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banner Friday, 30 November, 2001, 12:21 GMT
McLaren go mad for the future
The new McLaren Paragon base
McLaren's new factory is built mostly underground
BBC motorsport correspondent Jonathan Legard is wowed by the McLaren Formula One team's space-age new base

A week after Alain Prost's Formula One team went into receivership with debts of 19m, McLaren have unveiled a futuristic masterpiece that will make him feel like giving up.

The team with whom the Frenchman won three of his four world drivers' titles gave a guided tour of a new project that makes the efforts of F1's smaller teams look utterly pointless.

Silicon Valley, let alone F1, has never seen anything like it. Even a perfectionist like Grand Prix impresario Bernie Ecclestone will be impressed.

The new facility, known for the moment as Paragon, cost 200m, a sum accumulated by McLaren chairman Ron Dennis from the profits of the last 10 years.

Mika Hakkinen in his McLaren-Mercedes
The F1 team will be just one of the companies based at Paragon
It will house 1,000 staff on a site close to McLaren's existing factory, outside Woking in Surrey.

The first arrivals will begin moving in next August.

Designed by the award-winning architect, Sir Norman Foster, but unquestionably the personal inspiration of Dennis, Paragon is as far away from the cash-strapped trials of the Prost team as you can get.

Much of the low-level building is underground, linked by a network of shopping mall walkways and lifts. No other buildings are visible from the two over-ground storeys.

The F1 racing organisation will be housed alongside production of the Mercedes McLaren joint venture SLR road car.

There will be a health club, swimming pool, 600-seater restaurant and universal electronic noticeboards displaying messages, practice times from Grands Prix and even the races themselves.

Electronically-controlled taps

Half the electricity will be generated in-house so that in the event of a power cut within the standard system, work can continue without disruption.

There will be no taps to turn. The water will be electronically controlled from a computer centre that can adjust the temperature at the touch of a button linked to each outlet.

The ceramic tiles alone are costing 2.5m.

The lake outside the curved glass frontage will play a part in the overall heating system. Each glass panel weighs 40 tonnes.

A model of the new McLaren factory
Paragon has been built on a greenfield site

Neither fish nor algae will be allowed in the white-walled waterfalls which will ring the outer edge of the lake.

But there is a plan to introduce pike after a number of years to clear any unwanted inhabitants who might have chosen to outstay their welcome.

No wires will be visible in any of the offices. The specific furniture design to hide all cabling will become a new McLaren brand, as will the lighting system, which incorporates smoke detectors, sprinkler sensors and emergency lights.

But this space-age empire, gathering all the various McLaren companies under one roof, is not merely a workplace.

Its creator, Ron Dennis, wants to take technology to a teenage generation through Paragon's Visitor and Learning Centre.

Dennis describes his mission to educate, inform and entertain as "90% NASA and 10% Disney".

Bleak future for backmarkers

McLaren receive 12,000 visitors each year to their present factory. Dennis believes that the scale of his all-white world will prove even more attractive.

How his F1 rivals see this breathtaking enterprise is another matter.

If this is really what it takes to succeed in Grand Prix racing, backmarkers like Prost, Minardi and Arrows have a far bleaker future than they have ever cared to imagine.

As if the reputed 10m annual salary to keep McLaren's brilliant technical director, Adrian Newey, out of Jaguar's clutches was not eye-popping enough.

McLaren technical director Adrian Newey
McLaren paid a king's ransom to keep Newey on board
Perhaps one or other of them would be interested in taking over the lease of McLaren's factory when it's vacated, which is Dennis' preferred option.

The challenge for Dennis and McLaren, however, is to ensure that the all-consuming attention to detail which has distinguished the project does not deflect from the business of winning.

The purpose of Paragon, after all, is as a centre of excellence.

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