22 September 2021
22 September 2021
A deep-seeded link to motorsport may not be evident to the eye in the car you drive every day; but if that vehicle happens to be a Mercedes-Benz or Mercedes-AMG, you can be sure the lessons learned in more than a century of racing are pumping through its very DNA.
Indeed, most aspects of the modern Mercedes vehicle draw inspiration from motorsport’s never-ending quest for perfection – whether it’s in maximising speed and power from beneath the bonnet, fine-tuning handling and control, eking out weight savings or reinforcing passenger cell safety.
To see how racing development has refined the breed, consider the Mercedes-Benz 300 SEL of the late 1960s – the model that spawned the famous ‘Red Pig’ sports car racer that gave rise to the AMG brand – and compare it with its modern-day successor, the S-Class saloon.
Note how radically the aerodynamic package has evolved, the heavy steel replaced with lightweight materials such as aluminium and carbon-fibre. Driven by lessons learned in the cauldron of the racing track, these are among the innovations that contribute to radically reduced fuel and/or energy use in the road cars – from the diminutive A-Class to the upper-large ‘S’ saloon – that we drive today.
Bearing this out, the new EQS – the first all-electric version of the venerable S-Class – sets a new record for drag reduction with a Cd (drag coefficient) of just 0.20, utilising data and learnings from motorsport development that significantly increase driving range for an emerging new breed of all-electric models.
And, of course, Mercedes-Benz leads the way in numerous racing classes including Formula 1, where the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 team has won the past seven world driver and team championships and continues to research intensively to find new systems and improvements that can not only help to win races, but also transition into mainstream motoring.
These are just a handful of the road car innovations that originated in the heat of battle on the racetrack:
Multi-stage traction control
Traction control is traction control, right? Wrong. For GT3 racing, Mercedes-AMG developed a nine-stage traction control unit to enable the driver to have fingertip control over the precise assistance offered by the car. That led to a similar system being developed for the Mercedes-AMG road car range, mounted on a rotary dial as part of the steering wheel configuration.
You may never be fully aware of it from the driver’s seat, but motorsport-inspired genius is at work inside the cylinder bores where an extremely thin, low-friction coating is applied to the inner surfaces of the aluminium cylinders. The resulting reduction in friction from this multi award-winning technology enables fuel consumption to be reduced by several per cent.
An innovation with more overt links to motorsport, steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters have supplanted clunky shift levers in racing from F1 to rallying and beyond. They’re now a ubiquitous fitment in a variety of road cars, especially those tuned for performance, allowing swift and precise shifts without removing hands from the steering wheel.
Most purpose-built track racers have no need for the security of a turn-key start mechanism, leading to the innovation of a basic starter button to fire the ignition to life. Now, widespread adoption of remote central locking – or keyless entry – makes it possible for road-going passenger cars and SUVs to follow suit and replace the old-fashioned key in favour of an elegant and easy-to-use start-stop button.
Rapid development of hybrid power units in Formula 1 over the past 15 years has helped to maximise the recovery of heat energy that would otherwise be lost, and its conversion back into usable electrical boost. The first KERS (kinetic energy recovery system) debuted in F1 in 2007 and weighed 107 kilograms, achieving an energy efficiency of 39 per cent. Within five years, the system weighed less than 24 kilograms and achieved 80 per cent efficiency. Similar versions of this technology now supplement power delivery for many combustion engines across the Mercedes-Benz range, using recovered energy to provide a burst of acceleration or fill gaps in power delivery. This is more important than ever as Mercedes-EQ ushers in its range of all-electric vehicles, enabling maximum energy harvesting to increase overall driving range.
Keeping vehicle occupants safe has always been a paramount concern for the engineers of race and road cars alike. Development of the lightweight reinforced safety cell that surrounds racing drivers has directly influenced similar energy-absorbing protection frameworks in passenger car development. Elsewhere, the proliferation of data-gathering sensors to measure performance in increasingly high-tech motorsport such as F1 has meant easy adaptation to monitoring and deploying the active safety systems that make a Mercedes-Benz one of the world’s safest vehicles to drive.
Into the future - AMG Project One
Where to from here? Although still officially a concept, Mercedes-AMG Project One is well advanced in its development as a road-going production vehicle with the closest technical links to a Formula 1 racer of any vehicle in the modern era. If the motorsport influence on your own car is subtle, on Project One it’s unmistakable – you can’t miss it.
Like an F1 car, the Project One hypercar boasts obvious aerodynamic enhancement and downforce-creating wings, but the racing influence runs through every element and hints at features we will be seeing in road-going vehicles in years to come.
As with the current F1 world championship-winning racing car, a 1.6-litre turbocharged combustion engine teams up with a total of four electric motors: one integrated into the turbocharger, another installed directly on the combustion engine with a link to the crankcase, and two driving Project One’s front wheels that can spin at up to 50,000 rpm each. The result is a powertrain that’s faster than a V8, with turbo lag completely eliminated.
Inside, the driver’s position and steering wheel are clearly derived from F1 origins, as are the many lightweight materials that combine racing performance with day-to-day suitability.
Project One provides a tantalising glimpse of what is still to come as Mercedes-AMG continues to assist its supported race teams to push the envelope on the racetrack, creating breakthroughs that ultimately improve our experience of driving on the road.
By Steve Colquhuon