Production at Aston Martin stopped yesterday, as 1,500 workers downed tools and watched as one of the U.K.’s most dramatic new-car launches ever played out before them. It was the first time Aston Martin unveiled a new car in its factory to its workers.
But then this was a pretty special new car. The clues came thick and fast: the noisy arrival of Daniel Ricciardo in his Red Bull Racing Formula 1 car – after a few donuts in the car park. Red Bull team principal Christian Horner alongside Aston’s chief Andy Palmer and chief creative officer Marek Reichman on the VIP platform. Host of the show? Ex F1 ace Martin Brundle.
“The car is eye-watering. I am sure Ron Dennis (of McLaren) is spitting his coffee out right now.”
All eyes however were on another VIP guest – the one without whom the whole launch wouldn’t have been possible. Adrian Newey, Red Bull Racing’s technical supremo, is F1’s most successful designer with a record 10 World Championship-winning F1 cars under his belt. And now he’s designed a hypercar, fulfilling the road-car dream he has had since he was six. Echoes of Gordon Murray and the McLaren F1 of 20 years ago? You bet!
It was quite an occasion, for the press as well as all the workers. One employee confided: “We didn’t know what to expect. We hadn’t even seen the car before it was unveiled.”
And the verdict when the covers came off AM-RB 001? Seriously beautiful – and surprisingly compact – seemed to be the consensus. Red Bull’s Christian Horner summed it up, “The car is eye-watering. I am sure Ron Dennis (of McLaren) is spitting his coffee out right now.”
We know a little about the car already: it is a joint project between Red Bull and Aston Martin, designed by Newey and Reichman to bring F1 levels of performance to a road-legal car for the first time. Think we had seen the ultimate hypercars with the McLaren P1, LaFerrari, and Porsche 918 Spyder? This car aims to be a level above them.
Aston boss Palmer says he has 370 “clear requests from people to be on the list for the car.”
The unveiling gave us a chance to fill in plenty of gaps on the car, as well as see something in the flesh that previously had existed only as a surreal squiggle in a teaser image. And it is a stunning piece of work, with body architecture unlike that of any other road car. Apart from being sculpturally pleasing, it is aerodynamically off the clock, with a full ground-effects chassis. With the front end’s Aston “moustache” and floating aluminium extrusion over the roof, just like the DB11, it even looks like an Aston.
AM-RB 001 had its genesis over sausages and mash in a pub in Woburn, U.K., when Andy Palmer had a meeting with his old mate (from Infiniti days) Christian Horner, and all as recently as January 2015. Eighteen months on, here’s the very latest info on what promises to be one of the most extraordinary cars ever launched.
Has the car got a name?
AM-RB 001 is the concept’s codename, but for production it will be badged Aston Martin and have a name… starting with a V. There are five or six contenders on the list, according to an insider.
How much does it cost?
In U.K. terms the estimate is between £2-3 million ($2.6M-$3.9M). There are going to be between 99 and 150 road cars and 25 track-only versions. If you want one you’d better be quick: Aston boss Palmer says he has 370 “clear requests from people to be on the list for the car.” First deliveries are expected early 2019 (not 2018 as Aston stated earlier).
How much power does it have?
The car is powered by a V12 of unknown capacity, and built by an outside supplier. There are no turbos – because, says Palmer, naturally aspirated V12s sound better. Aston says the car will have one horsepower for every kilogram of weight and since the target weight is 1000 kg we can confidently expect between 900-1000 hp. The company is not being specific, but there will be an element of hybridisation about it – with a form of KERS (kinetic energy recovery system) aboard.
How fast is it?
As we’ve said, the car has been billed as an F1 car for the road. But there has already been some backtracking on that. The official line now is that the track versions, on slicks, will match the pace of an LMP1 sports prototype on a circuit. It is, however, unlikely to get close to the Bugatti Chiron’s 260-mph-plus top speed. Says Newey: “Top speed is not the difficult bit. It is not top speed we have chased. It is driving enjoyment. Having the quickest car possible is a different challenge. This car is also for the urban environment.”
How much of a road car is it?
The official line is that it has been “engineered to be entirely useable and enjoyable as a road car.” Newey says it will have infotainment and air-conditioning and “be a proper road car… to potter to the shops and back if you want. You don’t have to psyche yourself up to drive it. If we had provided an LMP1 car for the road with all of its discomfort we would have failed.”
It’s so small, how can anyone get in?
“Cars have become big and clumsy,” says Newey. “We haven’t gone in the direction of one or two of its rivals. The P1 and LaFerrari are one a half times its weight. Light and small cars are more involving to drive. Making a car big is because you haven’t made the effort to make it small.” Newey adds, “Sat-nav doesn’t tell you when you have a narrow road coming up…”
So how big is it? According to Marek Reichman, it’s a little longer than a V8 Vantage, slightly narrower, and a lot lower. At 39.5 inches it’s actually lower than the Ford GT40 that sits in Adrian Newey’s garage, alongside a McLaren F1.
Is there any room inside; where do your legs go?
“It’s a bit of a Tardis (Dr Who’s time machine) inside,” says Newey. There are two seats side by side, and your legs go up in the manner of an F1 or LMP1 car: your ankles are higher than your hips. “Marek Reichmann is six-feet, four-inches and he’s comfortable in it,” says Newey. “I have to be honest though and say that luggage space isn’t huge. Just one overnight bag.”
When do the ground effects start to work?
Newey says it is correct to call this the first ground effects road car. He should know. Apart from 30 years of F1 experience he has his final year project at university to call on: in 1980 his thesis was on a ground-effect road car. He admits though the new car doesn’t look much like it.
But aren’t ground effects just for the track? “There is no particular speed they will start to work but they will become significant around 60 mph.” So, relevant for road use then.
Where will the car prove itself?
With no race category for the car the obvious place to “set a time” is the Nürburgring, but Newey is not keen: “Personally I am not particularly interested in the Nürburgring because no proper cars (he means racing cars) cars have been around it.
“There is no race category for it at the moment but things can change.” He says he fancies a modern-day equivalent of the BMW M1 Procar series from 1979.
What identifies it as an Aston Martin?
Marek Reichman says you can take the badges off the car and people will still pick it as an Aston; he may well be right. How has he achieved it? He says the important elements are the Aston “moustache” at the front, the lines up the bonnet, the side strake (derived from the DP100 concept), the surface language and the height and flow of the fenders. And, most of all he says, the overall proportions. ”These are all things that say Aston Martin.”
And where does the license plate go? “A plate on the front is going to spoil it a bit, but you know what, it’s a £60 fine and a couple of points on your license.”
Are there more mid-engined Astons coming?
That seems to be the message. There hasn’t been one so far, not at least one that made production, though the current V8 Vantage was originally intended to be mid-engined before the then-management reverted to a front-engine layout. But Andy Palmer says AM-RB 001 ”inevitably” puts Aston in a mid-engined frame of mind, and that the technology from the car will trickle down to future models.
And what would Adrian Newey like to do next?
Maybe design a city car in the tire tracks of F1 ace turned supercar creator Gordon Murray? “I enjoy design and engineering and would like to look at other areas in the future. But at the moment I have my work cut out with this. Wait and see what comes along. This in many ways is the easier car for me to do because it’s relatively closer to race car technology.”