Exclusive look behind the scenes at F1 champ Hamilton's McLaren HQ

PUBLISHED: 14:11 13 April 2009 | UPDATED: 21:56 26 October 2009

The space-age McLaren Technology Centre [Pictures courtesy of www.mclaren.com]

The space-age McLaren Technology Centre [Pictures courtesy of www.mclaren.com]

THE F1 season has got off to a controversial start for world champion Lewis Hamilton. The 24-year-old Tewin racer was disqualified from the opening grand prix in Australia and accused of misleading race officials. At the launch of the 2009 Vodafone McLare

F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton

THE F1 season has got off to a controversial start for world champion Lewis Hamilton.

The 24-year-old Tewin racer was disqualified from the opening grand prix in Australia and accused of misleading race officials.

At the launch of the 2009 Vodafone McLaren Mercedes MP4-24, journalists were given exclusive access to the team's HQ.

WHT news editor Chris Lennon was among the select few on the behind-the-scenes tour of where Hamilton's car was designed.

The McLaren HQ from above

AS workplaces go, the McLaren Technology Centre is pretty impressive.

That comes as no surprise, seeing as it was designed by Lord Norman Foster - the architect whose notable other constructions include the new Wembley Stadium and the 'Gherkin' in the City.

Nestled in 50 hectares on the outskirts of Woking, Surrey, the glass-walled building loomed out of the early morning mist as I was chauffeured to the main entrance from the visitors' car park.

Inside the McLaren Technology Centre

The access road winds round a man-made lake that - along with the building - makes a circular Yin Yang symbol.

Deliberately done, of course. As is the fact the building faces west - which, according to those who believe in feng shui, helps to bring prosperity.

The lake is not just there for aesthetic purposes, though. It actually has a working function, pumping water to cool the building and to disperse the vast amounts of heat generated by the wind tunnel on site.

Walking inside the building, your breath is almost taken away by its space-age feel.

The wind tunnel

Everything was so white, so clean - if I'd been told this was actually a NASA laboratory, I would probably have believed it.

From the main doors you are greeted by a long 'boulevard' featuring all McLaren's racing cars through the ages, and all in full working order.

Taking pride of place at the head of the line is the Austin 7 that team founder Bruce McLaren won his first race in 1954, at the tender age of 16.

Fully restored it may be but, with technology so inferior compared to the racing cars of this era, it wouldn't stand much of a chance against the prestigious cars parked alongside it.

The employee restaurant

It was hard not to smirk when learning about 'health and safety' 1950s style.

The Austin - with room to fit two - may not have had a seat belt for the driver, but did nevertheless have leather straps keeping the engine and boot firmly in place!

The line of cars stretched far into the distance, gleaming away like a vehicular who's who.

McLaren's first Formula 1 car, the M7C... the team's most successful race car ever, the MP4-4, which won 15 out of 16 races courtesy of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost... the MP4-14, McLaren's last world championship winning car (back in 1999) before, obviously, Lewis Hamilton came on the scene.

The boulevard of past McLaren cars

Also proudly on show was the limited edition McLaren F1 LM sports car

Capable of speeds approaching 250mph, only five of this particular model were ever made.

It is also Lewis' favourite car - and, it is said, the one in the technology centre has been promised to him if he wins a second world crown.

If you wanted evidence of just how successful these illustrious motors were, the corridor at the end of the boulevard provided just that.

The McLaren Technology Centre at night

For the walls are adorned by trophy cabinet after trophy cabinet - I counted 20 in total - containing every honour the McLaren team has ever won.

More than 550 cups, shields and mementoes of all shapes and sizes are on view, signalling success from F1 to the Indianapolis 500 to the Le Mans 24-hour.

And, more importantly, all of them are originals.

This is because CEO Ron Dennis is a firm believer teamwork is key to all of McLaren's successes.

Motorsports / Formula 1: World Championship 2009, GP of Malaysia, 01 Lewis Hamilton (GBR, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes), 
 *** Local Caption *** +++ www.hoch-zwei.net +++ copyright: HOCH ZWEI / Juergen Tap +++

The trophies are there for every single one of McLaren's 1,200 employees to enjoy.

If any driver wants to keep a trophy, they have to have a copy made.

From here I turned into the very heart of the McLaren Technology Centre, a sophisticated James Bond-esque set where the cars of today - and tomorrow - are being dreamed-up, designed and tested.

The wind tunnel - a key aerodynamics testing device for motor racing teams - sits at one end, in a sealed-off block to minimise the deafening noise generated when the fan - four metres in diameter and spinning at speeds up to 600rpm - is on.

And it's here where a 60% scale model of a hybrid of McLaren's 2008 and 2009 race cars is put through its paces.

In the vehicle dynamics department, a test car was being thrown around on a machine simulating every bump, twist and turn on the Barcelona circuit (the computer can be programmed to mirror any race track it wants).

Here, we were told about one Grand Prix meeting where problems were noted with one of the cars during Friday practice.

Data from the car was sent back to the technology centre, where staff worked through the night, the following day and the following night using these simulators to identify and fix the problem.

Once done, the set-up was wired back to the circuit, and McLaren had a competitive car up and running in time for Sunday's race.

Now you begin to understand what Ron Dennis means when he talks about teamwork.

The lab rooms kept on coming.

First the quality department, which handles 20,000 components a week, each with a unique serial number meaning any part on any car can be traced - who made it, who handled it, what happened to it, etc.

Then there were the test bays, working extra hard at the moment developing the new 'power boost' battery device (known in the trade as KERS, or kinetic energy recovery system).

From there it was a lift down - the building has four floors, two of them underground - to the composites department.

It is here a team of 250 employees work 24/7 moulding the carbon fibre chassis that will provide the base for the cars being driven by Lewis and his team-mate Heikki Kovalainen.

As the lift lumbered back up to ground level, I reflected on the whistle-stop tour.

In this day and age everyone knows that motor racing is as much about the machine as it is about the driver.

But it was this visit that underlined just how important a role the machine plays, and just how much work - from hundreds of people - goes in to developing it.

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