The Lego McLaren F1 doesn't just look like an racecar - it was developed like one too. Formula 1 cars are continuously developed throughout the season and well before the racing calendar comes to an end, work starts on the following year’s car. So when Billund decided to model its Technic incarnation on the legendary team’s MCL36, they too had to constantly redevelop the model. Even the very best Lego sets can't trump that!
As the instruction booklet reveals, McLaren’s designers were regularly in contact with Lego’s designers to update them on changes to the MCL36’s ongoing development. This is remarkable when you consider just how secretive F1 teams are about their cars. After all, the driver is arguably the final piece of the puzzle. It’s the car that very often makes or breaks the championship. And as far as Lego’s efforts go, this is quite simply the most realistic-looking Formula 1 replica it has ever produced. The Lego McLaren F1 is worthy of first place.
We’ve run the diagnostics; here’s how it fared during a flying lap of the GamesRadar+ test circuit…
Lego McLaren F1 - features
Technic has always been intended to occupy big kids, but the Lego McLaren F1 is clearly targeted towards adults with its 18+ age rating. The set comprises 1,434 pieces, spread across four bagged sections. Seeing as it's based on the McLaren's 2022 design (the MCL36), this kit launched in March of the same year.
In general, it's a big step up from the last few F1 kits Lego's produced. Despite looking comparable at first glance, a closer look reveals much more detail (and a more filled-out, realistic design) than the likes of the Grand Prix Racer - 42000. The latter only had 1,141 pieces, for example.
Lego McLaren F1 - how easy is it to build?
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Lots of clever, working mechanisms
Those lucrative sponsorship deals require a lot of stickers
As with so many large-scale Technic kits, the Lego McLaren F1 is designed for grown-ups - and is slightly more challenging as a result. That’s not to say younger petrolheads can’t get involved (with adult supervision), but small hands will likely struggle to muster the necessary force to clip some pieces together. Plus, it wouldn’t be a Technic build without pinching your skin between two pieces at least once.
Stickers are another area where youngsters could struggle, and it’s hardly surprising that this set is brimming with them. F1 cars are adorned with an ever-changing roster of sponsorship logos throughout the season. All told, there are three large sheets, with some pretty sizable stickers that require plenty of care and attention to line up properly.
This model hasn’t just been built to resemble the prototype, it’s been built to work like it too
Moving parts are always a challenge when it comes to building Technic and Lego in general. This model hasn’t just been built to resemble the prototype, it’s been built to work like it too. The McLaren Formula 1 car’s V6 engine has moving pistons, a gearbox with a working differential, front and rear suspension, and a steering column that turns the front wheels.
These mechanisms are a large part of what makes this build so interesting. You’re not just building the outer shell of an F1 car; you’re building some of its key, internal components. This makes the build constantly engaging, even at those earlier stages where the car itself isn’t taking shape.
Finishing a moving part is a miniature triumph in itself. On more than one occasion, I found myself simply fiddling around with a finished component, marvelling at Lego designer Lars Krogh Jensen’s work.
Lego McLaren F1 - design
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Developed with McLaren
Not in race trim
If you’re thinking that the Technic McLaren Formula 1 Race Car doesn’t look quite right, but you can’t put your finger on it, that’s probably because it’s not actually the car that exploded off the start grid (from P13…) at the Bahrain Grand Prix on March 20, 2022. Instead, it’s a representation of a design concept, with several notable differences in shape and of course the livery. The former isn’t too much of a problem, since a Technic model of this scale simply cannot replicate the smooth, sweeping curvature of an F1 car, making small changes less noticeable.
And yet, while it’s possible that some fans may be disappointed with the lack of an official car and livery, the prototype design is an interesting angle. Technic is the perfect home for an F1 car. In many ways, it’s the pinnacle of Lego engineering. And the story of this set’s build, and indeed the final product, is arguably more interesting than the real thing. The MCL36 won’t be remembered for much other than being McLaren’s first car under F1’s 2022 regulations changes. Throughout the season it recorded only one podium and no wins, and McLaren – the second most successful team in F1 history – could only muster 5th in the Constructors’ Championship.
It’s like smoking a Sauber with Lewis Hamilton’s championship-winning MP4-23
You need look no further than the side-by side image of the McLaren prototype and the devilishly accurate Technic representation on the instruction booklet’s opening spread to realise just how perfectly Lego has captured the essence of the most advanced racing cars on the planet. The aerodynamic layers that make up the front wing, the curvature of the nose, air intake and side pods... it’s all there. And that’s before you consider all of the aforementioned working mechanisms.
Sure, Technic has conquered working suspension, moving pistons and an operational differential before, and there’s nothing here that really rivals, say, the Technic Ferrari Daytona SP3 (MSRP $449.99 / £389.99). But an F1 car’s slim form factor presents its own challenges, and this is a sub-$200 / £200 model. The last Technic open-wheel racing car was 2013’s Lego Technic Grand Prix Racer (42000). Compare that to Lego’s latest effort and it’s like smoking a Sauber with Lewis Hamilton’s championship-winning MP4-23. Oh, and this thing is big. Very big. It’s 25.5in (65cm) long, for goodness sake. It actually has a larger footprint than the Ferrari Daytona.
The one area that could have been easily improved upon is the tyres. For starters, it’s a real shame they don’t include the coloured strip that denotes the type of tyre used and I would have preferred a set of slicks, too. Instead, the tread looks like full wets. Other Lego F1 cars have featured a kind of half-slick, half-tread design that’s not perfect, but at least it looks a little more racy. Heck, the Lego Williams F1 Team Racer (8461) from 2002 even featured Michelin-branded tyres. A set of Pirellis would have been great!
Open-wheel models are more fragile than closed-wheel cars by their very nature though and it’s worth noting that a few bits are prone to falling off. The few standard Lego bricks are the main offenders, with the rear rain light and end of the air intake proving particularly fragile. But overall, for a model of this size, and this delicate a build, it’s surprisingly robust.
Should you buy the Lego McLaren F1?
If you’re a fan of the pinnacle of motorsport, then you’re going to love the Technic McLaren Formula 1 Race Car. Even if you’re not a Lego collector. From the collaboration with the real McLaren team to the working ‘diff’ and pistons, it’s clear that this build was a real labor of love. Just like the F1 car that rolls onto the starting grid at the beginning of a new season, it’s not perfect. But look beyond the lack of slick tyres and a proper racing livery and it’s hard to find fault.
This is by far the most realistic F1 car Lego has ever produced and it’s whetted my appetite for more. McLaren boasts the second richest history in the sport, from Senna’s MP4/4 to Hamilton’s MP4-23 – or maybe even a future championship contender with Norris or Piastri at the helm – so there’s no shortage of source material. Here’s hoping future collaborations between Technic and McLaren are on the cards, and they live up to the Lego McLaren F1.
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How we tested the Technic McLaren Formula 1 Race Car
This set was savoured over the course of several weekends – between qualifying and race days, of course. Its durability was tested during the photoshoot, where it was placed in various positions, picked up, and even required to weather a car journey.
For more information on our procedure, take a look at how we test products.