confident which will be fastest off the line (the Porsche), but it’s difficult to describe just how savagely the 918 pulls against two of the fastest supercars on the planet. Porsche claim 2.5 seconds and we recorded 2.85 seconds, making it one of the few road cars which can genuinely out-run a Cheetah.
But the 918’s advantage is short-lived, despite taking the early advantage, the P1 is actually gaining speed more quickly once both cars climb towards 150mph. At 163.4mph the Porsche decouples its front e-motor to prevent over-speed, but then redeploys all of the remaining battery charge to the rear, so in practice it’s still pulling like a train. But compared to the P1, there’s nothing its driver can do to reduce drag, especially with the more aggressive aero in Hot Lap mode.
So as the speed climbs the 918 drops further behind, and that’s when the slippery LaFerrari starts to pull its ace from the pack. But it still takes until 180mph before it too can put the Porsche in its rear-view mirror.
Would the LaFerrari eventually haul in the P1? I don’t think so. By the time it reached 192mph, the P1 was closing in on 200mph, while the 918 wasn’t far behind. But it was close, although not the dominant performance that Ferrari claimed it would be.
Looking closely at the data, the 918 monsters the first three increments, reaching 100mph in just 5.52 seconds. By 150mph the P1 pulls in front with a time 0.4 seconds quicker than the 918, but from this point onwards the P1 is in a league of its own, reaching 186mph nearly 3 seconds quicker than the Porsche and almost 2 seconds ahead of the Ferrari.
Take a look at the speed-time graph and you can see the point where the P1’s acceleration curve bisects the 918’s. The LaFerrari eventually does the same, but at no point does the trajectory of its acceleration look like intercepting that of the McLaren. The 918 is once again dominant over the half-mile, beating the other two cars despite crossing the mark at a lower terminal speed than either of them.
But the contest was only ever headed in one direction and the P1 yet again showed the other two a clean pair of heels. But… only during ‘one’ run. While the Porsche and Ferrari proved bullet-proof throughout the day, the McLaren blotted its copy-book with an engine that both delighted and frustrated with equal measure.
The first issue was discovering that the P1 wouldn’t rev all the way to 7,500rpm in each gear. You see, those clever engineers at McLaren have torque-optimised the P1’s power delivery, so it will change up earlier if it decides that’s the fastest way to make progress. Trouble is, it started changing up as early as 4,000rpm and after just a few runs we had to retire it and place a call to the factory.
A reboot or two later and the P1 seemed back on form, but it never came close to repeating its earlier performance so it leaves Bruntingthorpe victorious but with its credibility as a technical tour de force slightly tarnished.
Santa Pod Raceway, Bedfordshire – 16, October 2015 (1:00pm)
Our third and final test did little more than confirm the 918’s superiority over the 1/4 mile, especially when track conditions are less than ideal.
Santa Pod, Europe’s oldest permanent drag racing venue, features a highly-polished asphalt surface which can be a challenge to drive unless conditions are perfect. These were not ideal conditions. A morning of drizzle and rain had left the strip feeling more like an ice-rink than the arena for 1000-horsepower gladiators, while the air temperature had settled at little more than 7 degrees C.
And with concrete and steel barriers so perilously close to the track, nobody was keen to end the day trying to be a hero.
Out came the jet-turbine powered track dryer and after an hour of preparation the surface was dry enough to post a few runs, but the rear-wheel drive cars were never likely to compete with the Porsche, which even then was spinning all four wheels as it struggled to apply its 944lb-ft of torque to the track and keep its rear-end pointing in the same direction as its front.
While the P1 recovered from its earlier malaise and posted a respectable time, it never felt as brutally quick as it had earlier in the day, meanwhile the LaFerrari struggled to put down its power even after the start-line had been liberally sprayed with glue.
Sometimes there really is such a thing as ‘too much power’.
The times we recorded were around 2-3 tenths slower than those measured at Bruntingthorpe, but then none of our drivers were prepared to give 100% on a track where the penalty for making a mistake was so high.
The Verdict – which of these hypercars is best?
So, did we truly and unequivocally prove which is faster? Well, yes and no.
While the P1 set the fastest time around Silverstone, it did so while wearing the most extreme track tyre (Pirelli PZero Trofeo R). Had it been fitted with the same Pirelli Corsa tyres as the LaFerrari, the finishing order would almost certainly have been different.
Then there’s the 918, a car which dominated our 1/4 mile and 1/2 mile runs and the only car which Jackson managed to drive ‘easy flat’ through one of Silverstone’s high-speed corners – we could so easily have seen the Porsche win two of the three tests and thereby prove that it’s the greatest of all at getting from A to B in the shortest amount of time.
And what about the LaFerrari? Sadly, we were unable to get close to the factory’s performance claims and at no point did it ever look like beating the other two, but it makes a case for itself as being the most emotionally-engaging, virtuous and best looking super-car of them all, and Ferrari should be applauded for producing such an outrageously fast car which is as easy to drive as a 458 Italia.
They’re each hugely impressive cars, and spending time with them during the past few months has been nothing short of magical. But we really cannot pick a single winner – you’d be incredibly lucky to hold the keys in your hand to any of these hypercars, so which you’d choose comes down to your own personal choice.
For the sheer numbers it can deliver, you’ve got to respect the P1 – it’s truly the fastest of the three where its combination of power and aerodynamics make for an unbeatable combination. But driving fast, especially on today’s roads, is about more than just flat-out performance, and for covering ground quickly there’s nothing that can match the effortless talents of the 918.
But if the P1 seemed the most thrilling, the LaFerrari was the one which most of us would have chosen to drive home in. If you’re going to spend over £1 million on a hypercar then you’ll want to feel exhilarated by the experience of going fast, and the LaFerrari is a rewarding choice indeed.
One week later, Mat Jackson returned to the Silverstone National circuit and set a stunning new BTCC lap record of 58.078 seconds in his Motorbase Ford Focus. We thought it would be fun to compare his touring car lap with the fastest time he set in the McLaren P1, and while undoubtedly the P1 could have lapped quicker (if fitted with a sticky set of race slicks), it shows just how efficient the touring car is in applying less than half the grunt to achieve a similar end result.
Audi’s R8 V10 plus uses the same 601bhp engine and retails at just £134,500, so look no further if you’re in the market for a giant-killer.
And finally, while these modern day hypercars are unbelievably fast, we wondered just how much faster they would be than a mere £200k supercar such as the 601bhp Lamborghini Huracán LP 610-4. Lamborghini quotes a 0-62mph performance of 3.2 seconds, 0-124mph in 9.9 seconds and a top speed of 202 mph, while Motortrend magazine recorded a 10.6 second standing quarter mile when they tested it last year.
So, what did it do in our hands? Well, at Santa Pod we recorded a best quarter (1/4) mile time of 10.794 seconds at a terminal speed of 132.51 mph and a best eighth (1/8) mile in 7.082 seconds at 106.40 mph. That was second only to the Porsche 918 and makes the Huracán seem something of a bargain at just £180,720. Audi’s R8 V10 plus uses the same 601bhp engine and retails at just £134,500, so look no further if you’re in the market for a giant-killer.
Many thanks to SCD member, Christian Allebone, for putting his 2015 Huracán to such good use at Santa Pod.
Related links from across the web
Although we were the first (with SupercarDriver) to conduct such a comprehensive test of these cars, we left several unanswered questions which others have since helped to address.
First of these, concerns the optional Trofeo R Pirellis fitted to our McLaren P1. We’d like to have swapped these for the same Pirelli Corsa tyres fitted to the LaFerrari. Chris Harris did precisely that, so look at for the answer at around 14:30 mins into his video below.
There are other tests which include more cars and a superbike, which are all worth a view. I’ve added them below to save you having to search for them. Enjoy and if you have any further questions feel free to post them in the comments.
Chris Harris on Cars – LaFerrari v Porsche 918 v McLaren P1 at Portimao
Chris Harris tests all three cars at the Portimao circuit, recording lap times and demonstrating each car’s sideways prowess together with Tiff Needell and Marino Franchitti. The cars were provided by their respective manufacturers. VIEW HERE.
HYPER 5 – LaFerrari vs Porsche 918 vs McLaren P1 vs Bugatti Super Sport vs Pagani Huayra
Alejandro Salomon (@Salomondrin) tests all three hypercars together with the Veyron Super Sport and Pagani Huayra. The content is captured in three videos, although you should probably save some time and skip to the final video for the results.
McLaren P1 vs Porsche 918 1/2 Mile Drag Race
The Bay Area Racing channel tests the McLaren P1 and Porsche 918 Spyder over the half-mile. VIEW HERE.
McLaren P1 vs. Porsche 918 Spyder vs. Ducati 1199 Superleggera – drag race
Steve Sutcliffe and Autocar pitch the McLaren P1 and Porsche 918 Spyder against a Ducati 1199 Superleggera to find out which is faster in a straight line. VIEW HERE.