Former McLaren Formula 1 driver and 1981 British Grand Prix winner John Watson was invited to Silverstone by McLaren Automotive to drive the new McLaren high-performance sports car, the MP4-12C.

The 12C is the first in a new range of carbon-based road cars from McLaren and the first car to feature an innovative one-piece, hollow carbon chassis structure.

The MP4/1 Formule One car in which Watson scored his 1981 victory, also on display at the Northamptonshire circuit yesterday, was the first racing car, and first car of any kind, to feature a carbon chassis.

After making his track debut behind the wheel of the 592 bhp, 3.8-litre twin turbo V8 12C, Watson said: “The MP4-12C is mind-bogglingly quick! It is by far and away the fastest road car I’ve ever driven. Between 80-130 mph it really feels as fast as my old Formula 1 car. I only drove it in Normal mode, so I can’t begin to imagine what it is like in Sport or Track modes!”

Watson was joined at Silverstone by former McLaren Technical Director John Barnard, McLaren Automotive Technical Director Dick Glover, and Claudio Santoni Function Group Manager for Body Structures at McLaren Automotive, as McLaren celebrated its role as a carbon pioneer in the automotive industry over the last 30 years.

The new MP4-12C is the first sub-£200,000 high performance sports car in the world to feature a one-piece carbon chassis.

The MonoCell weighs just 75kgs (165lbs), and is a safety cell which, like the MP4/1, is unique in offering an unrivalled package of strength, light weight and the structural integrity and dimensional accuracy to form the bedrock to segment-beating performance.

Dick Glover, McLaren Automotive’s Technical Director, said: “It was a real privilege to see our past and present coming together over our first and latest carbon chassis.

"John Watson and John Barnard are great characters from our past, and for many of the current McLaren team to meet them today felt really special. They both highlighted the pioneering spirit that led to the development of MP4/1 and that passion to innovate remains intact at McLaren Automotive: the 12C’s MonoCell is living proof.”