McLaren goes mental: future F1 design concept revealed

Published: 03 December 2015

► McLaren’s F1 designers go future gazing
► Theoretical concept explores tech possibilities
► Solar power, active aero, brain pattern controls…

Being a F1 engineer must be a frustrating occupation. All those rules, regulations and restrictions. Clearly it’s getting to McLaren’s design team, because they’ve cooked up this incredible creation after hours. The McLaren MP4-X is a theoretical study for a single-seater racing car packed with cutting edge technology from the present and the near (and distant) future.

‘With the futuristic McLaren MP4-X concept racecar, we wanted to peer into the future and imagine the art of the possible,’ says the McLaren Technology Group’s brand director John Allert. ‘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.’

Hang on – it’s got a roof?

The subject of closed canopies in single-seater racing cars remains a hot topic, as purists wrestle with the very idea and engineers wrestle with the practical difficulties of creating a structure that protects the driver while still enabling them to actually see where they’re going.

McLaren’s theoretical scenario involves cameras feeding imagery back to the driver’s crash helmet, a little like the tech used in modern fighter jets, allowing 360-degree vision. The canopy’s tint is adaptive, too, becoming darker in bright sunlight, or the opposite in low light to help the driver see out, and the audience see in.

The wheels are covered too?

Faired-in wheels are currently outlawed in F1, but if you’re doing a no-limits concept, well, why not? As well as their obvious aerodynamic benefit, McLaren also envisages in-built sensors to scan the surface of the tyre for wear and temperature, offering real-time tyre monitoring, potentially warning of a blow-out before it occurs.

What’s powering the MP4-X? (I’m guessing it’s not a V12?)

Electricity. Ultra-thin batteries are made a part of the car’s structure, and in addition to the type of energy recuperation tech we’ve grown familiar with on current-era F1 cars, the MP4-X sneaks a secondary source of charge – the sun. Solar panels harness supplementary energy for a temporary boost function (provided it’s not a night race).

McLaren MP4-X

Active aero, you say?

A movable wing is one thing, but the MP4-X takes the concept to a whole new level. McLaren suggests electrodes fitted to the bodywork could turn the air around the wings into plasma, with the aim of shedding downforce (and attendant drag) on the straights, and turning it back on again for the corners.

‘Plasma flow control would require a lot of power, but, in the future, we could take power from the engine and divert it to charge the system,’ says Geoff McGrath, innovation expert at McLaren Applied Technologies. ‘It’s banned in the current F1 regs – but it’s great for achieving high top speeds, particularly at circuits like Monza.’

What’s the craziest thing about the McLaren MP4-X?

How about throwing away the steering wheel, and guiding the wheels using, erm, mind power instead? McLaren believes a vehicle with no physical controls at all could be a theoretical possibility in the future, replacing them with a combination of gesture control, tracking the driver’s movements, and, more enigmatically, a holographic system ‘using brain patterns to control systems’.

Intrigued? Read more about the MP4-X concept on McLaren’s website here, and watch it in Tron-esque action in the video below.

By James Taylor

CAR's deputy features editor, occasional racer