How a sailfish influenced the design of the Mclaren P1 ‘Hyper Car’
What’s the most unusual thing you’ve managed to get signed off as a work expense?
For Frank Stephenson, it was a sailfish.
On holiday in the Caribbean, he noticed one on the bar wall at the hotel he was staying at.
Intrigued by its shape, he asked the barman about the graceful-looking fish behind him.
The barman explained that it was the fastest fish in the sea and could travel through water faster than a cheetah achieves on land at up to 68mph or 109km/h.
As the former design director for the sportscar manufacturer McLaren Automotive, this got him thinking.
He began avidly researching, and on the way back to the UK, he stopped off in Miami, where he bought a sailfish that had recently been caught.
The fish was stuffed and returned to the design studio at McLaren’s HQ in Woking, Surrey.
By examining the fish close up, the team of McLaren designers and aerodynamicists established what made it so fast through the water.
The fish’s scales create tiny vortices that envelop it in a ‘pocket of air’ so that it’s not facing the stronger resistance of water.
It’s as if the fish travels through the air but under the water.
How cool is that?
When McLaren was designing their P1 ‘hypercar’, one of the key requirements was increasing the amount of air in the engine to maximise the amount of performance extracted from its combustion cycle.
Treating the surface on the inside of the air intakes with a similar design to the sailfish skin increased airflow to the engine by 17%.
So successful was this application of nature’s adaptations that McLaren now considers biomimicry to be an important part of their overall design process.