AMG boss talks about his F1-inspired hypercar

2020 can't arrive soon enough
by Charlie Turner | Oct 13, 2018
PHOTO: Wilson Hennessy
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The car formerly known as the Mercedes-AMG Project One—now just ‘One’—is on track for a 2020 debut. It’s AMG’s take on a road-legal hypercar with an engine pinched from Lewis Hamilton’s weekend racer.

Which means more than 1,000hp, 0–200kph in under six seconds, and a top speed of 350kph. It’s the very pinnacle of modern AMG…but just what is modern AMG?

At the 2018 Paris Motor Show, TG sat down with AMG boss Tobias Moers to talk about this car and the future of the brand.

How much time are you personally spending on the One?

A little bit more than expected. I try to be in the UK every week (the One is being engineered and tested in Britain).

You said recently that the project was back on track. Does that mean there was a delay?

We have a delay. It’s not a secret—I talk openly about that with our customers, and with you. There were some adjustments to be made on the powertrain.

Talk to me about the challenges.

You know, there are various challenges. Many, many diverse things that we have to adjust and get an understanding of, together with HPP (Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains). What would be the next step? What is the improvement? If we do a change in that perspective, what is the outcome? Things like that.

It strikes me that engineering a Formula 1 drivetrain into a road car comes with a multitude of challenges. F1 engines idle at 5,000rpm; they generate a huge amount of heat and are designed to run with vast airflow…

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Heat is not the problem. The heat is not high. Getting a stable idle at 1,200rpm, that’s challenging.

To give you a simple example: You have leakage in the throttles in Formula 1 and nobody cares, because it runs at a 5,000rpm idle. At a 1,200rpm idle, you have to meet the emissions regulations. You need a stable, proper idle. If it’s unstable, your emissions are unstable.

Clearly, there’s a lot of work to retro-engineer the drivetrain to work for this purpose? Did you think it’d be as difficult as it is proving to be?

My expectation was that we were going to have a time when we have some major issues and we have to solve them. Could it be more efficient to solve them? Yeah, sometimes.

But you’re confident you can deliver?

We promised. We are going to deliver.

You need a great alignment between HPP and AMG, so we do now have a team together working with HPP on the program. We get additional help from outside as well. So, we’re back on track. I’m confident, but we lost maybe nine months or so.

It took a while to get back on track, but we are open with our customers. We just had the discussion with them.

So, they accept the nine-month delay to get this car?

You know what they tell me? “Make sure that the car works. Because of what we experienced in the past with hybrid cars, take your time.”

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AMGs have a very specific DNA, so how does an F1-engined hypercar become a true AMG product?

It’s the driving behavior of the car. It’s an overall package. Formula 1 has its own identity. And the cool thing is, when you drive the car—which I did—it sounds like a Formula 1 car.

It’s unbelievable. You don’t hear it really well inside if you wear the helmet, but it sounds like an F1 car. It’s unbelievable.

What does it sound like at idle?

BAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRR!

That noise has given you some problems in terms of where you can actually test it, hasn’t it—because of noise limits in certain test areas? Where are you testing it now?

I am not going to tell you.

But you were testing at Millbrook.

Yeah. We have done Millbrook.

And has it done road tests as well?

No, we are not on the road yet. We have a hub in Millbrook where we work on calibration, gearbox, everything you know. It’s not easy to get a hybrid F1 engine and a totally new gearbox with the new software engaged, but we’ve made good improvements. It’s drivable. You can run it on pure electric. You can run it combined. It works.

We are not on the final power output yet. We used to run it with 40%, and we moved up to 60%. Now we run it with 80-85%. We see room for improvement. We are doing a great job on the HPP dyno.

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So, you can do all of that at HPP, and you’re also doing a lot in the virtual world, in simulators, aren’t you?

Absolutely. We are now running the installation on the simulator at AMG. The most sophisticated simulator you can get.

Is it the same as the F1 simulator?

No. That’s too specific. The system we have at AMG is, I think, one of the most sophisticated tools you can use right now. We’re going to use that simulator in other programs as well in the future. It’s not just dedicated for Project One.

And will your owners get access to that simulator, to help them prepare for the extreme performance of the One?

Yeah, but you have to be extremely stable [pats stomach] for it. My first time in it after Breidscheid (on the Nürburgring), I was so sick! I managed to get through the lap because you have to.

As the boss of AMG, you can’t be sick in the simulator.

Yeah, you can be! It’s not a problem. But, now I’m used to it and it works…

Clearly, the One is going to deliver an extreme driving experience—how are you going to prepare your owners for it?

Everybody asks me that. It’s not a problem. You press the button, it starts. You can drive it easily. You can start with electric driving, then the combustion engine kicks in. That works. You can run the car easily and—though you might not like to do it—you can run it easily in the city. Stop and go, everything.

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How big is the team that’s working on the car?

We don’t normally talk about that, but we work on both sides of the channel. So at HPP, there’s about 100, and then in the overall program, maybe a little bit more than 200.

The car is being developed in the UK, so who’s test driving? Obviously, you’re involved in the test driving of it.

Yeah. It’s my guys.

Will the F1 drivers be involved?

Yes, but they are really busy. They will be soon, but it’s too early for these guys. We need to be at the next level.

The next level…can you tell us what the timeline is going forward?

At the moment, you’ve seen shots of it at Millbrook. And now it’s going to be testing somewhere else [smiles]. We do have a timeline and we’re going to agree with the customers that we have the first car at the end or middle of 2020.

There’s an awful lot of work to be done between now and then. For a project of this scale, what are the next key benchmarks you want to hit? Running the engine at 100%, for example?

Yeah, that’s a next step. We have cars running on the test track. We have to get some improvement on the calibration—it’s still rough shifting. The more you move up the power output, the more you have to take care about shifting and shift times. Things like that. In other words, there’s a lot to do.

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Emissions is the biggest task. You have to make sure that you are compliant with emissions standards in every perspective (pure electric and hybrid). It might be more complicated than in the past as well. And you know the demand of authorities to prove everything is today much harder than when we signed [the project] off.

Do you know what the F1 car emits?

No [smiles], but it’s really good at 11,000rpm. The F1 car revs to 14,000rpm, but at 11,000 (the One’s reduced, but it’s still an insane redline), it’s really good. The engine is unbelievably efficient.

Let’s talk about fueling. The F1 car uses very specific fuel, and the One will have to run on pump gas. I know how carefully the F1 teams manage the extraction of race fuel to help preserve the engines. Does that present a particular challenge?

Yeah. It’s a different fuel. But it’s not a problem.

But the engine is lifed for 50,000km…

And then it’s kind of a rebuild, but who’s going to get there? Not that many.

Can I offer my services as a high-mileage test driver?

We’ll come back to that.

Moving on from the powertrain, can we talk about aero—is that challenging?

Nothing that gives me a headache, to be honest. It’s not simple, but we have active (aero) features. We have to take care of our cooling as well. So, we have shutters and things like that in place. You know, with aerodynamics, we are at the borderline of how much we can stress the tires.

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What is it developing in terms of downforce?

I’m not talking about the numbers, but we have a maximum speed of 350kph, and we have a downforce level and we stretch the tires really until their end.

You’re working with Michelin on the tires, but given the length of the project and the advances in tire technology between now and the delivery of the cars, there must be huge development potential in that area alone…

I don’t know where it’s going to end; I don’t know how many loops we’re going to make for that. They’re a really great company and they’re really dedicated to the program. But you have to consider tire loads, max speed, downforce level, the car’s weight, then legislation for street-legal tires, wet performance…you have to meet that standard and there’s a conflict of targets. Wet performance is not good for dry performance.

I think we’re going to have to offer slick tires as an option.

How often are you meeting with the customers?

I just met them. We had an event in Munich in line with Oktoberfest. There were 30 customers coming from everywhere on the planet. It’s a great community and they enjoy being part of that community. It’s a very unique band of people.

In terms of driving ability, you are engineering a car that will deliver unbelievable performance levels, so you need to be a very high level driver?

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If you want to take it on the track, yes. Because you have to identify the point where downforce is important.

So it is a downforce car, a commitment car?

This is the point where we have to teach the drivers. When they would like to be on the track, what is the downforce? How can you feel the downforce and what is achievable with downforce? Because you could drive a car without downforce. It goes sideways. When you do that, it’s not going to end in a good way.

So, it’s not an AMG that drifts?

[Laughs] Well, I experienced it in the simulator. When it drifts, it’s not easy.

Have you had to readjust your driving perceptions and your definition of fast?

Yes, a little. It feels like a GT3 full-powered on the Nordschleife in fast-forward. Compared with the GT R, it’s like it is in fast-forward.

As a brand whose DNA is rooted in performance, do you think the One marks the end of an era?

I don’t think so. There will always be a solution for more power. I had a great conversation with Stéphane Ratel about the new luxury in the future of sports cars, and what that is. Maybe a pure combustion driven sports car—not necessary naturally aspirated, so this is maybe the difference, but perhaps that’s an interpretation of new luxury in 2025.

But this (the One) is not the last one.

You now work with all Mercedes products, and you’ve managed to migrate to turbocharging while keeping the drama and soul that we’ve come to expect from an AMG product in a way that very few else have. So what is your future vision for the brand?

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The auto industry is getting more diverse. You’re going to have combustion. You’re going to have hybrid long-range EVs. Performance EVs because that’s a different battery. It’s getting more diverse. And so are we as well. So, we are going to have hybrid performance powertrains.

Sooner or later everybody asks me, “Are you going to have a BEV (battery electric vehicle)?” And I say yes, because I don’t know any other options for the future.

Do you see a way in that what you’re doing with the One trickles down into other vehicles?

Everything we learned with the SLS Electric Drive is in the One. It’s still alive. We use all that knowledge. For example, IVC [Integrated Vehicle Control]: It’s in the GT R, the four-door GT, in the new C63. So, everything was born in the SLS Electric Drive. We’re going to use it in standard cars, so to speak. We use it in the One. It’s all about software and functionalities. And we’re not bad at doing that, we’re going to use that in future projects as well. Electrified turbochargers…

It’s an 80kW electric unit in the One. We’re not going to use 80kW for the standard portfolio, but this technology is something that we’re going to see in our future portfolio for sure.

Do you get excited about EVs? Indeed, can you get excited about them?

Yes. They’re not great when running on a racetrack. But for your everyday situation, if you have 20-30km to get to the office from home and you have access to a charging point, what’s wrong with it?

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You know, I don’t like to be reduced or to reduce AMG to just the engine and the sound. That’s the past. I know it’s important, and it’s still important. But AMG moves forward. We change. Back in the day, AMG was good for big engines in a sedan. Outstanding straight line performance, but a little bit scary in the corners. This is the past. So, AMG is more holistic.

That’s what I would like to see in the brand. We have to teach everybody that we are there. But, I think we are there. And our competitors have changed too.

In terms of EVs, hybrids, future technology...how do you see the model portfolio changing to deliver them? Are you going to have different sub brands within AMG?

No, because that’s too confusing. I strictly believe in one brand—the overall portfolio for AMG in the future.

Thanks for your time!

NOTE: This article first appeared on TopGear.com. Minor edits have been made.

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