It was only the other day we were discussing what truly counts as a racing car for the road
- with its new F1-engined hybrid Project One, Mercedes-AMG would appear to have slightly moved the goalposts. Sure, there have been road cars with racing engines before, the most recent with bona fide F1 ancestry being the Ferrari F50 from 1995. Even that was 'just' a naturally-aspirated V12 from a five-year-old F1 car though - obsolete tech in F1 terms.
A current F1 engine. In a road car!
Not so the 1,000hp-plus Project One. Its 1.6-litre V6, the electrically-boosted turbocharger, the additional electric motors on the crank and front axle plus the associated battery cells and control systems are claimed as being one-step removed from the motor generator units powering Mercedes' recent F1 domination. Think of it as a chance to go full Hamilton on the road, minus points being you don't have Rihanna on speed dial, plus points being you don't necessarily have to be daubed head to toe in humblebragging tattoos or walk round with a jewelled nose stud. A (no hashtag) blessed relief.
At this stage the Project One is still being officially referred to as a concept but in conversation with AMG boss Tobias Moers it's clear this is the real deal - an F1-powered customer road car that genuinely pushes the hybrid hypercar boundaries to a level beyond that of the Porsche 918 Spyder, LaFerrari and McLaren P1.
We'll get to the how in a second. The 'why?' is too good to skip though. According to Moers it came about after accepting some form of electrification was going to have to feature in AMG's near-future. "Having a hypercar with another V8 or V12 with 800, 900 or whatever horsepower is not a big deal to do," he says, in typically matter of fact terms. "With electrified powertrains you gain more efficiency but you can add more performance so, taking everything together, I called Andy Cowell [Director of Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains] and I said I have an idea. And I asked him, 'do you think we can put your powertrain in a street legal car?'" Moers pauses for dramatic effect. "He told me, 'give me two months!'"
Going to disappear PDQ
The resulting powertrain has at its heart that F1-derived V6 motor with a 163hp electric motor (known as Motor Generator Unit Kinetic) attached to the crank, the engine spinning to 11,000rpm and further assisted by the single turbo. Or Motor Generator Unit Heat to give it the correct F1 terminology. This separates the turbines with an axle, this driven by its own 122hp electric motor to enable boost on demand and avoid what AMG describes as "dreaded turbo lag". As per the F1 car the MGU-H can also function as an exhaust-driven generator, sending additional juice to the other motors or for charging the batteries. On its own the power unit sends around 680hp to the rear wheels. At the front two further electric motors - each with 163hp and driving the axles via reduction gears - contribute to the system total of over 1,000hp and give you a fighting chance of keeping the thing on the road via the snappily titled Variable AMG Performance 4MATIC+ all-wheel drive system.
The words 'manual gearbox' rather leap off the spec sheet after that. What works for a 911 GT3 Touring is, perhaps, less appropriate for a car of the Project One's nature though and this is no H-pattern, three-pedal transmission, the eight gears shifted by paddles on the wheel or left to their own devices as you see fit.
Performance? That 'more than 217mph' claim sounds a little on the conservative side, right? We'll see about that but the promise of 0-124mph in less than six seconds is one benchmark offering some sort of comparison to the 'holy trinity' of McLaren, Ferrari and Porsche hybrid hypercars. Of these the P1's 6.8 seconds is the fastest on the boards, that the Project One could conceivably slash a second off that giving some sense of its potential.
0-124mph? Less than six seconds...
"Day-to-day Formula 1 hybrid technology" is one of the catchphrases from the official release though and confirms Moers' stated intent that, for all its extreme performance, the Project One will be a viable road car. Expect an electric-only range of around 15 miles, ease of use and lack of intimidation all part of the deal. "Open the door, hit the start button, drive away. Easy!" says Moers, going on to explain how ESP and the ability to use the front motors for traction, braking and torque vectoring will mean owners can keep it on the black stuff. Lessons learned from the electric SLS
and, more recently, the GT R
with its race car-style traction control have been applied here.
Construction is, inevitably, carbon based and, like the Ford GT, the seats are integrated into the tub with the wheel and pedals adjustable to fit. There is a hint of race car minimalism and F1 cues like the oblong-shaped steering 'wheel' are all present and correct. But this is a car with a three-pointed star on the front and you won't be going without luxuries.
Conversation about the Project One will inevitably be dominated by the engine but there are equivalent levels of innovative engineering throughout the car, from the pushrod dampers (arranged to act as structural transverse crossmembers with roll-cancelling properties) to variable aero to complement the very obvious fixed 'shark fin' and other elements.
And they will keep tacking tablets on the dash. Tsk.
All well and good but how do you go about getting one? 275 are due to be built and you can bet allocation will be hard fought over, on the assumption it's not already been sorted out. How to keep the customers happy is one challenge Moers is having to face. "One challenge in this segment is who is going to have the first one!" he laughs. "If you stretch production too long perhaps customers who have to wait aren't happy. Perhaps we are going to stock the first cars so we can deliver them all at the same time, I don't know." First-world problems most of us are unlikely to be troubled by, but let's just hope a few of these cars actually see the light of day and live the dream of not just a racing car for the road but an F1 car for the road.
Grasping the nettle of going hybrid was never going to be easy for AMG. Even though we knew it was coming the reality of how it's gone about it is pretty amazing.