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Tale of the tape: McLaren P1 vs. Lamborghini Veneno vs. LaFerrari

Evolution favors the survival of the fittest, but it also can force species to adopt the same techniques for success. Take the trio of supercars unveiled this week at the Geneva Motor Show: the McLaren P1, the Lamborghini Veneno and LaFerrari (not Ferrari LaFerrari, because that would be too illogical even for the Italians.) The three will be rare enough that they may never share the same tarmac, or face off head-to-head. But based on what we now know, despite being similar in most dimensions and technologies, the fastest one may not be the most powerful.

The competition amongst the three isn't that fierce in reality. The Veneno has sold out its three copies before production even began, and McLaren and Ferrari both say they have more interested buyers than cars planned for production. But the rivalries are real, and each firm's future rests on being seen on building the fastest cars possible for their clientele.

More Details after the break

On paper, the basic designs of the trio vary little; they're all roughly the same size (although Lamborghini wasn't forthcoming with dimensions on the Veneno) with similar tires, wheels, huge brakes and carbon-fiber chassis. All three do without clutch pedals, using computerized automatic transmissions that can not only engage gears faster than a human foot, but change their behavior based on whether a driver is circling the track or 7-11.

The differences lie more with the character of each firm. The fastidious McLaren eschews the weight of an all-wheel-drive system in favor of a larger electric motor that lowers its fuel economy — something that's surprisingly important to wealthy Europeans. The Veneno reflects the all-out nature of modern Lamborghinis, looking like an Xbox version of a LeMans race car with no electronic caps on top speed. And the Ferrari lies somewhere between; more emotional than the McLaren, but not as risky or cartoonish as the Lambo, with the most power and the lowest curb weight of the trio.

That last fact may be the most revealing; despite being four inches longer than the McLaren, LaFerrari weighs 275 pounds less and has 46 more horsepower to rustle into service. That could be a sizable advantage on the track, if the hybrid systems of both cars can deliver power as seamlessly as the more traditional V-12 in the Veneno. Having more power is an advantage, not a guarantee; before the year's out, the question of which supercar is the fastest in the world should be settled — at least until Porsche arrives with the 918.

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