x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 September 2017

From racetrack to road: The fastest production cars from the Formula One teams

With Formula One in town this weekend for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, we look at the closest cars you can own on the road from the automotive companies involved.

McLaren’s P1. Courtesy McLaren
McLaren’s P1. Courtesy McLaren

Formula One is the pinnacle of motorsport, but it’s also a fiendishly expensive endeavour, with the top teams splurging more than Dh1.5 billion annually in their quest to claim the drivers’ and constructors’ titles.

So what’s in it for mainstream car manufacturers such as Mercedes, Ferrari, Renault, and Honda, engine supplier to ­McLaren? What do they stand to gain by investing towering sums in a sport that’s far removed from real-world driving?

One of the key returns is encapsulated by the “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” mantra. Victory on the track casts a halo over everything the company does, including selling road cars. But there’s also an added return for these companies in terms of the cutting-edge tech that can in some cases be transferred to their road-going flagships, if not the entire model line-up.

Take the Dh6 million ­LaFerrari, of which just 500 were built and sold. Its drivetrain pairs the marque’s trademark V12 engine with a pair of supplementary electric motors powered by a lightweight lithium battery pack. This combo is a derivation of the Kers (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) tech used by F1 cars, and is good for 950bhp and 350kph. Its body (built by the F1 team) comprises four different types of carbon ­fibre and is claimed to be the most aerodynamic ever, thanks to extensive honing in the F1 team’s wind tunnel. For good measure, there’s also active aero, whereby the front and rear ­diffusers and rear spoiler adopt the optimum angles depending on a range of real-time parameters.

McLaren’s 375-unit P1 was similarly conceived, with its twin-turbo V8 boosted by a lithium-­ion-battery-powered electric motor. Keeping all that grunt in check is an active aero package that generates one tonne of downforce (that’s not a misprint). There’s also a F1-derived RaceActive Chassis Control system that adapts damping and roll stiffness from compliant-ish to rock-hard when in max-attack mode at track days. I’ve had a ride in the P1 at Yas Marina Circuit, and its 903bhp punch and organ-­compressing braking and cornering are truly eye-watering.

Mercedes-AMG’s go-faster range currently tops out at the GT S (F1’s official safety car), but in the pipeline is a hypercar propelled by a toned-down version of the V6 turbo hybrid engine that powers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg’s race cars. It will also pack radical aerodynamics and construction techniques mirroring those of F1.

Aston Martin has steered clear of Formula One, but one of the fruits of its new collaboration with Red Bull Racing is the AM-RB 001, a hypercar that the company boasts will be faster than an F1 racer. Red Bull’s design and engineering genius Adrian ­Newey has worked alongside Aston ­creating the AM-RB 001, which will allegedly deliver aerodynamic downforce levels not seen in any road car to date. Aston Martin plans to build between 99 and 150 units of the flagship model, priced at about Dh11.5m. Deliveries will commence in 2018.

Honda formerly fielded an F1 outfit, but these days it’s limited to supplying the McLaren team’s engines. Nevertheless, it has just rolled out its own 581hp hybrid NSX supercar, which packs two turbos, three electric motors, a nine-speed dual-clutch gearbox and an assortment of scoops and ducts to optimise cooling and airflow. It’s built around a mixed-material space-frame chassis and those who have pedalled the Honda say its huge techno complexity doesn’t dilute its appeal as a driver’s car.

Renault has yet to translate its F1 expertise into a showroom model, but the French carmaker plans to use the F1 exposure to multiply sales of its Renault Sport models. Also in the works is a production version of the mid-engined Alpine Vision concept revealed at this year’s Geneva motor show. Although it will eke out a modest 300hp, the Alpine will feature F1-inspired lightweight construction and chassis dynamics to match the Porsche Cayman. That’s a big stretch for a purveyor of bread-and-butter hatchbacks, saloons and crossovers – and we have F1 to thank for that.

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