Automotive

McLaren looks to the future of Formula One with MP4-X concept

McLaren looks to the future of...
The McLaren MPX-4 concept race car gives one potential vision for the future of Formula One
The McLaren MPX-4 concept race car gives one potential vision for the future of Formula One
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The current McLaren Honda Formula One race car is a very high-tech machine
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The current McLaren Honda Formula One race car is a very high-tech machine
The McLaren MPX-4 concept race car gives one potential vision for the future of Formula One
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The McLaren MPX-4 concept race car gives one potential vision for the future of Formula One
The structure of the car isn’t just electrified to store energy, it’s also resilient and nearly unbreakable
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The structure of the car isn’t just electrified to store energy, it’s also resilient and nearly unbreakable
For McLaren designers, the obvious next step in the evolution of Formula racing is the removal of physical controls to be replaced by thought control
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For McLaren designers, the obvious next step in the evolution of Formula racing is the removal of physical controls to be replaced by thought control
Electrodes in the surface of the car’s wings electronically control the McLaren MPX-4’s aerodynamics
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Electrodes in the surface of the car’s wings electronically control the McLaren MPX-4’s aerodynamics
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McLaren says that it wanted to peer into the future and "imagine the art of the impossible." The result of that vision quest by the company's design team is the McLaren MP4-X Formula One concept race car. This is a sleek, powerful ride that makes the current crop of cutting-edge technology used in F1 racing look primitive, with everything about this concept, from its sculpted exterior to its hidden gems of advanced electronic wizardry, far out, but achievable.

Formula One is considered by many motorsports enthusiasts to be the pinnacle of automotive racing. It's where the most elite drivers perform in the most advanced of vehicles and the most stringent of grids. One tiny mistake can lose a race, with wins often measured in tenths of a second. And in F1 racing, McLaren holds a name that is held in the highest of esteem.

With the McLaren MP4-X, the company says we're seeing the future because everything in this concept race car is real, though some of it is at its earliest stages of conception. What the designers of the MP4-X are doing is showcasing the possible as being quite probable.

For McLaren designers, the obvious next step in the evolution of Formula racing is the removal of physical controls to be replaced by thought control
For McLaren designers, the obvious next step in the evolution of Formula racing is the removal of physical controls to be replaced by thought control

As with any race machine, this starts with the propulsion system. In cooperation with race partner Honda, McLaren design engineers looked at the future of motorsports fuels and lubricants, including electrical power, which is already a big part of racing. With the MP4-X, envisaging electrification and recharging through inductive coupling in the track means that the entire powertrain was rethought. This, in turn, meant that the chassis was completely rethought as well.

"With a new approach to the internal combustion engine you could radically redistribute the chassis layout at the rear of the car, with different areas that could be exploited aerodynamically," says Anthony Law, Systems Engineer, McLaren Applied Technologies.

The vision? Package much of the technology as an integral part of the car's very substructure. This approach sees the McLaren MP4-X design integrate "thin batteries" into the crash structure of the car, while the bodywork includes solar cells for additional charging. This allows electricity to be stored and distributed close to where it is used and allow traditional regenerative systems, such as through braking, to be augmented by the energy captured through the MP4-X's solar skin.

Another potentially controversial, but forward-thinking portion of the McLaren MP4-X, likely noticed by race fans right away, is the use of a canopy on the car. McLaren believes that, given the current mindset of the race industry and the general consensus among drivers that a canopy is an inevitable concession to safety on the track, the MP4-X should have one.

The design requirements of this particular canopy were three-fold: it must allow easy and fast access in the event of an emergency, it needs to gives the driver better visibility during harsh or low-light conditions, but also let spectators at the circuit or watching on TV be able to see inside in certain conditions.

The structure of the car isn’t just electrified to store energy, it’s also resilient and nearly unbreakable
The structure of the car isn’t just electrified to store energy, it’s also resilient and nearly unbreakable

What those race fans see inside the car might be very different from what we imagine and can see today. For McLaren designers, the obvious next step in the evolution of Formula One racing is the removal of physical controls, which would be replaced by thought control.

McLaren and its partner multinational pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) have been researching neurological impulses through charitable work in research for ALS and similar diseases. Bringing this to the racetrack, instead of holding a steering wheel and pressing pedals, the car would instead be controlled via the driver's brain patterns and gestures. Far out? Sure. Possible? Eventually.

The structure of the car isn't just electrified to store energy, it's also resilient and nearly unbreakable. If two cars made of a material that absorbs impacts and then returns to its original shape collide.. well, they would hit, crumple, and then re-form to their original shape. If they're hit again, the same safety that was there in the beginning is still there. This makes the car capable of absorbing multiple impacts without getting more and more shredded as it does so. This helps protect the driver because many F1 racing deaths are caused not by the impact that disabled the car, but by the after impacts when the out of control car hits things as it loses its kinetic energy or as other cars impact it coming around the circuit.

This structure would also provide immediate intelligence to the pit engineers, with the car able to assess its condition, provide "high-fidelity knowledge of its own structures," and not only aid in getting the car back into the race, if possible, but also in understanding the accident and helping with future prevention.

Now we come to aerodynamics. The car isn't just sleek and imposing as a racer. It's also dynamically capable of changing its shape to aid aerodynamics on the fly. The surfaces of the MP4-X's bodywork can be electrified to cause a change in shape when certain aerodynamic loads or conditions would improve performance. When the current is cut off, the materials return to their original shape.

That's not all, though. The air around the car can also be plasmafied. Electrodes in the surface of the car's wings electronically control the McLaren MPX-4's aerodynamics, dialing in downforce for cornering and outward for straights. With powerful electrical charging during the turns, these same electrodes would turn air into plasma around those aero wings, removing drag.

"It's banned in the current F1 regs, but it's great for achieving high top speeds, particularly at circuits like Monza, where you want to shed all the downforce along the straights and then turn it back on again for the corners," says Geoff McGrath, Chief Innovation Officer, McLaren Applied Technologies.

Electrodes in the surface of the car’s wings electronically control the McLaren MPX-4’s aerodynamics
Electrodes in the surface of the car’s wings electronically control the McLaren MPX-4’s aerodynamics

This is racing, of course, so don't forget the tires. On the McLaren MP4-X, the P Zero tires are augmented not only with pressure sensors, but with wear sensors to determine their expected lifespan during the race. This gives pit crews a much better ability to predict the best time to change tires and would avoid the blowouts that are often the cause of accidents during a race.

Finally, the bread and butter of racing. Advertisements. Sponsorships could be tuned to better appeal to race goers and fans. Out go conventional stickers to be replaced by digital billboard-style advertisements at key positions on the car. These could be leveraged to reflect ads that closely match the browsing history of a fan's smart phone or gadgets, for example. One person watching through the television might see an ad for breakfast cereal, while another, watching the same car in the same race at the same time, might see an ad for Caribbean vacations. As the McLaren team puts it: "Since when have the consumer demands of the fan in Lithuania and the fan in Lubbock, Texas been similar?"

We see that not only is the McLaren MPX-4 a beautifully far out concept in terms of appearances, but it's a vision of the technology with potential to drive changes in the sport.

Source: McLaren

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9 comments
Mel Tisdale
Is it possible to develop a thought control system that could do something to calm/control a road-rage situation? It might be something the autonomous vehicle teams might usefully examine. Then at least some good would come from their endeavours.
Leo Elderkin
All these concepts are the natural evolution of the F1 racer, but Honda cannot field a reliable or powerful enough fossil fuel engine for McLaren since Honda's return to F1 racing. I think the sport of F1 has strived to consistently improve fuel mileage while raising power output and recovering kinetic energy, so I think there will be a complete elimination of the traditional internal combustion engine as companies like Tesla are making great progress in battery storage densities coupled with ultra-capacitor type kinetic energy recovery systems via dynamic braking etc..
I think it will happen within the next couple of race seasons f3000 with the introduction of a provisional class in F3.
They will have to develop super efficient and very loud hi-fi speakers / transducers though... gotta keep that roar of the high rev signature F1 racer. Nearly everyone in the world can close their eyes and have someone play a sound bite of a F1 racer and they instantly identify it!
steveraxx
It is a shame, the golden era of Formula One is long past. John Barnard ruined many aspects when he started down the road of paddle shifting. As a long time F-1 fan, this vision for the future leaves me cold. Like I said, real cars, and by extension, real drivers are gone.
ArtofSpeed
Enclosed cockpit with roof and bodywork enclosed wheels this is a SPORTSCAR not and F1 Car. They should go back to NA 3L V10 engines and a manual shift gearbox with just two element front and rear wings, only electronics should be the engine ECU. Get back to seeing a (combination of Driver Skill and advanced engineering) Not the full sized RC F1 cars we now have with 140lbs of over paid ballast sitting in the drivers seat, then we will see that a better driver with an inferior car can still beat a crap driver with a better car, and it will sound like FORMULA 1 again cost less and will be worth watching and listening to once more.
Michael Wilson
@ Leo Elderkin
Its going to be some years before battery energy density catches up to fossil fuels. I'll agree the power and efficiency of the motors are there, but as an avid watcher of racing, and one who has seen the offerings of Formula E, it is simply not there yet. The cars are some 70-80mph off the speed of Formula 1 and the battery packs only last 25 minutes. Also, the charging technology is not quite there yet, with many teams simply swapping cars during "refueling". The revolution is coming, but it will be a few years off. In all honesty, I'd like to see a car using electric motors on the drive wheels with a supercapacitor and a set of microturbines connected to a generator to charge the capacitor. Get the instant torque and power of an electric motor, with the power of an ICE and the sweet sound of a turbine.
milliard
The mention of re-charging through inductive coupling in the track is interesting because the coupling could be on a less-than-ideal racing line so there would be driver strategy involved in sacrificing the ideal racing line to gain charge.
This is not an endorsement of McLarens ideas for F1, merely an in-context comment.
hawc
I raced in the SCCA. I drove a 427 Cobra that took your breath away, a Porsche 904 that defied the rain, an Sprite that was a slug and a Formula Vee. A friend drove an Eagle that he could never get sorted. The most fun was the Vee. What's a Vee? 40 horse VW in a single seat race car that weighed 825 lbs.
I also raced slot cars, that got really old, very quickly. They have tried to race low powered radio controlled cars to no avail, people get bored watching toy cars smash into each other.
You have a 2000 hp vehicle that weighs 500 lbs and I have a 1900 hp vehicle that weighs 510 lbs, neither has an on-board driver and there is no reason that anyone should get upset if one crashes into the other. So they crash... Who cares. They race and one beats the other "Who Cares?" No one gets to say, "I won the race." only, "My car won the race." "Who Cares?"
But what if there was innovation? The race is only 250 miles, you can't change tires(rain of shine), you only get 10 gallons of gas or the equivalent in electrical power. The car must weight 800 lbs including driver, might that be watchable and fun to compete against?
Dr.Veritas
I hardly see them as overpaid. They get paid exactly what the market says they are worth. In some cases they don't get paid, the teams do. Even with the teams who have great cars and not so great cars, drivers shine through. Lewis is brilliant even in a car a little less brilliant as he has shown. Fernando is in a terrible situation but he has often gotten much more out of feeble rides. Like Ferrari the last years. McClaren is just a mess right now. Kimi has a native ability that shines through at times but mostly it's just great to watch his attitude.
I think there's room for a traditional F1 type racing as well as a leaning forward technology heavy racer. The problem is the damn formula is not of real use to anyone.
Let's have F1 with a basic chassis and some specific engine types, let the teams choose to have a V6 Turbo or a V10 NA or a V8 ??. I believe the paddle shifters are great but I do understand others prefer the strictly manual. The automatics are just so darn smooth and nearly perfect.
Then let's have an F1SuperTech where teams can go all out with little restriction other than mandatory safety requirements. Formula One has so much it can do to improve starting with the darn FORMULA! Throw it out and begin again. Get rid of prima donna drivers who won't listen to their team managers but remove all, them, him, she, he, we and substitute ME, ME, ME. No names since that would be Indiscrete...SV!
Seeing ads on a 200 mph car may be tough track side but on TV with cameras following, it's no problem. Good luck to all of F1 I hope they an avoid becoming nothing more than an environmental stunt and social experiment. If the powers that be have their way it will be racing on video screens thereby almost zero emissions!