By: Guilherme Marques
It is a story almost as old as Formula One itself: manufacturer enters Formula One, creates a super sports road car and sells the world the idea that it is an F1 car for the road. But really, it isn’t. Yes, some technology may filter through, but a road car and an F1 car could never be alike.
Well, until now. The new AMG Project One is the closest anyone has ever got to building an F1 for the road. It is a celebration of speed and performance, but also a self-tribute to a company that turns 50 in 2017 but that has never felt so young or so alive.
AMG was founded in 1967. The Project One is its 2017 Christmas present. And what a present it is. AMG Motorenbau und Entwicklungsgesellschaft mbH (AMG Engine Production and Development, Ltd.) was the brainchild of former Mercedes-Benz engineers Hans Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher. In fact, AMG stands for Aufrecht, Melcher and Großaspach, the city where Hans Aufrecht was born.
Established in Burgstall an der Murr, it soon moved its facilities to Affalterbach, where it still exists today. Since the beginning, AMG tweaked Mercedes-Benz models in various ways, with one purpose: to make them faster.
Obviously, early AMGs were a very left-field choice, and Mercedes themselves had no part in the development process. From custom-made engines, AMG moved on to custom-made cars and created a whole range of upgrades and accessories for numerous models, namely the famous W123 and W124 E-Class and the flagship S and SL variants.
In the early ‘90s, with AMG products gaining widespread recognition and the three-pointed star wanting to take the fight to BMW M cars, a deal was signed to sell AMG-powered cars in official Mercedes-Benz showrooms. Success was instant, and less than a decade later, in 1999, Mercedes bought a 51% stake in AMG, taking control of the company and paving the way for a full integration of product lines. The rest, as they say, is history. Some of the greatest cars ever made have AMG badges on them, and the brand went one step further in 2012 when Mercedes named their F1 team Mercedes AMG Petronas.
Since the introduction of the hybrid era in Formula One, for the 2014 year, Mercedes AMG have won every driver and constructor championship. The stats are impressive: out of the 78 races held since 2014, Mercedes AMG have won 62. Lewis Hamilton is now a four-time world champion – three titles with AMG –, and Nico Rosberg came out on top in 2016. If Mercedes wins in 2018, it will match Ferrari’s all-time record of five consecutive world championships. It sure seems to be going that way and maybe even beyond.
That means AMG is on a high at the moment: brand awareness skyrocketing, championships coming in and cars selling like hot cakes (100,000 cars in 2016 and 2017 has been even better). So what could they do to prove they really are on top at the moment? Well, not much else, except maybe the fastest road car the world has ever seen. 0-100km/h? No one knows yet. 0-200km/h? That takes less than six seconds. Less than six seconds after the driver presses the accelerator, Project One will be travelling at 56 metres per second.
How? Simple, really: it uses the F1 car’s engine. Not something like it, but the actual unit Lewis and Valtteri carry around every other Sunday, only detuned from 18,000 rpm to 11,000 rpm. Still, a Ferrari V12 only revs to 9,000 rpm. This is a whole new ballgame, even when compared to the three latest hypercars, theLaFerrari, Porsche 918 Spyder and McLaren P1. Even the looks of the Project One seem to be out of this world. In fact, it has a striking similarity with the Mercedes C11, the constructor’s Group C car with which it contested the 1990 World Sports Car Championship – winning five out of nine races and taking home the title. That only adds to its appeal, obviously, especially because it is at least as fast as the C11 and boasts 270 horse power more.
However, the Project One is more about its drive system than anything else. It was developed by the same AMG High Performance Powertrains engineers that created Lewis Hamilton’s car, at the F1’s factory located in Brixworth, England.
It is, put simply, the most advanced propulsion system ever seen in a road car, comprising one hybrid, turbocharged combustion engine and a total of four electric motors. One electric motor has been integrated into the turbocharger, another has been installed directly on the combustion engine with a link to the crankcase and the two remaining motors drive the front wheels. The complexity is unlike anything ever seen before in a car anyone can drive to the supermarket.
Because Formula 1 rules dictate a displacement of just 1.6 litres, the engine needs a lot of other ways to find power. Therefore, it was fitted with direct injection and electrically assisted single turbocharging. To achieve high engine speeds, the mechanical valve springs have been replaced by pneumatic valve springs and it can easily reach speeds of 11,000 rpm. The 18,000 rpm the F1 car makes would be impossible to achieve with regular petrol, but that is not the only reason: the car needs to be as reliable as any other Mercedes.
The electric motors that drive the front axle are absolutely state-of-the-art units, providing rotor revolutions of up to 50,000 rpm, 30,000 rpm more than any other motor on the market. The high-revving nature of the engine is additionally boosted by a high-tech turbocharger. To extract maximum performance, the exhaust gas and compressor turbines are separated from one another and connected by a shaft that features an electric motor with approximately 90 kW which, depending on the operating status, electrically drives the compressor turbine with up to 100,000 rpm. The Formula 1 designation for this unit is MGU-H (Motor Generator Unit Heat).
It is possible to drive the car in pure electric mode, but the V6 engine is automatically called upon service if a certain amount of acceleration is demanded. As for numbers, they are mind-blowing: with the Race Start function engaged, which is what Mercedes calls its launch control system, acceleration from zero to 200 km/h takes under six seconds; 0-100km/h will probably be around 2.5 seconds.
The choice of transmission was not an easy one, but AMG decided to develop an entirely new unit especially for this car. An 8-speed manual transmission is activated hydraulically and can be operated in automated mode or manually using the shift paddles. The promise is of lightning-fast shifts and a tremendous feel for mechanical involvement. Compound ceramic brakes ensure huge stopping power and work as energy recovery elements as well, recharging the battery every time the driver presses the brake pedal.
The racing car feel is also present inside, with racing seats and exotic materials laid all over the cabin. A driving position that closely mirrors the F1 car is sure to give drivers a sense of occasion like in no other car. The Mercedes-AMG Project One will be produced in a limited run of 275 cars at a price of €2.275 million each, before local taxes. Mercedes have had more than 1000 clients interested in the car. When it arrives in 2018, it will be the most fascinating car ever built.