Despite their historically poor results this season, the mad scientists at the McLaren Honda Formula One racing have been busily imagining the future of F1 racing with a space-age concept car. (You may recall that Ferrari had some ideas of its own about what that future could look like.)
“With the futuristic McLaren MP4-X concept race car, we wanted to peer into the future and imagine the art of the possible,” said John Allert, McLaren Technology Group brand director.
“We have combined a number of F1’s key ingredients – speed, excitement and performance, with the sport’s emerging narratives - such as enclosed cockpits to enhance driver safety, and hybrid power technologies.”
“Formula 1 is the ultimate gladiatorial sport, and the future we envisage will be a high tech, high performance showcase that excites fans like no other sport.”
Because of the heavy weight of batteries and the limited energy they provide, McLaren proposes that cars like the MP4-X could be wirelessly recharged using inductive chargers built into race tracks. It also wants to top the car with solar cells for an added boost.
Predictably rainy conditions at the Belgian Grand Prix would mean teams couldn't count on a jolt from the sun, but even at blazing Persian Gulf venues like Bahrain and Abu Dhabi wouldn't provide a meaningful amount of power to a 200-mph race car, so the solar cells are just for show.
The 2015 deaths of Formula One driver Jules Bianchi and IndyCar driver Justin Wilson from head injuries has renewed efforts to protect drivers with canopies over open cockpits. The challenge is to find a design that wouldn't trap the driver inside if the car flips upside down. McLaren proposes an active tinting system that lets the driver darken the glass at sunny summer races and lighten it when clouds gather.
"I was one of many drivers who said, 'This is open-cockpit racing, it should stay as open-cockpit racing,' but I think we've had enough now" noted McLaren driver Jensen Button. "We've got to get a canopy on the car of some sort, because we can't have these kinds of accidents happening as much as they have over the last few years. It is not the 1970s anymore. We should know better."
An area that seems likely because of its commercial potential is the possibility of active sign boards on the cars that would show personalized advertisements on the car, much as web browser cookies present targeted ads on your web browser.
This is particularly logical considering that Formula One is a global sport, but many sponsoring brands are regional, leaving viewers watching brands they can't even buy. "Since when have the consumer demands of the fan in Lithuania and the fan in Lubbock, Texas, been similar?" asked Rob Bloom, group head of digital and social media for McLaren's marketing group.
Guess we'll have to wait until the future to find out.