Right on the heels of the release of the DB11, the follow-up to the stalwart DB9 coupe, we have an exclusive preview into a secret project that Aston Martin has been working on for the last three months: it is aiming to build the fastest hypercar in the world.
To do it, Aston has managed a historic and secret partnership with Red Bull and its Formula 1 team. For starters, the Aston Martin logo will be carried on the nose of the Red Bull Racing F1 car for the entirety of the 2016 season. But the real prize of this partnership is the hypercar, which is scheduled to come out sometime in 2018 and is being created with F1 race engineer and design demigod Adrian Newey. (Think of him as the racing world’s Professor X from X-Men, a master overseer. Where he goes, teams win.) This is a historic partnership and a major win for Aston.
As one of the very few independent carmakers still alive, we’ve had reason to worry about the future of the boutique British company. It’s hard for an indie high-end automaker to make a living these days.
Well, boom. Aston Martin isn’t just looking to survive, but to dominate.
Red Bull’s RB12 F1 car will feature the Aston Martin badge this season. (Aston Martin)
We always hear manufacturers saying that they are making a “racecar for the road,” but Aston is actually talking about a Formula 1-worthy car that is fully street-legal. Or even better, a car with F1-like abilities, without being hampered by the severe technological restrictions of the sport.
Officially, Aston Martin’s CEO Andy Palmer says the car, now codenamed Project AM-RB 001 (a mashup of the company names), will be “about spectacular beauty, aerodynamic efficiency, advanced technology and getting around a race track in a fast but elegant way.” Talk to Aston Martin personnel privately, though, and they say they are gunning for the fastest car, period — potentially encompassing both 0 to 60 and overall top speed. They’re even entertaining the idea of outdoing the new Bugatti Chiron, which will be electronically limited to 261 mph on the street. The hopes are for a road-legal car that could shatter that Nürburgring lap record.
Contracts with Red Bull for the audacious undertaking were only recently completed, and will see Newey serving as the technical director while styling will be performed by Aston Martin’s chief creative officer, Marek Reichman. Aston’s bespoke customization department, Q, will be responsible for making the car road-legal.
Currently the AM-RB 001 — also known as “Project Nebula” — exists only in the virtual world: it’s been designed using computer simulations and software which are a fixture in the fast-moving world of F1, where cars are redesigned every season.
The glyphic rendering provided by the company is pretty inscrutable. The left-hand bubble is the front wheel well and the top bubble the cockpit. The rest of the swoopy lines are the rear of the car (and would obviously suggest a mid-engine design). Squint at it and, well… we should be shown a physical model sometime this year, Aston says.
This is a huge leap for Aston. It has long had some of the most beautiful cars, but as an independent company without a massive R&D budget or the economies of scale enjoyed by companies like Volkswagen Group — which owns Porsche, Audi, Bugatti, and Lamborghini — technology has been a recurring issue. A recent partnership with Mercedes-AMG has given Aston new transmissions, electronics, and turbocharged engines, but AMG will not be involved in this project.
Aston Martin’s last hypercar, the Vulcan, just recently started shipping to customers. (Aston Martin)
Rather, the hypercar will be a synthesis between Aston, Red Bull Technologies, and Red Bull Racing, which has won four overall F1 championships since 2010. Newey is Red Bull’s chief technical officer and the most winning F1 designer of all time, taking ten Constructors’ Championships in his career. The Englishman is a designer with a super-keen understanding of aerodynamics who has worked with Williams F1 and McLaren before moving to Red Bull in 2006. He’s even designed an F1 prototype for the Gran Turismo video game series.
Newey says he’s always wanted to work on a supercar, and this is his chance. “[The idea] has always bubbled away, resulting in sketches and doodles over the years.”
Representatives say the car will feature aerodynamic lessons from F1 with the design language of an Aston. One might expect some cues from pricey, limited-edition Aston Martins like the One-77 and the racetrack-only Vulcan, but we also think that Nebula is likely to push well beyond those cars.
THIS MIGHT CHANGE THE WAY HYPERCARS ARE MADEAs for powertrain, we can only guess, but one would fully expect a hybridized powertrain that follows along the lines of the LaFerrari, McLaren P1, and Porsche 918. A KERS system, which is a racing technology that temporarily stores extra power in a flywheel and gives an extra burst of speed on demand, also seems likely.
Either way, the Aston-Red Bull car will be expensive and rare. And it may very well change the space race among hypercar makers like Bugatti and Koenigsegg — not to mention the other players with F1 experience, namely Ferrari and McLaren.
If there’s a single all-out masterpiece of automotive engineering to look forward to over the next couple years, this may be the one.