Interview: how LEGO and McLaren built a Formula 1 car in secret

The LEGO Group worked in secret with F1 team McLaren for six months to design 42141 McLaren Formula 1 Race Car – here’s how they achieved it.

42141 McLaren Formula 1 Race Car was revealed just days before McLaren unveiled its brand new car for the 2022 F1 season, but the LEGO set isn’t a direct adaptation of the MCL36. Instead, it’s an amalgamation of both that vehicle and last year’s MCL35, using the 2021 livery while delivering what McLaren Racing’s Executive Technical Director James Key calls a ‘hands-on interpretation’ of the 2022 car.

That was made possible by the fact that both the LEGO set and the real-life car were effectively developed in tandem, allowing the Technic designers to take some of the cues for the set directly from McLaren’s engineers. We’ve spoken to McLaren’s Director of Licensing Lindsey Eckhouse to find out more about this unique collaboration, from how the set came together to why it sports last year’s livery.

LEGO Technic 42141 McLaren Formula 1 Race Car 14

Brick Fanatics: This isn’t the first time that the LEGO Group and McLaren have worked together. When did the idea of creating a model based on the new Formula 1 car come into the conversation?

Lindsey: This came about as we were entering into this new era of technical regulation from the Formula 1 side. LEGO Technic were keen to really lean into that and embrace some of these new regulations and try to embody some of that in what we created together. Ultimately, the popularity of McLaren Racing, the fact they’d already worked with our McLaren Automotive business, and the growing popularity of the sport all came together at the right time, so we decided to create the first-ever [licensed] Formula 1 car with LEGO Technic.

Recent LEGO McLaren sets have mostly been smaller Speed Champions or Technic sets targeted towards kids and adults. Why was a large set targeted specifically towards adults the right expression for this particular car?

It really goes back to the engineering that we wanted to showcase as part of the collaboration, which is why we got James Key and his full team engaged in the process. It was incredibly collaborative – there was a good probably six months of back and forth, both on the engineering and design side as well as the branding side, to make sure that we could bring LEGO Technic into Formula 1 as best as possible, knowing that at the end of the day, they’re bricks, versus the ability to perfectly recreate and replicate suspension and all of that.

LEGO Technic 42141 McLaren Formula 1 Race Car review
42141 McLaren Formula 1 Race Car – your questions answered

What were your aims going into the development of this set?

It was really trying to bring that full-scale adult-focused LEGO Technic model to life, and doing that in a way that worked [with regards to] some of our challenges. We started working on this in August or September 2020, and we actually don’t sign off the Formula 1 car until really the January of that year. So we were bringing to life the 2021 livery through LEGO Technic, but also trying to embody the spirit of the 2022 regulation changes in the sport, and ensure we had brand consistency from the sponsors that appear on the livery.

A lot of time and focus went into, ‘How do we actually bring all of that together?’, and the timelines that ultimately work for LEGO Technic, which I think was the exciting part of the challenge and why the collaboration is so successful, because it brought all that together quite nicely.

That sounds like a lot of moving parts to juggle, not just in terms of McLaren and LEGO, but also your sponsors.

Yeah, exactly. Genuinely there was about six months of real back and forth between LEGO Technic, and our team located here. And that was both on the engineering side, but also that brand side. And remember, it was COVID. So all of this is done over different virtual platforms so that we could, as much as possible, bring things to life.

2022 McLaren Racing Team side angle
Image: McLaren

So based on that timeline, it probably wasn’t possible for any of the LEGO designers to come out in person.

No, the full design portion of this was virtual. I can’t speak for the LEGO Group, but I would imagine [that was] unique for how their typical process works. And especially with our engineering team, and how much they leaned into the project, it was tough to see all of the different pieces of the car that we could share come to life in bricks through a WebEx platform, as an example. So I think that was kind of an interesting nuance of it.

But ultimately, we had that six-month design period. That takes us to about April 2021, and then you start development, so it’s like an 18-month process, from the start of design and collaboration to product and market.

At what point is the final livery of the real-life Formula 1 car locked in?

They work on the car for a lot longer, but we finish the livery design the January of the year that we’re racing.

So there was probably never any chance of using the 2022 livery on the final model.

It was way too early for that. We tried to embody the spirit of the 2022 regulations, and some of the look and feel of the model, but the livery is fully based on the 2021 MCL35 car.

On that timeline, you could use the 2022 livery, but you’d hit market just as the 2023 livery is revealed. So you’d always be on a delay?

Yeah, exactly.

LEGO Technic 42141 McLaren Formula 1 Race Car 15

Can you talk through some of the specific ways the team tried to, as you say, embody the spirit of the 2022 car?

There’s just elements technically that James Key’s team fed into the design that mirror what our car looks like now, the MCL36, whereas the brand identity – the partners that we have featured on the livery, the ‘heroing’ of the papaya colour – really replicated 2021’s MCL35. So the outside is all based on last year’s car, and then some of the different aspects of the design, [like] the rear wing as an example, mirror MCL36.

What was your personal reaction to seeing the finished set?

I was blown away. We knew the level of technical integration and the collaborative process that we had gone through with LEGO Technic to get to the final model, but seeing it virtually and in designs versus seeing it in real life, and seeing the size of it, the amount of pieces, that’s pretty spectacular. There’s something like 1,400 pieces in this LEGO Technic set, which is pretty crazy.

Seeing it in real life was amazing. I’m just genuinely blown away, as is everyone in the office. I know Andreas [Seidl], our team principal, got a set early, and he’s already built it. He wanted the individual pieces to actually put it together with his family, which I think is just a real testament to the product and how great it is.

Have you had chance to build one yet?

I have not built it, I won’t lie to you. I have a fully-built model in my office, and one piece has come off, and I could not tell you where it goes. I actually just purchased a couple of sets, one for my husband and one for my parents. And that’ll be our first test, to see if I can match Andreas’s time, which I doubt I can.

Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris react to 42141 McLaren F1
Comparing 42141 McLaren Formula 1 Race Car with the real deal

42141 McLaren Formula 1 Race Car is available now. Check out our review, then head over to LEGO.com to secure your copy… when it’s back in stock.

Support the work that Brick Fanatics does by purchasing your LEGO using our affiliate links.

Chris Wharfe

I like to think of myself as a journalist first, LEGO fan second, but we all know that’s not really the case. Journalism does run through my veins, though, like some kind of weird literary blood – the sort that will no doubt one day lead to a stress-induced heart malfunction. It’s like smoking, only worse. Thankfully, I get to write about LEGO until then. You can follow me on Twitter at @brfa_chris.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *