Just like the large-displacement naturally aspirated performance engine, sports cars with manual transmissions and the dinosaurs, one thing that’s gone extinct (well, at least dormant) in recent times is the Formula One race car for the road.
These cars are not to be confused with the homologation special—those mad, mad machines that look like endurance racers shorn of decals. The roadgoing F1 car (an oxymoron if we ever heard one) is also not to be confused with, ironically enough, the McLaren F1.
Yes, while what is arguably the world’s first hypercar might have the all-important letter and numeral in its name, a central driving position, and while its designer Gordon Murray (erstwhile designer of actual McLaren F1 cars) envisioned the car to the purest expression of driving ever, the car was civilised. It had carpets, a decent air-conditioning system and an integrated, bespoke sound system from Kenwood.
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No, we define the F1 car for the road as needing to have technology lifted directly from the pinnacle of motorsport, or it must look like a space beetle, with all that plonked into something with turn signals, headlights and a place to hang a license plate.
With the notable exception of the upcoming (and delayed) Mercedes-AMG One, the roadgoing F1 car is a bit of a dead notion. We don’t exactly know the reasons why, but we could proffer a few.They’re hard to get into/out of, creature comforts are wanting at best, you have to work way too hard for your fun and their handling can be best described as hairy.
Given how not everyone has an appetite for automotive masochism, how killing your golden geese is generally frowned upon and how wealthy buyers realised race cars belong on race tracks, these cars broadly fell out of favour.
However, as with the dinosaurs, it’s interesting to look back on the Race Car for the Road, and marvel at a time when these magical beasts were the automotive industry’s flavour of the week.
Strictly speaking, the Mono, which is hand-built at a rate of just one per month and has delivered just 100 cars in the BAC company’s 10 years of existence, isn’t a Formula One car for the road.
Yes, it may seat just one, has no roof, no windshield, no storage cubbies and most certainly no air-conditioning and stereo, but it’s still no F1 racer. But we’re just being pedantic, because the Mono most resembles a Formula Three car, a class of single-seater race car that nearly everyone on the current F1 grid has graduated from.
Appropriate, then, that its six-speed gearbox is lifted straight from an F3 car. In its even-harder hardcore Mono R form, its 2.5-litre engine produces a comparatively modest 340hp, but tipping the scales at just 555kg, its power-to-weight is 612hp/tonne. That’s greater than the LaFerrari hypercar, folks.
Designed by a group of former McLaren F1 engineers (the road car, not the racing team) and bankrolled by a British steel conglomerate, the T1 was supposed to be the ultimate road-legal race car.
It had 3.5-litre V8 race car engine that developed 575hp at a stratospheric 10,500rpm, its weight was advertised at just 550kg and it could scream from a standstill to 100km/hr in around 2.5 seconds. And its giddy marketing brochure proclaimed it was able to generate cornering forces akin to an aerobatics plane and have a power-to-weight ratio double that of a Bugatti Veyron.
Unfortunately, the T1 would prove to be the Icarus of the hypercar world by flying too close to the F1 sun. A number of high-profile accidents including a fire during the filming of TV show Fifth Gear severely tarnished its reputation. The final nail in the T1’s coffin, however, came in 2015 when its parent company, Caparo Industries went into administration, followed a few weeks later by the apparent suicide of its CEO, Angad Paul.
In the pantheon of limited-run Ferrari hypercars, the F50 of the mid-1990s is perhaps the least loved of them all, despite being the rarest of them all with just 349 examples made. The F50 with its vaguely insectile face was not nearly as pretty as the F40 that preceded it and was nowhere near as technologically advanced as the Enzo with its carbon-ceramic brakes that came after.
The F50’s main claim to fame was that it was a car with an F1-derived engine bolted to it—literally, because that engine was mated directly to the car’s spine. In more F1-inspired touches, the car’s rear suspension was then bolted to the transmission, which did wonders for stiffness and responsiveness.
Unfortunately, it did quite the opposite for the car’s refinement. That, coupled with its twitchy handling and aforementioned looks made the F50 the red-headed stepchild of the Ferrari hypercar lineup. Still, the lessons learned from the F50 gave rise to the spartan-but-liveable Enzo, and taken even further by the minimalist luxury of the LaFerrari after that.
The promise of the Mercedes-AMG One certainly is tantalising enough: take the hybrid powertrain from Nico Rosberg/Lewis Hamilton’s, all-conquering championship-winning 2016 F1 car and put it directly into a road car. But with a few minor modifications such as the capability of using commercially available fuel (versus specialised race fuel) and reduction of the engine’s redline from 14,000rpm to 11,000rpm in the interest of longevity, of course.
Push a button and you’re away, said Mercedes-AMG’s CEO Tobias Moers in numerous interviews. The hypercar also touts day-to-day suitability with a cabin that’s easy to get into/out of, and wonder of wonders, air-conditioning and power windows.
The only hitch being how the One’s development has run into a few speed bumps. You see, among other things, an F1 car idles at around 4,000-5,000rpm, and it doesn’t have to meet things like noise and emissions regulations. There’s no doubt that Mercedes-AMG has to deliver on the promise of the One, but on the (small) off-chance it doesn’t, it’ll at least make for a fantastic story…
Porsche Carrera GT
As with the Ferrari F50, the Porsche Carrera GT is a relic of a bygone era. A bygone era where hypercars had manual gearboxes, big power and not much else. Oh, and performance that could tear your face off, without the relative safety net of all-wheel-drive and electronic driver aids.
In the early 2000s, a newly resurgent Porsche after its financial woes of the 1990s and flush with the cash it made off the Cayenne SUV, it decided to put a V10-powered hypercar into production. And not just any V10, one that was originally destined to be put into an F1 car and then when plans for that were shelved, an endurance racer.
While that engine could scream it up with the best F1 motors and it had pace worthy of a bona fide race car, the Carrera GT wasn’t the easiest car to drive. Its carbon clutch was notoriously finicky, leading to countless embarrassing stalls and a Porsche engineer we spoke to called the Carrera GT “a bit of a diva”.
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