The Australian Grand Prix may not have been the start the McLaren Honda team wanted, but they certainly provided the dream start for a handful of Hilton HHonors members and competition winners. McLaren hosted their special guests overnight at their secretive Technology Centre in Woking, hauling in plush beds from the nearby Doubletree Hilton to add a touch of luxury to the boulevard of the 2005 building of the year. Guests were given a brief tour, got to grips with the pits, watched F1 movies on a giant screen whilst relaxing in their beds, all before starting the morning at 3:30 with Sky’s coverage of the Australian Grand Prix.

McLaren Technology Centre with DoubleTree by Hilton

The Australian Grand Prix was marred by the horrific crash that Alonso suffered on the 19th lap of the 57 lap race. Alonso walked away from the incident, miraculously unharmed, but it brought home to roost the reality of the inherent dangers of motor racing’s top tier. Only hours earlier, McLaren’s guests lay about their Doubletree Hilton beds, keeping themselves awake with caffeine coursing through their systems, watching the Senna documentary on a giant suspended screen. Anyone who is familiar with the story knows how horrifically it ends, and there was a terrible sense of déjà vu as we saw Alonso’s MP4-31 bounce and settle upside down on gravel of turn 3. Alonso was lucky to escape without injury, but a lot of that was down to the engineering of the car.

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The engineering of the MP4-31 took place at the McLaren Technology Centre the event was held. The MTC is an amazing building that seamlessly combines a futuristic and clean look with technology and McLaren heritage. Unsurprisingly, the building was mostly on lock-down for the evening. 3 floors below where we stood, the carbon fiber bodies of their MP4-31’s were made. However a brief tour allowed visitors their chance to check out some of the engineering bays where their heritage models are kept in pristine condition, as well as work on Alsonso’s and Button’s cars takes place. These work bays are where all the car parts are engineered uniquely and to McLaren’s own precise standards. It was here, in the whitest of rooms that we got to try our hands at performing a pit-stop.

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If you have been watching F1 for years, you know just how important a pit-stop is. They are not only a crucial element in the tactics for winning a race, but their very performance can make and break a driver’s chances of finishing on the podium. Like the engineering behind the cars, pit-stops too are in a state of continual improvement. Now, with only tyre changes being the standard pit-stop, the time of these is down to an average of 2 seconds per pit-stop. Car comes in, gets jacked up, wheels come off, wheels go on, car is dropped, car drives off. It takes longer to say that, let alone type it, than it does to perform the it in a seemingly fluid motion. We learnt the mechanics behind making this transition lies in practice, practice and then, maybe, just another practice. On a typical day, the McLaren F1 team might practise in the same bay we were in up to 60 times. We managed 6.21 seconds after a few trial runs, good, but not good enough to get flown out to the next grand prix to work in the pit team.

The McLaren team themselves do all their pre-race strategising right there in the building we were in. On our tour, we got to sit in a mock control room: dark, comfy chairs, headsets, screens everywhere – not too dissimilar to a submarine’s operation room. So much data is available these days, it takes many heads and some powerful computers to make sense of it. Some ungodly number of terabytes of telemetry data from the race in Australia made it halfway across the world to the rooms like that in Woking, where it was being analysed by top men and strategy was being fed back to the race team in Melbourne.

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Back out in the McLaren Technology Centre Boulevard, a number of DoubleTree by Hilton beds had been set up, with all the mod cons, for guests to kick back and enjoy watching Rush and Senna. There were bath robes, select toiletries as well as a welcome cookie, all to give the you the Doubletree experience in the McLaren Technology Centre. In spite of how comfy the beds were, we managed to stay up throughout the night until the 3:30 race coverage began and we settled down to watch the Australian Grand Prix with some select McLaren telemetry data shown on the side. They have a unique way of the data of every race, condensing it to show each track as a circle, with a small inner pit lane, split into 3 section with a marker for each driver going round – providing a quick and easily digestible infographic of race progress and driver position. We don’t know how we can watch another race without all of these delightful additions to the experience.

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McLaren and Hilton have a long history of working together, and we sincerely doubt this is the last time they will offer a truly unique experience such as this. If you couldn’t win it by competition, they auctioned it off via their Hilton HHonors, so if you ever stay with Hilton, this might be up your alley by earning/spending points. It is great, so long as you can get passed that American spelling…

 

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