McLaren has had a rough 2015 Formula One season, with its new Honda power unit not living up to expectations. Having finished the season next to last in the constructors’ championship standings, 2016 can only be an improvement for the Brits. But, despite not being able to win a single race in 2015, McLaren made tremendous progress toward the end of the season and even designed a brand-new Formula One car, the MP4-X.

Unfortunately, the MP4-X isn’t the company’s race car for 2016, but a conceptual vision for the future of Formula One. I say unfortunately only because we won’t get to see it on the race track anytime soon; otherwise, this concept car is as cool and futuristic as they get. Not only because it looks as if it came from the future, but because it packs an enormous amount of technology that’s likely to become the norm in a few years.

“With the futuristic McLaren MP4-X concept race car, we wanted to peer into the future and imagine the art of the possible. 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,” said John Allert, Group Brand Director of McLaren Technology.

There’s no word as to when this concept race car will be shown to the public, but until that happens you can have a closer look at all the technology behind it in our review below.

Continue reading to learn more about the McLaren MP4-X Concept.

Exterior

2016 McLaren MP4-X Concept High Resolution Exterior
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Design-wise, the MP4-X looks like a Formula One car from the future. It brings together designs seen on present-day race car and new technical solutions developed to improve aerodynamics and safety. The most notable changes to the current F1 design are the large cycle-style fenders that cover the wheels completely, the canopy covering the cockpit, the streamlined engine cover, and the lowered rear wing.

McLaren says that the concept would be fitted with advanced, adaptive shape-memory alloys

But, the MP4-X’s bodywork is more than just wild aerodynamics. McLaren says that the concept would be fitted with advanced, adaptive shape-memory alloys that allow an electrical current to pass through them so they can change shape under specific loads or conditions. Current race cars have certain parts that do just that, but McLaren wants to take it up a notch by allowing several panels to morph. For instance, the morphing wing could take different shapes and adapt behind other cars to achieve lower drag, which would facilitate overtaking. Morphing structure would also enhance fuel economy.

Another active aerodynamic feature is Active Flow Control, which would uses electrodes fitted to the surface of the car’s wings to control the bodywork and adjust downforce as needed. It could also turn the air around the wings into plasma, which would enable the car to reach higher top speeds on fast circuits such as Monza.

the MP4-X also makes use of ground effects by having huge venturi tunnels beneath the floor

Although it is banned under current regulations, the MP4-X also makes use of ground effects by having huge venturi tunnels beneath the floor. McLaren doesn’t give many specifics, but claims it has the knowledge to build a safe ground effects car.

Technology aside, the Brits also came up with an innovative solutions for the car’s livery. Instead of the traditional stickers, McLaren wants to display ads on the car by turning most of its body panels into a digital billboard. Specifically, the car will look different to everyone as the adverts will be chosen based on each viewer’s browsing habits. So instead of the usual "Mobil 1," "Honda," and "FIA," logos, you could get a livery that will try to sell you cars, TVs or dental implants, depending on what you’ve been browsing for recently. If I were to watch the MP4-X race at this very moment, I’d get to see a Renault logo from the latest Captur ad that’s been bothering me recently. A bit awkward, huh?

Although I have no idea how all these innovations will work in a real environment (and McLaren doesn’t provide too much info), the MP4-X is quite the revolutionary race car on paper.

Interior

2016 McLaren MP4-X Concept High Resolution Exterior
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The car’s cockpit is equally revolutionary, starting with the protective fighter jet-like canopy. McLaren argues that a canopy would not only keep drivers safe in the event of crash, but it could also improve the pilot’s visibility in low light or intense sunlight. Although this idea makes quite a few purists unhappy, the FIA is actually considering it as a measure to help reduce injuries and fatalities on the race track.

But, McLaren goes even further than that.

The MP4-X also promotes a head-mounted augmented vision display that will provide the driver with an unrestricted 360-degree view of the environment.

The MP4-X also promotes a head-mounted augmented vision display that will provide the driver with an unrestricted 360-degree view of the environment. The system would use several cameras to feed images to the helmet. There’s also an additional heads-up display to alert the driver about important race events such as flag and caution data, or the location of accidents and debris.

Another unique feature is the concept’s ability to constantly measure and monitor the driver’s performance using real-time biotelemetry. Again, the concept is explained only briefly, but McLaren says it will enable the team to monitor the driver’s "hydration levels, optimal focus and concentration during periods of differing stress intensity." The biotelemetry system will work in conjunction with Real-Time Driver Performance, an analytical system that would monitor the driver’s movements, checking fatigue levels and automatically adjusting the car’s settings. This technology is actually being tested as we speak by McLaren Applied Technologies and GSK for the medical industry.

The MP4-X’s would also come with its very own driver overalls made from smart fabrics with a "mixture of conductive, energy-harvesting and energy-storage fibers, inbuilt bio-sensors and power management." In the event of a crash, the suit would display areas of impact trauma or injury to assist medical teams with a primary assessment of the driver.

Finally, McLaren aims to improve audience experience with a visual system synced to the driver’s point of view, enabling viewers to experience exactly what’s happening inside the cockpit.

Drivetrain

2016 McLaren MP4-X Concept High Resolution Exterior
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Naturally, a race car so futuristic also uses an advanced drivetrain. Although drivetrain details are still scant, McLaren did say the MP4-X would feature a hybrid system with advanced energy recovery and charging.

McLaren did say the MP4-X would feature a hybrid system with advanced energy recovery and charging.

“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. Such technology could be beautifully packaged around the entire chassis,” said Anthony Law, systems engineer at McLaren Applied Technologies.

For energy storage, McLaren could create ultra-thin batteries fully integrated into the car’s crash structure, storing energy from the hybrid and solar systems. The latter would be captured using more traditional regenerative systems and used either to power existing onboard systems or to boost output. The Brits have even thought about developing a recharging system that would use inductive coupling built into the track. Given that the FIA would approve such technology sometime in the future.

More tech would be found in the tires, which could receive an additional wear sensor to live-monitor tire data.

More tech would be found in the tires, which could receive an additional wear sensor to live-monitor tire data. Such a measure would help predict dangerous blow-outs and delaminations before they occur.

Moving over to the chassis, McLaren claims it can improve driver safety by using negative-stiffness material structures that have the ability to attenuate energy transferred in an impact. These materials would also be able to recover their original shape and properties. Amazing! On a more achievable note, the company is also considering an in-car diagnostics system to monitor the car’s structural condition. In the event of a crash or a failure, the system would be able to provide real-time information and data to the engineers.

Conclusion

2016 McLaren MP4-X Concept High Resolution Exterior
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Granted, the McLaren MP4-X is one crazy concept. Of all the futuristic vehicles the auto industry has envisioned lately, only the Chevrolet Chaparral 2X VGT Concept is wilder than the MP4-X. Because let’s face it, nothing can beat the 2X’s spaceship-like design, prone driving position, and the laser-powered propulsion system. Unlike the Chaparral, however, the MP4-X project includes technology that actually exists and systems that could be developed in a few years with the proper financing.

the MP4-X project includes technology that actually exists and systems that could be developed in a few years with the proper financing

Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that the MP4-X will ever become an actual race car.

While many of the technologies McLaren described here could be implemented on a race car sooner or later, their use in a professional racing series are conditioned by many factors. For instance, McLaren will need the FIA’s approval for all those systems, including the canopy cockpit. The said system would also bring major changes to regulations and even to the race tracks, especially in order to implement the inductive coupling into the asphalt. Such modifications will require billions of dollars, while building the race cars will need tens if not hundreds of millions. Then there’s the fact that only a handful of teams will be able to afford such technology and that’s one of the main reasons why the FIA might not approve it.

Also, while it may seems like a great idea to tech geeks, it could very well kill Formula One, a sport that’s already a lot less spectacular than it used to be do to the excessive use of technology and the strict safety regulations. More tech will probably make drivers less important out there on the track and hand out trophies to whichever manufacturer build the more reliable and efficient technologies.

I, for one, wouldn’t want Formula One to go that way. Call me old-fashioned, but F1 is boring enough as it is. On the other hand, I think McLaren should use the tech inside the MP4-X in its future supercars and maybe help establish a new racing series focused on high-tech hybrid cars. An unrestricted, modern-day version of the original Can-Am series if you will.

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    • * Most technologies described have yet to be developed
    • * Implementation might be an issue due to high costs
    • * It could kill Formula One for good
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