Power of One

Power of One

Drawing on its successes from three constructors’ and drivers’ world championships, Mercedes-AMG puts its Formula One technology on the road. Wynter Murdoch reports.

Unveiled at the recent Frankfurt Motor Show, Mercedes-AMG’s Project One is perceived to have elevated the brand into the top echelon of the world’s sports car makers.

While many AMG versions of Mercedes-Benzes have been acclaimed over the years, the latest model to join the line-up – a 1 000 horsepower (740kW) two-seat supercar – is said to have set new benchmarks in a host of automotive fields.

Though it borrows heavily from Formula One hybrid technology, the vehicle is more than simply a car for the racetrack. Like many of its siblings it is billed as a high performance, impeccably crafted, open road tourer that can be used as much for a quick, comfortable trip from Johannesburg to Cape Town as for a fast lap of Kyalami.

And it’s no flight-of-fancy concept – rather, it’s a near production-ready hybrid coupé that, when it finally arrives in showrooms in about 18 months’ time – 275 units will be built, all of them left-hand drive models – it will carry a price-tag in Europe of around €2,27-million (about R35,22-million).

For that sum, owners will have the advantage of stupendous acceleration – Mercedes-AMG claims a zero to 200km/h time of less than six seconds – and a top speed that is said to exceed 350km/h.

The blistering performance stems from a heavily reworked version of the 1,6-litre, 24-valve, 90° V6 petrol engine and electric hybrid system that is used to drive the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 racing car.

For Project One the combustion unit has been tuned to spin to only 11 000 revs/min – rather than the 15 000 rpm of the race car’s unit – with four electric motors in the drivetrain providing additional power.

Developed at Mercedes-AMG’s high-performance division at Brixworth, England, the engine is mid-mounted. The unit – which features four overhead camshafts and pneumatic valve springs – is supported by two 120kW electric motors which drive the front wheels, and which are claimed to spin to 50 000 revs/min – about 30 000 revolutions higher than units used in current, state-of-the-art road cars.

A third electric motor – which produces 90kW and which is described as being capable of turning at up to 100 000 rpm – drives the combustion engine’s single turbocharger, while a 120kW unit – which is based on the Motor Generator Unit – Kinetic (MGU-K) used in the Formula One car – is mounted on the engine, adding its power to the crankcase via a spur gear system.

The formidable output of the combined energy sources drives all wheels via Mercedes-AMG’s 4Matic+ system, with transmission to the rear set via an eight-speed Speedshift gearbox developed specifically for the car. Cog-swapping takes place either fully automatically or manually through steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

The electric motors at the front – which are designed to generate a mix of performance and efficiency – drive each of the wheels independently, operating through reduction gears via a system that includes torque vectoring to aid the vehicle’s dynamic behaviour.

On the regenerative front, Mercedes-AMG spokesmen estimate that, under everyday driving conditions, the Project One’s braking system is capable of putting back into the powertrain up to 80% of the energy it uses to retard the vehicle.

Similarly, the turbocharger has been designed to recover energy from heat in the exhaust system to generate electricity, which can then either be used for additional power or be stored in the drivetrain’s lithium-ion battery.

The battery cells and the associated cooling system – which are housed in the vehicle’s floor – are replicas of the ones used in the racecar and, in the interests of saving weight and space, operate at 800 volts rather than the 400 volts of conventional Mercedes-Benz hybrid systems.

Drive can range from purely electric – offering up to 25km of emission-free motoring – to high performance sport mode, where all power sources are tapped to produce the highest output possible: up to 240kW at the front wheels and in excess of 500kW at the rear.

Underpinnings consist of coil-over, multi-link systems fore and aft, with pushrod struts replacing conventional tubular cross members. Wheels, which are manufactured from forged aluminium, take ultra-low profile 19-inch tyres on 10J rims at the front while, at the rear, 20-inch versions wrap themselves around 12J equivalents.

From a design perspective, Gorden Wagener, the man with overall responsibility for the look of the vehicle, describes it as “the hottest and coolest car we have ever designed. It combines our design philosophy of sensual purity with the performance of our Formula 1 racing cars and is the perfect embodiment of performance luxury.”

While many observers believe the vehicle takes some of its cues from another hypercar which also incorporates F1 technology – the iconic McLaren P1which debuted in 2012 – Wagener is adamant that the Project One’s extreme design marks a milestone for the company. “There are no lines, and the interior is stripped down to the essentials,” he says.

The car’s monocoque is lightweight, like the F1 machine manufactured from high-strength carbon-fibre. The nose is characterised by a large central apron flanked by massive air inlets that feed the brakes, battery cells and electric motors, with outlets in the bonnet specially crafted to direct hot air away from the greenhouse to the sides of the vehicle.

The intricate aerodynamic sculpturing allows an uninterrupted flow of cool air to the roof-mounted intake for the combustion engine and, the faster the car goes, so a splitter at the front automatically extends to help to keep the nose on the ground, aided by active ventilation louvres in the front wheel arches.

In profile, the most notable feature is the F1-derived intake which, because of its supporting structure, takes the shape of a shark fin – the design aimed at improving the vehicle’s lateral stability when cornering at high speeds. To accommodate the mid-mounted V6, the cabin has been positioned towards the front of the vehicle – though the bonnet remains long. Scissor-styled doors open forwards and upwards.

At the back, two large air inlets ensure optimum guidance of airflow to the combustion engine and transmission oil coolers, while a two-stage spoiler extends become a large wing at speed. In conjunction with a two-section diffuser, the wing contributes to the vehicle’s stability, pushing the car harder into the tarmac the faster it goes.

Paying homage to its Formula One inspired background, Project One’s large, central exhaust outlet includes two small apertures that emulate the look of the race projectile on which it is based.

A fuel filler flap – the combustion engine runs on premium grade unleaded petrol – is located at the rear right, with the charge socket for the plug-in hybrid battery on the left. Fore and aft lighting signatures come in the form of three-part rhomboid LED clusters.

Inside the car, functionality eclipses aesthetics – which is not to say that the cabin is not well appointed or attractive.  It has a superbly crafted look with many unique attributes, including an F1-inspired rectangular steering wheel from which elements such as driving modes, traction control, cruise control, the infotainment system and mobile phone, can be accessed and monitored.

Two 10-inch, high resolution LED screens form additional focal points, one making up the digital instrument cluster and the other serving infotainment needs, with twin-nozzle air-conditioning vents neatly integrated beneath the latter display.

Bucket seats are upholstered in slip-resistant black microfibre with Nappa leather inserts and, like steering wheel and pedals, are adjustable. However, there’s no rear-view mirror – instead, the unit has been replaced a screen which is linked to a camera. Storage areas are located behind each of the seats, in door pockets and in a cubby hole equipped with a transparent lid.

In terms of trim, carbon-fibre, polished aluminium and other lightweight metals tend to dominate. Switchgear has been kept to a minimum, with the button to start or stop the engine handily located on the centre console.

In highlighting aspects of Project One during its unveiling at Frankfurt, Daimler’s chairman and head of Mercedes-Benz Cars, Dieter Zetsche, said: “Motorsport is not an end in itself for us. Faced with intense competition, we develop technologies from which our production vehicles also subsequently benefit.

“We are drawing on our experiences and successes from three constructors’ and drivers’ world championships to bring Formula One technology to the road for the first time.”

And in his address, the head of management at Mercedes-AMG, Tobias Moers, described Project One as the most ambitious vehicle initiative undertaken by the company. “It marks yet another pinnacle of the successful, strategic development of Mercedes-AMG towards a performance and sports car brand,” he said.

“Project One raises the bar in terms of what is currently technologically feasible and, thanks to its combination of efficiency and performance, it represents an absolute benchmark. At the same time, Project One provides an outlook on how AMG will define driving performance in the future.”

Mercedes-AMG Project One
Type V6 with direct injection, four valves per cylinder, four overhead camshafts and electrically boosted single turbocharger, electric motor connected to the crankshaft
Displacement 1 600cc
Drive Wheels Rear
Power >500kW
Type AMG Speedshift eight-speed automated manual
Type Variable AMG Performance 4Matic+ all-wheel drive with hybrid-drive rear axle, electrically driven front axle and torque vectoring
Power 2 x 120kW
Power 740kW (>1 000hp)
Distance 25km
0-200km/h < 6 secs
Top speed >350km/h