Automotive

The future of motorsport: McLaren's vision for all-electric Formula One in 2050

The future of motorsport: McLa...
McLaren's vision for a 2050 electric F1 car
McLaren's vision for a 2050 electric F1 car
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Future racetracks will need to be longer, wider ... and three dimensional, maybe?
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Future racetracks will need to be longer, wider ... and three dimensional, maybe?
If the car's glowing red, it means the driver's angry
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If the car's glowing red, it means the driver's angry
Glassed-over pods will be required due to speeds up to 500 km/h
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Glassed-over pods will be required due to speeds up to 500 km/h
Aeros will need to be arrowhead-slick in McLaren's vision of the F1 car of 2050
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Aeros will need to be arrowhead-slick in McLaren's vision of the F1 car of 2050
McLaren's vision for a 2050 electric F1 car
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McLaren's vision for a 2050 electric F1 car
Low frontal profile will help with those excessive top speeds
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Low frontal profile will help with those excessive top speeds
Shape-shifting design could widen in the corners and narrow down for minimum drag on the straights
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Shape-shifting design could widen in the corners and narrow down for minimum drag on the straights
Race suits will need to have a compression element to keep the blood in the top half of the body during extreme G turns. Note also the holographic HUD display
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Race suits will need to have a compression element to keep the blood in the top half of the body during extreme G turns. Note also the holographic HUD display
McLaren sees F1 as a potential incubation bed for AI technologies, but it sounds like a bit of a reach to us
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McLaren sees F1 as a potential incubation bed for AI technologies, but it sounds like a bit of a reach to us

What's going to happen to Formula One when it goes fully electric, and today's lack of overtaking is added to tomorrow's lack of sound to create the fastest yawn-fest on wheels? McLaren has been thinking a lot about how to save premier-tier motorsport in the future, and has presented a vision for a 2050 electric Grand Prix.

After an "extensive research process" consulting with a wide range of Formula One fans, McLaren's Applied Technologies group went away to create something it felt could keep the sport fun and watchable in the future. Combining electric drive technologies with shape-shifting aeros, artificially intelligent co-driver systems, neural links, emotional displays and wildly futuristic circuits, the team created a concept called MCLExtreme.

Let's start with the cars. McLaren believes that F1 cars will be capable of about 500 km/h (310 mph) by 2050, which is a decent speed to be sure. They will also be fully electric – McLaren is more or less resigned to this fate, and indeed excited to take advantage of its expertise in Formula E powertrain building as the electrification process ramps up.

Low frontal profile will help with those excessive top speeds
Low frontal profile will help with those excessive top speeds

They won't need to plug in to charge; McLaren believes they'll charge wirelessly as they roll down pit lane. Go slow, and you'll get more energy back in. Go faster, and you'll lose less time. There's no need for tire changes, either – they'll apparently be self-repairing jiggers that never lose their grip. You might also be able to steal energy from cars in front of you if you can follow them closely enough.

The cars will have shape-shifting capabilities, too, sitting wide in the corners to maximize grip and stability, but pulling themselves in as narrow as possible to reduce drag as they furiously charge down the straights. Why not, eh?

The cabins will have to be closed over because 500 km/h winds would not be friendly to exposed human body parts. Thus, even the tiny view the spectators get of today's F1 drivers would be obscured. McLaren believes people need to see some sort of human element in the competition, and proposes that the drivers could be neurally jacked in to circuits that can read their emotions and display them visually on the outside of the car, which might turn red if they're angry, yellow or green if they're elated, and presumably brown if they overcook a corner.

There's already all sorts of emotion-tracking gear starting to get built into high-end cars at the moment, and the idea of putting such information on display takes it to an interesting place that could clearly be capitalized on by sharp opponents. And McLaren sees this emotional projection as a two-way thing, where the emotions of fans in the grandstand could be shown back to the drivers as they go.

Race suits will need to have a compression element to keep the blood in the top half of the body during extreme G turns. Note also the holographic HUD display
Race suits will need to have a compression element to keep the blood in the top half of the body during extreme G turns. Note also the holographic HUD display

As F1 loses its relevance to road cars, which will presumably be predominantly self-driving by 2050, McLaren smells an opportunity to switch things up a little and make top tier racing a development test bed for artificial intelligence, incubating the technology in competition much like it has done with all manner of engine, drivetrain and chassis technologies.

Sounds like a bit of a reach to us, but McLaren is careful not to take the steering wheel out of human hands. AI integration at this level might be represented by a computer co-driver that can take the place of pit boards and dash consoles; learn drivers' preferences and peculiarities; and track their physical and emotional parameters to develop real-time race strategy updates that could be fed to the driver through a helmet based "holographic heads-up display."

Tracks are going to have to change, too, if cars are going to get around at these kinds of speeds. And F1 fans know what they want: longer, wider, faster tracks with aggressive banking. McLaren wants to see high speeds leading to much longer racetracks, perhaps even extending the Monza track so that it loops out around Milan and comes back for a 40-km (24-mi) round trip.

Future racetracks will need to be longer, wider ... and three dimensional, maybe?
Future racetracks will need to be longer, wider ... and three dimensional, maybe?

The ideas go on, but this future vision fails to take one thing into account that seems kind of central to us. Who's going to watch it? Will people who gave up their steering wheels to self-driving robots decades earlier be remotely interested in who can get a car around a track faster than someone else? Will car racing go the way of horse racing, no longer interesting for its skill or technology, only of interest as something to gamble on?

Will car companies, who will be reduced to mobility service providers (and volume manufacturers for other mobility service providers) need racing any more, in a world where nobody cares what badge is on the anonymous electric pod that picks them up and deposits them somewhere else? Will there still be billions of dollars going into racing once all the petrolheads are dead?

Sports and prestige car companies are sure hoping things don't go that way, but we've got real doubts about the younger generations' passion for these things. Motorsport could well end up being a relic of the 20th century, like the gasoline automobile, replaced by something we can't even see on the horizon yet. What do you think?

Check out a video about the project below.

Source: McLaren

Future Grand Prix | McLaren Applied Technologies

14 comments
SoundRacer
Really insightful reflections by you Loz on the future of racing! But at least it does not have to be a lack of sounds as exciting sound of racing is already electronically available:)
owlbeyou
You done it again Loz. As I was reading about all the tech possibilities, my mind raced ahead wondering about the track, and the next paragraph raises the question! 500kmh is fast, but even that will seem slow when seen from a distance. I have seen an e-race and yes, it can get tedious. The whizzing and whining of the cars that are hardly able to pass each other has its limits. What we need is track technology that somehow enables overtaking over or under as well as by the sides. With cars fitted with crash avoidance radar at breakneck speeds, passing ability will be crucial. As long as the competitive edge is there, F1 has a future. The sound of these machines will also be important. Noisy tires? The faster you go, the louder they get? Like the engine of a petrol setup. Having electronic sound-transducers may get tired. Pun intended.
VincentWolf
Just add slots and make it full scale slot car racing.....
VincentWolf
Then add super strong super powerful magnets with a metallic raceway and have the cars 'glued' to the track so they can do loops and go at 400 mph or greater.
guzmanchinky
Excellent perspective. Let's be clear: Everything will be electric soon. But do you know what is way more fun than watching someone do something fun? Doing something fun. I get 1000x more of an adrenaline rush racing one of those electric go karts than I do watching any race. THOSE are where the action is. Lots of overtaking and strategy. Of course there is no real danger, and I fear that most people find racing exciting at least partially because of the risk, whether they admit it or not...
fb36
IMHO, to increase race cars overtaking each other, either, roads must get wider, or, the race cars must get smaller! So, maybe, the future of car racing is Go-kart racing!? :-)
guzmanchinky
fb36 I watched a race once with well known drivers in normal cars, it was the most exciting thing I've ever seen. Maybe karts are the future. Hypercarts that can accelerate much faster than anything and pass with reckless abandon.
Daishi
@VincentWolf Magnets would be a cool idea. With powered magnets you could chose when to trade power for speed or trade it for additional grip for an overtake. It would make it more dynamic and vastly increase skill-cap. To Vince's other point if you slotted a groove on the outside position around a corner you could choose to take the inside of the corner or move to the outer part and have some mechanism like a fin drop down into the slot allowing you to carry more speed than hitting the standard apex. You could also reinforce the outside wall giving cars the option of putting on side facing tires to ride against the wall at speed. You could have a split lane on a longer path that allows cars to touch a charge plate to recharge on the go so they can chose between overtaking on the shortcut or playing the longer game with conserving power. It seems like there are actually a lot of things you could do. Formula E "Power boost" was silly but some of these ideas could serve as a way to allow spectators to make some decisions about strategy on the track and get involved. If you drive too aggressively you are stuck limping on the longer/slower inductive charge lane. With a handful of options you could do a "twitch does formula One" with some teams allowing viewer participation. The human element would give the AI cars a random element to have to account/adjust for. Human viewers would not directly control the steering but could control the strategy and decisions.
Martin Hone
Yes, slot car racing certainly springs to mind. Speed is part of racing but it is relative. Skill, daring and sound are more important. Hence MotoGP is more exciting than F1. I can't see F1 surviving the McLaren scenario. Bring back skinny tyres and get rid of the electronics and enjoy the spectacle !
nick101
Formula 1 is already extremely boring, most road racing is as well. The only racing I'll watch is motorcycle racing. Flying drones on the other hand . . !