It all dates back to a date in March 2010, when journalists assembled at a Volkswagen Group night to preview its offerings for the Geneva Motor Show the following day got a whole lot more than they bargained for. After all the heavily trailed products had done their turn on stage, Walter Rohrl appeared onboard a prototype of what would become the Porsche 918 Spyder. It was an "I was there" moment.
And yet even as we collected our jaws off the floor, none of us knew just how significant this moment would be, for what we could not know was that we were witnessing not merely the birth of a new car, but a new kind of car. This was the dawn of the hypercar and soon more would follow from McLaren and Ferrari, with Aston Martin not far behind.
But who would have bet it would be Mercedes-Benz that would be next in line? There was always a perception at Merc’s AMG performance wing that the brand would stretch only so far. The SLR was its first modern supercar and took forever to sell. The cheaper SLS fared far better but was not a runaway success either, as proved by the fact it’s been replaced by a car that uses the same platform but costs little more than half the price.
Things have changed at AMG in the last couple of years, however, by far the biggest of which has been a doubling of its sales to over 70,000 units last year. Confidence at Affalterbach is sky-high right now and with its almost unstoppable F1 juggernaut continuing in full flow, there would appear to have never been a better time for Mercedes to make the hypercar jump.
And some jump it will be. Even Mercedes bosses know their brand is not associated with even supercars let alone limited edition million pound motors in the same way as McLaren, Porsche and Ferrari, all of whom have a strong and long track record in the field. But the odd thing is with these cars is that the more expensive they are, the more easily afforded they are by the kind of people who are attracted by the asking price. To many it won’t be a question of whether to have an Aston Martin or a Mercedes hypercar: they’ll simply have both and simply not notice the money.
Even so, Mercedes clearly needed a hook, a USP for a car like this and, unquestionably, it is provided by that powertrain. Will it matter that it displaces just 1.6 litres and has a mere six cylinders? Will it hell. What will matter is that this will be the world’s first road car to be powered by a genuine Formula 1 engine. Even among hypercars, it is unique.
Of course, there are those who point to Ferrari’s claims that its F50 engine was based on a Formula 1 engine, Alain Prost’s 1990 engine to be precise. If it was, is was fairly loosely based given that it displaced 4.7-litres to the 3.5-litres of the F1 car. I am told that, by stark staring contrast, the hypercar powertrain is the same as the F1 unit.
How is this made possible? Actually by all the hybrid systems it carries. Before hybrid, engines had to be tuned to within an inch of their lives to generate maximum power, but today that’s not the case: they have to last quite a long time in racing terms and don’t even spin that fast. Sure, 15,000rpm sounds a lot in road car terms, but in F1 circles it’s nothing – normally aspirated F1 engines were hitting 20,000rpm on the bench at the turn of the century.
So will the Mercedes hybrid hypercar sell? Merc will have to be careful not to get greedy with production numbers but as the Ferrari, Porsche and McLaren hypercars all sold out, I don’t see why this one won’t too. It may not have the name, but it has the indisputable link to Formula 1. And to enough people with enough money, that will prove too tempting a proposition to pass by.