TWENTY-FIVE years after the McLaren F1 reinvented the supercar, so another British sports car maker is set to do it again. As with the McLaren, the new Valkyrie uses cuttingedge Formula One technology to elevate speed and driver appeal. This time, though, it’s an Aston Martin that’s tearing up the template.
Aston Martin has never had a reputation for technical ingenuity. In fact, for a big chunk of its history, it’s been something of a laggard. Those meaty V8 Vantages of the ’90s, for instance, had the engineering sophistication of an old-school American muscle car, whose lantern-jawed styling they also mirrored. They also revelled in their olde-worlde heritage, from hand-wrought construction to Bentley Blower-style tally-ho supercharging.
However, the time warp maker has gone high-tech, and the new Valkyrie is being built to showcase the seismic shift. Plus, CEO Andy Palmer wants to expand Aston Martin’s range of super-sports cars, and a mid-engine Ferrari 488 rival forms part of the plan. As Palmer told MOTOR recently in an interview, the Valkyrie helps to ‘legitimise’ Aston Martin as a serious maker of mid-engine sports cars. “It is an important area of the luxury-car market where we have no track record,” he says.
Yet the most important factor in the Valkyrie’s gestation was Palmer’s close relationship with Red Bull Racing and with its chief technical officer, Adrian Newey. Newey had long wanted to design a road car.
“I’ve been wanting to do something like this for years,” Newey tells me. “Sometimes when I had a few idle moments I would doodle some ideas and throw them in a box where they have slowly gathered dust over the years. In 2015 I thought it was time to do something with them so I agreed with Christian Horner [Red Bull Racing team principal] that I would start work part time on such a project.”
“We assembled a very small team, a chief designer, an aerodynamicist and a surface designer to start work on it from a mechanical package and aero shape point of view. We worked through the autumn of 2015 and then started discussions into what we do next. Do we find a private investor to partner with or do we approach a car company? In the end both Christian and I thought it best to partner a carmaker. They know all about things like distribution, sales, servicing, emissions regulations and door seals – all the areas in which we have no experience.”
“Aston Martin was clearly the favourite, only half an hour or so drive away and clearly a very appropriate company. That was an easy choice and we already knew Andy Palmer, Aston Martin’s CEO, which made it a very simple deal.”
Red Bull and Aston Martin got talking, as did Newey and Aston design boss Marek Reichman. The upshot is the Valkyrie, which will be the fastest and most advanced supercar – or hypercar – in history. The high-speed tech is mostly Red Bull’s and Newey’s, the top-hat design is by Aston Martin.
The difficult jobs of developing, manufacturing, styling and servicing the car were Aston’s responsibility. It would wear an Aston Martin badge, after all.
There are numerous parallels with the McLaren F1, and the single biggest advance in high-speed sports cars to date. Just as the Valkyrie is the brainchild of Newey, the most successful F1 designer in history, so the McLaren was the creation of Gordon Murray, the most successful F1 technical brain of his time. In 1988, Murray’s MP4/4 had just finished winning 15 of the 16 Grand Prix in the hands of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. Like Newey, Murray wanted another challenge.
Murray was dismissive of contemporary supercars. Newey today is similarly uncomplimentary. He describes the current ‘state of the art’ hypercars – the McLaren P1, LaFerrari and Porsche 918 Spyder – as ‘big, clumsy and heavy’. And it’s not just supercars. It’s the way the car industry has gone, from old Mini to new Mini, from old Ford GT40 to the newer Ford GT. “I wanted to avoid this and keep the car compact. I wanted, in effect, a two-seat F1 car in its underlying architecture.”
“As with Murray and his McLaren, he told me he also wanted a car of ‘two characters’. It will have a new level of performance on road or track compared with any other road car. At the same time, it’s comfortable if you’re stuck in traffic or cruising the motorway.”
The objectives were bold, to say the least. The most ambitious was a desire to produce a car with one horsepower for every kilo of weight – for some years now a hypercar Holy Grail.
The McLaren F1 was just over 55 per cent as efficient, 627hp (468kW) and 1140kg. The 25-year newer LaFerrari, is no better.
The Valkyrie, if you believe Aston Martin, will be the fastest road car ever. In track guise (on slicks) it aims to match the lap times of an F1 car.
Final specifications of the car are still being finalised – first deliveries are still a year away – but the power output is likely to be between 1050 and 1100hp (780-820kW), and weight between 1050 and 1100kg. Newey says they were hoping for 1000kg, but won’t quite achieve it. (So was Murray with the F1: he said it was the only metric he failed to deliver.)
Naturally the car has a carbon-fibre monocoque, bodywork and suspension, made using F1-standard materials and construction. The all-new engine is a bespoke naturally aspirated 6.5-litre V12 from Cosworth. There is yet to be confirmation of the engine’s redline, but it will be way north of 10,000rpm.
“The engine had to be bespoke,” Newey says. “We spent a lot of time looking at the obvious alternatives to a naturally aspirated V12 or a turbo V6 or V8. We came to the conclusion that from a technical standpoint a V12 was the best solution because although the engine itself is heavier, it is actually a much easier package to install. You haven’t got the turbos and the charge coolers to clutter up the back end of the car. It’s a naturally very well balanced engine that means it can become a fully stressed member without putting excessive vibration into the chassis structure.”
“I was concerned that if we mounted a V6 or V8 the vibration would be excessive and make it unpleasant from both a comfort and noise point of view in the cabin. When it comes to the acoustics, which is important, a V12 with a 12-into-1 exhaust system – which this car has – is a much more exciting sound than a turbocharged V6 or V8 will ever make.”
“To get that much power, the naturally aspirated engine needs to rev very high”, notes Aston Martin engineering chief David King.
“To compensate, we’re also using electric hybrid power for extra low-speed torque.” This also happily inflates total power.
A CASE OF designer vs engineer, Reichman’s belief in beauty went up against Newey’s pursuit of purity
ASTON MARTIN couldn’t quite get it below 1000kg, so it upped the power instead
THE CABIN is high tech with screens replacing mirrors and all the vital instruments located on the wheel
A 6.5-LITRE ATMO V12 sends around 820kW to the rears only – resulting in sub 3.0sec 0-100km/h. There’s also a petite hybrid system
“Only a small proportion of the power comes from the electric motor, sited within the powertrain. Any more, and the lithiumion battery pack would be too heavy,” says King. The electric motor will help with pullaway from a standing start – so the clutch doesn’t get stressed – and will help smooth out gearshifts. It will also offer reverse gear.
The gearbox is a Newey-designed single-clutch sequential ’box, engineered and built by Ricardo. It has seven ratios and shifts are by F1-style paddles. The transmission drives the rear wheels and is very compact to allow plenty of room for the big underbody venturi tunnels, crucial for good aero.
The underbody is astonishing. Kneel down low to look through the nose and it’s like peering at an F1 car close up – high nose, big front wing hovering above the tarmac and wide aero tunnels channelling air through the car’s smooth underside. From the rear, it’s even more amazing. There are two vast underbody venturi tunnels incorporating a rear diffuser with mechanicals suspended from a smoothsurfaced pod in the middle. It’s an F1 car with a slither of a sports car body. It’s low, small and very sleek.
The canopy looks more like a fighter jet’s than a sports car greenhouse. It’s small and narrow, and so is the cockpit. Reichman ushers me behind the wheel. The doors are gullwing and the door opening apertures are small. Although vaulting the high carbon sill does take some athleticism, it’s easy to get comfortable on the exiguous seat (all owners, naturally, get bespoke fittings). There is a choice of left- or right-hand drive.
You sit very near the car’s centre-line and very close to your passenger alongside. There is decent fore/aft room, though. Reichman is 193cm tall and fits in just fine. You sit angled two degrees inwards. You’re aware of the feet-up driving position, necessary as air gushes under your feet to work the underbody aero magic.
The vast single wiper lies upright in the middle of the wraparound windscreen. The interior is minimalist, stark and efficient. It has some creature comforts, but little decoration. Air-con will be essential. The windows don’t open.
Of the 150 cars to be built, at approximately £2.5 million each (AUD$4.5M estimated), King expects about 50 per cent of owners to ‘wrap them in cotton wool’, and the other half to use their cars regularly, including track days.
In many ways, the Valkyrie is more advanced than an F1 car. It has active aerodynamics and active suspension including variable ride height. “These are all the things Adrian would love to do on an F1 car, but can’t,” says King.
“It’s Adrian’s vision we are trying to deliver,” adds King. “We need to get as close to this as we can without doing the impossible. Adrian has pushed us to places we couldn’t have gone otherwise and that will benefit us in the future.”
Reichman admits the relationship with perfectionist Newey has been difficult at times. Newey wanted to preserve the car’s performance, Reichman wanted to make it look beautiful, and like an Aston Martin should. “We both learnt along the way. For example, Adrian didn’t want number plates – it’ll screw up the frontal area and the aero, he thought. ‘Adrian,’ I said, It’s a road car. It’s a legal requirement.” And guess what? That front number plate plinth actually improved downforce.
“Adrian is so dedicated to his ideas. But by the same measure, I didn’t want this car to look like an LMP1 car that was a slave to aero. It had to have an Aston Martin aesthetic. But we have achieved function and beauty together. And that’s what’s so important about this car.”
He describes the new look, as “agile, lithe, elemental and with a unique Aston Martin form language, and a real bloodline from the Valkyrie. It’ll be a lighter and more efficient supercar.” So the Valkyrie may well transform the supercar, just as the McLaren F1 did. It will also influence a whole new generation of Aston Martins.
ASTON MARTIN revealed a track-only version of its Valkyrie hypercar at the Geneva Motor Show, showing off what Adrian Newey would do without pesky laws getting in his way. Details of the ‘AMR Pro’ remain scant, but Aston says it’s stripped out anything non-essential to reach a 1000kg kerb weight, and it will produce more than this in downforce thanks to aero tweaks like larger front and rear wings. Deliveries will commence 2020.