As a three-time Formula One World Champion, Lewis Hamilton knows fast. And he did little to hide his excitement as he drove the new Mercedes-AMG Project One hypercar out for its world debut at a Frankfurt Motor Show preview Monday night.
While Project One might look a little more than a classic Le Mans prototype than the F1 Silver Arrow Hamilton is used to driving, he noted they have a lot in common under the sheet metal and carbon fiber. That starts with a modified version of the Formula One Series’ Kinetic Energy Recovery System, or KERS, that will provide “more than” 1,000 horsepower when the hypercar hits the street in another couple years.
“It’s all about adrenaline,” declared Dieter Zetsche, head of the Mercedes brand and CEO of its parent company, Daimler AG, as he let the statistics roll off his tongue. Only the second model developed entirely in-house by AMG, the Project One car will launch from 0 to 200 kmh, or 125 mph, in less than six seconds, with a top speed currently rated at “over 350 kmh,” or just over 217 mph.
But what might surprise some performance fans is the fact that the Project One car will also get about 25 kilometers, or 16 miles in zero-emissions electric mode. For those who aren’t familiar with Formula One race technology, drivers like Hamilton are now running their circuits in hybrids, albeit very different ones from the likes of the Toyota Prius.
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In the new AMG two-seater, you start out with a six-cylinder engine that is just 1.6 liters in size – but which can rev up to a screaming 11,000 rpms. Turbocharging helps, of course. But the real key is the way this engine spins up that turbo with the assistance of a 107-hp electric motor. By not having to wait until exhaust pressure builds, it delivers max boost instantly.
Now, add a second motor directly tied to the crankshaft, while the Project One will get what can be called through-the-road all-wheel-drive capabilities by adding two more motors up front, one for each wheel. The gas engine will drive the back wheels through an eight-speed single-clutch automatic transmission developed by Xtrac, the same folks who supply the Mercedes F1 race car.
The powertrain isn’t the only part of the car influenced by Formula One. Though the exterior design will be cleaner than the visually awkward, albeit incredibly windswept F1 cars of today, it will have gone through similarly efforts to reduce drag.
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And while the Project One may draw from Formula One, the overall look is more like that of a Le Mans prototype. That should be no surprise, of course, as you can’t fit two in an F1 car.
Pretty much everything about the AMG Project One will be cutting edge. Look for ultra-light materials like carbon-fiber, aluminum and magnesium to replace virtually all conventional steel panels and structural components.
Inside, it’s pretty much back to basics – basics in the manner of today’s top racing series. You’ll find two real racing buckets and a pair of 10-inch displays that focus on driving and performance data. The steering wheel, as with Formula One, is where a driver controls many of the vehicle’s key performance functions. Forget the sort of luxuries you’ll find in AMG’s other homebrew model, the GT. Project One won’t even have a back window, settling for a rear camera, instead. Be pleased that at least there’s an air conditioner.
What goes up – in speed – must come back down, and the Project One uses a hybrid carbon brake system that, according to Zetsche, can recapture about 80% of the energy normally lost during braking, saving it for the next straightaway. There’s also a pop-up rear wing that serves as an airbrake when you really need to scrub speed off fast.
Meanwhile, the suspension is a pushrod design, much like those F1 cars.
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Could an owner racing series be in the works? That’s one of the questions we’ll have to wait and see as we get closer to the 2019 production launch. What we do know is that only 275 copies of the Mercedes-AMG Project One will be built, the price currently slated to come in at $2.7 million a copy.