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Mercedes-AMG's F1-based Project One rewrites the hypercar rulebook

Ferrari is watching from afar in disbelief.
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Mercedes-AMG

"We are the first to make pure bred F1 technology roadworthy." AMG has finally shown the mechanical layout of its thousand-horsepower, Formula 1-inspired Project One hypercar at a sneak reveal at the Nürburgring 24 Hour race. AMG Chairman Tobias Moers insists the car will become the new hypercar benchmark, with an F1-based 1.6-liter, electrified, turbocharged V6 and four electric motors.

The all-wheel drive hypercar won't just deliver levels of performance unparalleled outside the world's racetracks, but will be able to run as a pure battery-electric car for up to 15 miles and, unique for a hypercar, its zero-emission mode will be front-wheel drive. That should make it capable of circumventing limitations on internal-combustion, high-powered cars in some city centers around the world.

"It shifts up the boundaries of what is technically feasible," AMG Chairman Tobias Moers said, with production limited to just 275 models. "We are the first to make pure bred F1 technology roadworthy."

"Our objective is not speed, but to be the benchmark. If we have a strategy and we move into a new era of performance at AMG, maybe it's good to have something that opens the door in a very authentic way to that new era and this is it. "Plug-in hybrid is going to be the future for AMG. We get more performance and more efficiency and what's wrong with that?" he asked.

Technically, though, Ferrari used a Formula One engine as the basis of its F50 supercar back in 1995, though Moers insists the Project One would be a class forward from the least loved of the hypercar Ferraris. "We are talking about a high-performance hybrid, with one combustion engine and four electric motors. The combustion engine comes from Brixworth, from the same people who delivered three consecutive Formula One World Championships for drivers and manufacturers.

"The redline is at 11,000 and it has a high-tech turbo, which is driven by a 107-horsepower electric motor. Its batteries are the same technology and arrangement as in F1, but we will build four times the storage, with about 25km of pure electric range.

"We have reached thermal efficiency of 43 percent. Nobody else has managed anything like that, street legal."

By comparison, AMG's 4.0-litre biturbo V8 has a thermal efficiency of around 25 percent.

At $2.54 million, the two-seat, hard-top coupe follows Formula One practice by basing the entire car around a carbon-fibre chassis tub, then mounting the engine directly to the tub and mounting the gearbox and differential unit directly to the engine.

Both the engine and eight-speed gearbox will be fully stressed parts of the chassis layout, while AMG has chosen to use a computer controlled clutch on a traditional manual gearbox, rather than the dual-clutch transmission layout most supercar makers, including Bugatti, favor.

The first deliveries of the car are due late next year, with Moers hoping to finish its production run by the end of 2020, and AMG already has one "mule" prototype running to help with initial verification of the powertrain and chassis concept.

But the key part of the technology is the Project One's powertrain itself, which AMG insists it pulled directly from its Formula 1 program. Though heavily revised from the W08 EQ Power+ F1 car used by Lewis Hamilton and Valteri Bottas this weekend in Monaco, AMG Chairman Tobias Moers insists the modifications are only basic.

"The idle speed is 1,100 rpm and in F1 it's 3,800 or 4,000. It revs to 11,000 rpm, but in F1 it's 13,500 rpm.

"We have to move combustion ratio, for example, that's what changes. In F1 they run Lambda that's way more than one. But we can't because of emissions. We have the same cylinder head, same crank housing but a different crankshaft."

For all that, though, Moers insists customers won't need the usual array of Formula One race engineers and laptop computers to start the engine.

"Prospective buyers have been asking if they will require a support crew or dedicated lubricants to run it. My answer is always 'no.' It will be a street car. You keep it plugged in in the garage. You fill it with 98 (Ron fuel)."

The trickier parts of the powertrain will be the way it combines its electrified and internal-combustion power. A ground-breaking engine in Formula One, the AMG V6 splits its single, large turbocharger, with the exhaust turbine moved to the back of the engine with the exhaust system and the compressor wheel sitting at the front of the engine where the cooler air is. A shaft runs through the engine's vee angle to join them together.

Firstly, there is the power and torque from the tiny 1.6-liter V6 (which AMG wouldn't talk about, but which must be somewhere around 470 hp). Then it also has a 134-hp electric motor (the MGU-K for "kinetic" in AMG-speak) directly attached to the engine's crankshaft and another 107-hp (the MGU-H for "heat") electric motor that spins up the turbocharger to eliminate turbo lag.

"The 80kW from the MGU-H is not so important to rev it (the turbocharger compressor) up but it's important for regeneration," Moers insisted. "It could be a lot smaller to rev and still spin it up."

Any excess energy the MGU-H harvests can be sent directly to the MGU-K to punch more electric torque directly through the crankshaft.

Then there a 161-horsepower electric motor for each front wheel, which use essentially the same construction and design as the MGU-K, but in different housings.

While Moers would not be drawn on the car's target weight, he did confirm that the entire powertrain would weight about 926 pounds, with the battery pack accounting for 220 lbs of that. The battery, built by its F1 supplier ABC, runs the same chemistry, cells and connectors as Hamilton's racer, but is four times larger to add in the Project One's zero-emission capability.

What makes the Project One particularly complicated is that all of its electric motors act as both motors and generators to recharge the fast-discharge battery, which has a converter to turn 800 volts into 12 volts sitting on top of its housing.

The extreme forces acting inside the highly stressed 1.6-liter V6 mean AMG will only rate it for 31,000 miles before it needs to be "remanufactured".

"We have an understanding of about 50,000 km. This is OK for us. I think that's good enough," Mr. Moers insisted.

"That's the life of the engine. Then we do some rework, like in a race car."

After 31,000 miles, the engines would either be rebuilt by AMG or, depending on the work needed, replaced, and AMG didn't rule out customers choosing to buy the car with a spare engine ready to go. As an aside, it has yet to put a price tag on either a new engine or a rebuild.

This year's Formula One rules dictate that each driver can only use four hybrid power units for the entire 20-race season, though that drops to three of the V6 internal-combustion engines next year. While that's just over 3,728 miles of Grand Prix racing, the engines and electrified power units could easily double that with four hours of practice and a one-hour qualifying shootout each race weekend.

The supercar industry's widespread reaction to Moers' claims of using a Formula One motor has been disbelief.

Ferrari basically said it doesn't believe Mercedes-AMG. Ferrari, the only other race-winning Formula One engine supplier this year, clearly doubts whether AMG's hypercar was a) using an F1-sourced engine and b) whether that was a good idea in the first place.

In an interview back at the Geneva Motor Show, Ferrari's road-car chief engineer, Michael Leiters, said there was no way Ferrari would follow suit.

"Putting an F1 engine into a road car? We already did it with the F50 and I'm not convinced it works. An F1 engine runs at 16,000 rpm. How can you use a car that revs to 16,000 rpm on the street? You can't, and if it doesn't rev to 16,000 rpm, you have to ask the question, what remains of the Formula 1 engine?

"Instead of actual F1 engine, I'm convinced it's better to take some concepts and innovations from a Formula 1 car. To make a supercar, I prefer to do it from scratch," he insisted.

The all-wheel-drive Project One hypercar has fine torque vectoring at both ends, and eliminates the packaging difficulties of anti-roll bars via five-link suspension systems at both ends.

AMG has separated the vertical bump and roll tasks in the suspension with two springs in series sharing a single damper, while the longest rear pushrod in the car world is mounted directly to the upright and in large part defines the car's aerodynamic package.

It will use a variable ride height and a variable aerodynamic package, to get the best from its custom-developed Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 285/35 19 front and 335/30 20 tires, which ride on center-lock wheels.

The transmission, too, will be similar to the Formula One car's eight-speed unit, strengthened for longevity, and using the electric motors to "fill in" any acceleration holes during gear changes.

Moers insists the car will have different driving modes, ranging from the zero-emission front-drive BEV mode to a mode so aggressive it will be similar to a Grand Prix qualifying setup.

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