During its inaugural season in 1950, Formula 1 featured cars that looked more like steel barrels on wheels than actual racing machines. Google photos of Giuseppe Farina, the first F1 champion, and marvel at the sight of a middle-aged man managing to tame what appears to be a crude motoring contraption. Sebastian Vettel would have thrown a tantrum if he had been put in the cockpit of the Alfa Romeo 158.
And now, just for kicks and just to show off its technological expertise, McLaren presents its radical vision of what Formula 1 cars might be like in 2050—100 years after Farina narrowly beat Juan Manuel Fangio to the title. What you see here is the newly revealed concept F1 car of McLaren Applied Technologies, which supposedly combined fan feedback and technology trends to come up with what the outfit calls its “pursuit of the possible.”
The car McLaren believes will line up on the F1 grid 31 years from now is fully electric. Which tells us that our favorite racing series will essentially become, er, Formula E. And if you think electric race cars are boring, you’re mistaken. Consider this: The fastest speed anyone has hit in a petrol-powered F1 car is 372.54km/h, achieved by Valtteri Bottas at the 2016 Mexican Grand Prix. The 2050 Formula 1 car that McLaren has dreamed up—code-named MCLExtreme (or just MCLE)—is said to be capable of going 500km/h. That’s more than 120km/h faster than current F1 racers.
Because of this, McLaren says the most substantial innovation will happen in the field of energy storage. The cars will be charged inductively, transferring energy from magnetic coils embedded in the racetrack surface to magnetic coils installed in the vehicles. If recharging will take place in the pit lane, imagine the myriad of strategies that teams can employ. Cars can opt to drive fast through the pit lane but receive minimal charge, or run a little slower during their pit stop in order to get as much electric charge as they can.
Another sci-fi-worthy highlight of McLaren’s concept F1 car is its so-called shape-shifting active aerodynamics. Try to visualize what the McLaren boffins have in mind:
Taking inspiration from nature, the MCLE features side pods that expand and contract like the gills of a great white shark. They turn [the car] into a 500km/h bullet on the straights, but expand as the car enters braking zones and corners to provide stability and control.
Other noteworthy tech features of the car? Self-repairing tires and a transparent cockpit that lets viewers see the driver’s every movement (even his footwork). You’re probably thinking: “F1 cars in 2050 will still have tires? Aren’t they supposed to be flying already by then?” Well, fans apparently “believe that flying race cars are the antithesis of grand prix racing,” according to McLaren.
And speaking of the driver, he will have to wear a special type of racing overalls due to the significant increase in speed. A mere fireproof suit will no longer do the job of keeping the driver safe. Because of the spike in the g-forces that will act on the driver’s body, a g-suit similar to that worn by a fighter pilot will now be necessary to keep his blood from rushing to his legs.
Meanwhile, instead of radio communication with their respective teams, drivers will benefit from an artificially intelligent copilot that “provides real-time race strategy and key information via a holographic heads-up display.”
Also, the driver’s emotions and psychological state will be displayed for all to see. How?
The translucent bodywork on the car will be keyed to the driver’s bio-feedback. When the AI senses that the driver is frustrated or angry, the car will glow red. Calmness, joy and other emotions will likewise be displayed with different hues and at various levels of intensity.
Too gimmicky, don’t you think?
Finally, McLaren thinks the race circuits will need to be completely redesigned as well. A typical track will have steeper banking and more aggressive slopes to complement the faster cars, giving them the potential to take a 90° turn at 400km/h.
Assuming much of this vision becomes a reality in the future, do you see yourself still enjoying the sport? Maybe that’s the wrong question. Maybe we should be asking instead if our planet will still be around long enough to let us witness a Formula 1 series straight out of the minds of people who grew up on video games and virtual reality.