The LEGO McLaren Formula One Car Is a Fantastic, Fiddly Build That Drove Me Crazy

The LEGO McLaren Formula One Car Is a Fantastic, Fiddly Build That Drove Me Crazy
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As you would all know by now,  I am a sucker for anything related to Formula One. When LEGO announced it would release a Technic kit based on McLaren Racing’s MCL36 2022 F1 car, I was instantly frothing.

Because F1 is currently enjoying a massive spike in popularity thanks to Netflix’s popular Drive To Survive series, the set became an instant hit. Its initial run sold out almost immediately. I even reached out to our local LEGO publicist to see if they might be able to find me one. Even they were struggling to secure kits.

On a whim, I stuck my head into my local Toyworld on the way home from the office one Thursday night. I perused the Technic shelf, though I didn’t expect to see one there and, sure enough, no luck. As I glumly turned back toward the exit, I spotted it. Just one LEGO McLaren F1 kit, sitting near the counter with a handful of pricier Technic kits. I must have bolted over like a madman because I startled the poor woman behind the counter. She wasn’t surprised to hear the LEGO McLaren kit was in demand. This one had been a special order, and the customer had never shown up to collect it. She didn’t want to hang onto stock when it could be making her money, so out on the floor it had gone.

I rushed home with my prize lest I be murked by a crazed LEGO fan hunting the same kit.

How does LEGO come up with this stuff?

lego mclaren
Image: LEGO

The LEGO McLaren is a brilliant build. Or, perhaps more accurately, it’s the blueprint that is brilliant. The design of the thing, in collaboration with McLaren’s real-world F1 engineers, is remarkable. Someone really sat down and thought really hard about exactly how to construct an F1 car out of LEGO. The actual build process was by turns smooth and satisfying, and then fiddly and frustrating.

The car itself is based on McLaren’s 2022 MCL36 F1 race car, but adopts the team’s 2021 colours and livery. The reason for this is that, at the time of the LEGO kit’s announcement, McLaren was yet to formally unveil its 2022 livery. F1 teams, like publishers in the video games industry, jealously guard their secrets like dragons protecting a hoard. From time to time, that insistence on secrecy flows outward, putting certain connected brand deals in a very awkward position. That’s what’s happened here.

When the build sings and comes together, it’s the kind of LEGO magic that makes you feel like a massive brain genius. The instant I realised the build’s first stage laid the foundation for a working mid-engine drivetrain was one of these moments. The LEGO V6 engine thrashes its yellow pistons in and out as the rear wheels turn the driveshaft. This is the LEGO McLaren’s greatest trick. It gives F1 fans, particularly new ones, a much stronger idea of the machinery at work within these cars. I’ve described these cars to nerd friends as something akin to an Evangelion: the paint job and the aerodynamic armour are part of the show. They both disguise and serve the 1000hp monster that lurks beneath.

Where the build fell down for me was when things got a great deal fiddlier. And that was when we moved into the suspension. F1 cars don’t have much in the way of suspension. They are what are called open-wheel racing cars. This is because the wheels are uncovered. They are connected to the chassis by a complex series of wishbone pieces, springs, dampers and a pair of push/pull rods that allow the wheels to turn.

These parts are all intermingled and, when translated into a LEGO build, require the tiniest and steadiest of hands to complete. The LEGO McLaren’s chassis is broken into two halves — the front and the rear. I spent far longer than I care to say on the suspension portion of the build partly due to its complexity, but mostly due my own misinterpretations of the blueprint. Though the LEGO guidebook is a fantastic resource, there is an upper level on just how much detail it can provide when the builds get as fiddly as this.

It took me hours to sort it all out. With each move I made, a piece would spring loose. I would pull each of the four suspension assemblies apart, rebuild them in my head, and put them back together wrong. I did this numerous times, so many that I started getting frustrated and had to walk away from the build.

On top of this, the LEGO McLaren kit also features real-world sponsor stickers that must be applied to the necessary pieces of bodywork prior to assembly. For my shaky, over-caffeinated hands this was almost a bridge too far. I got everything stuck down eventually, but it occasionally felt like I needed to get tweezers and a magnifying glass out to get them aligned properly.

It took me hours to get through the middle stage of the build. I watched most of the Netflix series Race: Bubba Wallace while I worked through it.

In the wall

lego mclaren
Image: LEGO

And then, disaster struck. The thing LEGO fans dread: I was missing pieces. Two small but unique pieces from the rear wing section were unaccounted for. The build had to stop in its tracks while I waited for LEGO to send me out some spares. It took them two or three weeks to arrive from LEGO HQ in Europe.

The build recommenced. The rear wing began to take shape, the small but important parts flowing together. We were rapidly reaching the final stage of the build. Just one last section of the rear wing remained. And then…

I was missing another piece. Just one. A small, McLaren orange piece. I couldn’t believe it. I expressed my frustration on Twitter, expecting to have to put in ANOTHER missing piece claim on the same kit. I’d never run into a kit that was missing pieces before, and this one was missing two different bricks.

I mean, I did take that person’s order. I assume this is the Force re-asserting the necessary balance.

It was good friend of the site and noted LEGO fan Alice Clarke who came to my rescue, having received her own review kit by this point. Taking pity on me, she gave me the part I needed and ordered a replacement of her own because she’s wonderful like that.

Recovery drive

lego mclaren
Image: LEGO

We’d managed to pull our LEGO McLaren F1 car out of a spin into the gravel trap and back onto the track. The final stages of the rear wing were completed quickly and the kit’s large wheels were finally fitted. The finished unit is too big for almost any shelf in my study where I keep the bulk of my nerd paraphernalia. It has currently taken up residence on my chest of drawers and is almost too big to fit on that too.

The LEGO McLaren F1 car is a beautiful build, though its process shows the limitations of LEGO’s carefully engineered instructions system. Its complexity will tickle diehard builders but may be a bit much at times for novices or those coming to the kit as F1 fans first. The design, created in concert with McLaren’s engineers, is simply brilliant and a feather in the cap of the Master Builders that conceived it. Like the sport it’s based on, there are moments when this build will drive you mad. But when it’s finished and on your shelf, you won’t remember the frustration, just the sweet, sweet taste of victory.

Where you can buy the LEGO McLaren Formula 1

Amazon Australia ($249) | Kmart ($249) | Target ($245)

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At Gizmodo, we independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. We have affiliate and advertising partnerships, which means we may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. BTW – prices are accurate and items in stock at the time of posting.