In recent years, Formula One has been at the very forefront of automotive performance, safety and environmental consciousness, with some of its innovations even crossing over to the production-car world.
One good example of a company that thrusts development in F1 into production cars is British performance-car firm McLaren that recently developed its MP4X concept F1 racer to not only showcase their engineering prowess, but also to paint their portrait of where F1 could go.
“We have combined a number of F1’s key ingredients – speed, excitement and performance – with the sport’s emerging narratives, such as enclosed cockpits to enhance driver safety and hybrid power technologies,” said John Allert, group brand director of McLaren Technology Group.
“Formula 1 is the ultimate gladiatorial sport and the future we envisage will be a high-tech, high-performance showcase that excites fans like no other sport,” he said.
Closed canopy, mind-control functions
Fans would certainly be excited about the MP4X’s styling since it appears to be the spawn of a fighter jet and the Batmobile. Its sleekness is a product of the deep-black paint, the huge fenders and that canopy, with blood-red stripes making the racer more menacing.
As cars tend to be material manifestations of the socio-political climate that they are created in, the company said the canopy reflects the on-going debate regarding closed cockpits in F1 as a result of deaths and serious injuries from crashes involving the decades-long, open-cockpit design. Much like a fighter jet, the glass section (and even the steering column) opens upwards and is designed to provide good driver visibility (as it repels water and sunlight), improved crash protection and easy accessibility in the event of a rollover crash.
Inside the canopy, McLaren has integrated technologies that could rival the Mach 5 race car from Speed Racer as the MP4X is envisioned as a vehicle with no physical controls. All the car’s functions will be controlled through hand gestures or with the power of the driver’s mind, which the company said could emerge from technology developed from its partnership with pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline on neurological diseases.
Taking more cues from combat aviation, MP4X drivers get a 360-degree, head-mounted, augmented-vision display with a heads-up screen that has cues for everything from caution flags to track debris. The interior also allows race crews to monitor the driver’s vital statistics and driving performance, while F1 viewers get to feel like they’re driving the car with a visual system from the driver’s perspective.
To add to the festival of sci-fi technology, MP4X drivers wear a special tracksuit with smart fabrics that can harvest and store energy. In a crash, the suit can also display impact trauma on the driver’s body to assist medical crews in assessing injuries.
Self-healing chassis, solar panels
Moving back to the MP4X’s body, the car is designed as a 350-kilometers per hour digital billboard since it integrates green-screen virtual logos instead of the usual stickers. Much like how online advertisers target consumers based on their browsing habits, the company said the logos mean that the car will look different, depending on who’s looking.
Helping to power all these ads are solar cells that capture light energy to make electricity that either augment the car’s electrical system or to produce extra boost. The body includes active aerodynamics to improve handling at all speeds, along with body panels that change shape under certain driving conditions. These complement the use of downforce-adding ground effect underneath the car, which has been banned in F1 since the early 1980s.