We chat with the team behind the F1-derived hypercar
AMG boss Tobias Moers is not the emotional type. Ask him what it’s like to have the fastest, most powerful, most technically advanced road car ever to carry the fabled three-pointed star finally out in the open, he gives his trademark aw-shucks grin and a shrug and then says, simply: “It’s more than exciting.”
AMG will build just 275 Project Ones, and all are sold. In fact, as Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche pointed out at the car’s reveal in Frankfurt, the company could have sold more than three times that number, despite a price tag of–on current exchange rates–about $2.75 million USD.
The Project One of course features a hybrid powertrain derived from that used in the Mercedes-AMG Petronas grand prix racer that took British driver Lewis Hamilton to the 2015 Formula 1 World Driver’s Championship. The ultra-compact 1.6-liter V-6 internal combustion engine features the same block and cylinder heads as the F1 car, but the pistons and crankshaft have been changed to lower the compression ratio so the engine can meet emissions regulations. And while the original race V-6 would rev to a dizzying 13,500 rpm, Project One’s version is limited to 11,000 rpm. Idle speed has also been brought down to 1,000-1,200 rpm, instead of the race car’s 3,800-4,000 rpm.
The massive single turbocharger is identical in layout to that used in the Mercedes F1 car. The exhaust turbine is located at the rear of the block, and connected to the compressor, which is located at the front of the block, by a shaft that runs through the vee of the engine. A 107-hp electric motor mounted concentrically on the shaft (called the MGU-H, for motor generator unit – heat) is used to keep the turbo spinning at all times, and to harvest excess energy generated by the exhaust and feed it into the battery pack.
Mercedes-AMG development engineer Jan Feustal says the system means the engine has the response of a naturally aspirated V-8, despite the size of the turbocharger. Not all that 107 hp is used to spin the turbo–the motor’s power rating is also a measure of the amount of energy it is able to recover. “It could be smaller if it was to just to rev the turbo,” says Moers.
The second electric motor, mounted low on the engine and called the MGU-K (motor generator unit – kinetic), develops 161 hp and is connected directly to the crankshaft, where it performs the same task as in the F1 racers, delivering a power boost when needed. In an F1 Mercedes that power is only available for a short period. In the Mercedes-AMG Project One, however, extra power will be available for longer, and over a wider range of operating parameters.
Key to that capability is an 800-volt battery pack with four times the capacity as the one in the Formula 1 car. Capacity apart, the battery pack is otherwise identical to that used on the track, right down to chemistry, cooling, the way the cells are arranged, and the connectors. “You don’t want to know what it costs,” laughs Moers.
The extra battery capacity is also used to power the 161-hp motors connected to each of the front wheels. With 322 hp of electric power at the front wheels, Project One will also be able to be driven with the V-6 internal combustion engine shut down. Pure EV operating range is not great–about 15 miles (24 km)–but the Project One is not designed to be a daily commuter. However, it will be a daily driver, Moers insists. Unlike Bugatti there’ll be no special key required for owners to access the car’s full performance.
Daimler design chief Gorden Wagner says the Project One was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “It doesn’t happen very often that a company decides to put a F1 powertrain into a street-legal car,” he says. “I have designed many cars for Mercedes, cars that write history. But Project One goes beyond that. This is really something special, something that will be special 50 years from now.”
Wagner says Project One’s overall design theme, which features simple, clean surfaces, and a shoulder lower than the wheels, was inspired by the AMG Vision Gran Turismo concept designed for the sixth generation of the iconic racing game and unveiled in 2013. “That was the master mindmap for this car,” he says.
Tobias Moers says the Project One driven on stage at Frankfurt by Lewis Hamilton is the first complete car built so far, and full testing will commence by the end of this year.