Everyone knows a grand prix car is fast. It's the reason they race for the
official world championship, why a single car costs about $500,000, and why pushy
Michael Schumacher gets paid $30 million a year to almost win the title for Ferrari.
An F1 fighter rivals a jet fighter for gut-churning ferocity but is built to run flat out
around a strip of bitumen instead of tearing strips from the sky. It takes a back-to-back
comparison with real cars to put a GP car into perspective.
It's the only way to try to translate speed and grip - which goes beyond four times
the force of gravity - into numbers an ordinary driver can understand.
At Silverstone, the home of the British GP, McLaren rolled out one of its grand prix cars
and Australian GP winner David Coulthard for a series of made-to-measure runs against
two regular street machines.
The idea was to time - in two sprint tests and a flat-out lap - the difference between
the McLaren and a pair of relatively normal Mercedes-Benzes. The Benzes aren't
everyday transport for too many Aussies, but the A-Class city scooter is a
Hyundai-style street machine and theroad rocket E50 is an upmarket Euro V8, which sits
in a similar position to a HSV Commodore.
They made an effective pair of production bookends for the comparison run, organised by
Fl Racing magazine.
The McLaren MP4-12 was the easy winner every time - even if it can't carry the people
or luggage of the Benzes and costs about $50,000 a day to run. It generated a massive
four times its own weight in cornering, a 4G rating which made the respectable 0.9G of
the grippy E50 and the puny 0.8G of the tyre-squealing A160 look totally pathetic.
When the three cars were switched to a flat-out blast-and-brake test - max gas to
160kmh followed by full-force braking - the A160 took a snail-like 35.15secs.
The E50 went almost supercar quick and more than halved the A-Class effort at 15.45secs.
But the 750hp, 750kg McLaren needed less than a quarter of the E50's time - a
staggeringly short 4.2secs - to get the job done.
When the three cars were set for the Silverstone sprint, there was never any doubt
about the outcome.
In every corner the F1 racer was more than 100kmh quicker than the E50, which also
went well clear of the baby Benz.
In the slowest corner, the A-Class was rocking and rolling at 65kmh and the E50 managed
a respectable 75kmh, but the F1 was more than twice as good at 195kmh.
In the quickest corner, the speeds went 160, 210 and - wait for it - 290kmh.
When it was all over, the A160 had cracked its lap in 2 mins 39secs.
The E50 was 10 per cent quicker for a respectable run in 2mins 24secs, but its speedy
sprint was splattered when Coulthard uncorked the McLaren.
His lap was almost a full minute quicker at 1:34, proving once and for all the difference
between our road cars and their road rockets.