Performance Cars

Talking Project One details with AMG boss Tobias Moers

It's certainly the quickest car unveiled at this year's Frankfurt Motor Show, and it's also among the most interesting. Join us for a deep dive with the guy who made it happen.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

2017 marks the 50th anniversary of AMG Motorenbau und Entwicklungsgesellschaft mbH, the former race engine builder that has come to be known as the three-letter designator for hot Mercedes-Benzes. For that half-centenniary the company wanted to do something... big, and boy did it succeed, introducing the Project One to the world. It's a hypercar designed from the beginning to bring the best of Formula One technology to the road like never before.

The idea itself was birthed back in October of 2015, just two years ago, a remarkably rapid turn-around for a car that looks set to reset performance benchmarks and redefine the term "racecar for the road." I sat down with Tobias Moers, chairman of the board of management for Mercedes-AMG, about how it all came together.

'Something special'

"We wanted to do something special for the 50th anniversary," Moers told me in a quiet spot away from bustling Mercedes-Benz booth at the 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show. The nice thing about anniversaries is that you know they're coming well in advance. The bad thing, though, is that they tend to be pretty inflexible, so the team needed to have something ready to show this year, at this show, and that something had to be a hypercar.

"Doing it with another V8, a V10 or a V12 would be easy, but this is not our way," said Moers, showing an interesting definition of the word easy. "This must be more sophisticated. It sets the bar quite high in this segment, using the most efficient combustion engine combined with four electric motors."

The Project One's combined drivetrains, including an electric turbocharger, will generate "over 1,000 horsepower." Having a quadruple-digit power figure is far from unheard of (see: Bugatti Chiron), but the heart of that power makes Project One notable: a tiny, 1.6-liter engine that's directly derived from Formula One.

"Formula One is not just a big boy's game," said Moers, "especially on the powertrain side. It's really the rolling laboratory of the future, and electrified powertrains really are the future." But rarely does that technology translate so directly here, as the engine block and the head are actually the same parts as in the Formula One car. Some tweaks have been made, however. Compression ratios have been dropped and a number of other things tweaked, enabling the car to run "standard" oil and gasoline that you might actually be able to find outside of a grand prix pit lane.

While the power is impressive, Moers actually seemed more proud of the efficiency of the platform, with Mercedes-AMG claiming the engine converts more than 40 percent of the energy in its fuel into torque. Believe it or not, that's twice as efficient as your average internal-combustion engine. Moers said that makes Project One "the most efficient, and the most powerful hypercar... It's the halo car for the whole future approach."

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It's a future approach that we'll see spread across Mercedes-Benz and its upcoming EQ sub-brand of electrified cars. However, while those cars may inherit some of the thinking and learnings from Project One, none will utilize any of its parts. "Everything in that car is purpose-designed," said Moers.

Bringing it to the road

When listing the biggest challenges in bringing Project One to the roads, Moers didn't talk about power or handling or styling or any of the things that you're most likely to first associate with a car like this. Instead, he listed emissions first and NVH second, an industry term referring to the noise, vibration and harshness of a car.

For emissions, the AMG team has had to outfit this Formula One-derived engine with a full suite of OBDII sensors and an exhaust with catalytic converters before it could be considered road-legal. For the NVH side, making a car that idles at 1,000 RPM and can rev on up to an 11,000 RPM redline pass noise regulations is a challenge -- doing so while ensuring it still sounds amazing is an even bigger one. (And, having heard it running, I can tell you it does sound amazing, like a proper F1 car.) "I am the one and only who drove it," Moers said, "in that cockpit, and my ears are still OK."

Hitting all those marks will be achieved thanks to a flap in the exhaust, providing full power in situations where noise is not a problem plus quieter running when needed. And, thanks to the onboard battery packs, the car can be driven silently for 25 kilometers -- about 16 miles.

Since this is a Mercedes, it'll offer niceties like adaptive dampers, so that it won't break your spine when driving on normal roads, but it won't be a luxury car. "It's not an E-Class," said Moers. "There are no autonomous features, not in that car. Nobody asked for it. Our customers asked 'Is there air conditioning?'"

The answer is "yes," by the way. The car will have air conditioning. And a sound system.

Mercedes-AMG Project One

Not a bad place to be, if you don't mind lying on your back.

Daimler AG

Groundbreaking performance

Beyond the horsepower and the nosebleed-inducing redline, Project One will deliver a number of innovations to the road, like active vents on the fenders that open like a Le Mans-style prototype, and a rear diffuser that shifts forward by 80mm at speed to optimize aerodynamics. There are eight total movable aerodynamic surfaces in the car, but none that rely on side-to-side aerodynamic vectoring like the Lamborghini Huracan Performante. According to Moers, it's just not effective in the real world.

With custom Michelin tires and all that downforce, Moers said driving Project One will feel like driving a proper race car, but with the significant advantage of electric motors at the front to enable all-wheel drive. The results should be significant, quite likely surpassing lap records set by everything road-legal that's come before. The question, of course, is whether Mercedes-AMG will stick its neck out there and actually set a lap time at the iconic Nurburgring Nordschleife.

"Maybe," Moers said, with a big smile, "we need a driver." I'm guessing they'll have no shortage of applicants, including a certain Formula One championship leader.