Hello there! Long time no see, right? Long I've waited for the perfect occasion to return with my rambling reviews and abysmal laptimes. And such occasion presents itself this week, with the choice to feature Forza Horizon 5's hero car: the Mercedes-AMG One
It would be an understatement to say that Mercedes-Benz's been in the automaking business for a while: the first car in history to be powered by an internal combustion engine came out of the Benz & Cie
's original factory in Mannheim, and the group that would be born in 1926 from the merger of that company with the other colossus of the start-of-the-century car world, Daimler, would claim countless other firsts as its own.
And yet, despite over a century of constant innovation and pursuit of excellence in all things car - including, of course, motorsports - Mercedes-Benz had never produced a proper supercar
, a shining example of technical superiority constrained only by the limits of the prowess of their engineers. Oh, sure, there's been brief flirts with the idea, like the long-forgotten SL-X, the string of prototypes built under the C111 moniker, and the CW311 concept car, which would eventually become the Isdera Imperator. There's been abortive attempts, like the 1991 C112, which was canned at the last minute because some bean counter deemed it an unnecessary expense. There's even been cars that were put into production and came incredibly close to fitting the bill, like the CLK GTR and the SLR built in collaboration with McLaren: but the former was a thoroughly conventional mid-engined GT car constrained by the FIA GT1 rulebook, and the latter, as loaded with advanced technological solutions as it may have been, was ultimately "just" a gran tourer, a boulevard cruiser that could flex its muscles, but didn't push the envelope and didn't break any rule - or at the very least, none that was particularly important.
But in 2017 Mercedes shocked the world by unveiling the Project ONE: an attempt to show how the technology they were developing for Formula 1 racing was still relevant to road cars, by dropping the entire powertrain from the W07 Hybrid
that dominated the 2016 season, heat and kinetic scavengers and all, in a street-legal hypercar designed and assembled by the same people responsible for the longest dominating streak in the history of GP racing. It'd take another four years to iron out the kinks in the plan (and wait for the engine to be sufficiently
obsolescent in the FIA's opinion), but in 2021 Mercedes finally took the wraps off the finished product, which was virtually unchanged from its pre-production predecessors, save for a reported gain of 200 horses in power (which ultimately the manufacturer can't neither confirm nor deny, because just figuring out how much power all the various engines in the car push out at peak power is a bit of a challenge). The 275 owners will finally take delivery of the AMG ONE - Mercedes' first true supercar - starting this year.
2021 also saw the surprise launch of Forza Horizon 5 - and even more surprising, the Project ONE not only features prominently on the cover of the game, but is also dropped off the back of an Airbus A400M to close off the bombastic intro sequence.
At the heart of the car is the aforementioned twin-turbo, 1.6 litre PU106C
V6 that powered the W07 Hybrid F1 car to 19 victories in a 21-race season. In the ONE it's been restrained a bit, with a 11,000 rpm rev limit, the replacement of some components with longer-lived alternatives and less aggressive mapping; it's also been hooked up to a 7-gears, single-clutch automated gearbox, that perhaps won't allow for the same lightning-quick gearshifts as its F1 counterpart, but will also not burn the clutch and/or disintegrate in traffic.
The MGU-H and MGU-K still remain, tho, and they've been joined by two additional e-motors turning the front wheels, which neatly compensate the overall power loss that comes from taming of the PU into something that'll last 50,000 kilometres, and should also make the now-AWD car a bit more manageable for the 272 owners whose name isn't Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg or David Coulthard.
Adding two additional motors (and the 800V LiON battery that powers them) comes at a cost, however: despite the fact that it's built entirely out of carbon fiber, and the very little concessions made to luxury in its spartan cockpit, the AMG ONE tips the scales at almost 1700 kilograms - which is the kind of heft one would expect from Mercedes' usual production of sedans and SUVs, but not from a world-beating supercar.
Of course, with a combined power output of over 1000 hp, half of which is available "on tap", the considerable weight of the car won't spoil its Top Trumps figures too much - the ONE sprints to 100 from a standstill in 2.9 seconds, which is almost as fast as the tires will allow. But what about its handling?
I assume that only a lucky few will ever find out, but at least we can put to the test its virtual counterpart. And the venue of this week's challenge will indeed test the handling of this 2.75-million Formula 1 for the streets: Bola Ocho
is deceptively challenging, a wicked combination of tight and sweeping corners in between the walls of Guanajuato that would surely remind the most senior locals of the grand old days of the Carrera Panamericana, and that's perhaps better suited to rally cars than multi-million hyperperformance track beasts.
Driving a supercar through here always feels like handling a shopping trolley in a china shop, and in the case of the ONE I'm almost left to wonder if perhaps the the F1-inspired wheel, with its buttons and dials, is not fully connected to the front wheels: more than once I've been surprised by how slow
the car was to change its direction, and the walls and barriers around the track felt much closer than they actually were.
The extra weight from the hybrid powerplant is only partly to blame: AMG's latest is without a doubt a car optimized for grade-1 racing circuits, where the Michelin tires can warm up to their optimum working temperature, and the massive rear wing can generate tons of downforce: but none of that's ever going to happen in the tight confines of this street circuit, and thus the ONE's left to struggle for lateral grip.
It must however be said that, while it felt almost sluggish at times, the ONE always remained incredibly composed. It's a German accountant's idea of a supercar, a vehicle that's capable of immense performance in its intended use case, and of remaining subordinate to the will of the driver always
. And the much vaunted powerplant was also excellent, tremendously quick to react to any request for additional power sent through the right foot, while at the same time incredibly easy to modulate so as to not overtake the tires' ability to stay in contact with the road surface, even when said surface was not grippy asphalt, but slick bricks.
After a long - and at times sweaty - hotlapping session my best lap was a 0:43.710
. How does that stack up to the ONE's most immediate competition?
On paper, the Aston Martin Valhalla Concept
is not too different from the ONE. Initiallly developed in collaboration with Mercedes' arch-rivals at Red Bull Racing, it features a carbon-fiber tub housing amidship a 3-litre twin turbo V6, the internally-developed TM01
, which also makes very F1-like noises and is hooked up to the KERS first used in Gaydon's crown jewel, the Valkyrie.
Unlike the ONE it does without a massive rear wing: instead, it uses a shape-morfing integrated rear wing which, Aston claims, generates the same amount of downforce without any of that pesky drag or aerodynamic turbulence. It also has a slight (150 hp, give or take) advantage in power output, and a much larger (290 kg) advantage when it comes to weight - in Forza Horizon 5, this translates to the Valhalla being rated 30 pp higher than its German rival (959 vs. 927).
Since then, Aston's alliance with Red Bull has died an ignominious death, the British manufacturer has become the property of one Lawrence Stroll, and the finished product will be powered by a less aspirational V8 provided by Mercedes-AMG (ain't it a small world) - but thankfully, we get to drive the far more exciting (and handsome looking, in my opinion) concept version.
The Valhalla, too, is hardly at home in the tight confines of the Bola Ocho circuit - but where the ONE pays for its composed nature and over-reliance on aerodynamic grip, the Aston is a boisterous, tail-happy fun-haver that I found myself throwing into a four-wheel drift more than once. And while those 30 extra performance points only translate to a laptime of 0:43.677
- barely half a tenth faster - I know I'd much rather drink this stout than Stuttgart's lager.
On the other hand, the Ferrari FXX-K Evo
is a car designed purely for on-track action. The ultimate evolution of the FXX-K first unveiled in 2014 - in itself a trackday toy built on the base of the 2013 LaFerrari - the Evo is equipped with a gargantuan naturally-aspirated V12, coupled with Maranello's HY-KERS system, sending some 950 hp to the rear wheels only. By removing anything that may look like a creature comfort, and not toying with all-wheel drive systems, the Ferrari engineers managed to keep weight down to 1270 kilograms; and unlike its wingless predecessor, the Evo also makes use of a massive carbon-fiber rear wing, which generates up to 800 kilograms of downforce, guaranteeing unprecedented amounts of cornering grip on track.
The end result is a car that definitely requires a deft touch - with its peaky V12 and uncompromising setup it's a nervous racehorse, twitchy and prone to losing grip in a dramatic fashion at low speeds, and it's quite hard to recover when that happens. But there's plenty of downforce to be had even at low speeds, and after a few short laps to get the slick Pirelli tires in temperature, I started to properly push the Evo, and soon I was rewarded with a 0:42.142
, which even I could tell is far from a full expression of this Ferrari's full potential.
Perhaps it's an unfair comparison: after all, the Evo tips the scales of Forza's performance indexing system at 998 pp, right on the edge of its class. But with a sticker price of 3 million credits, it's certainly worth keeping it in mind if you're shopping for the ultimate performance machine - and when you get one for free upon purchasing the Car Pass, it's practically a bargain.
So, where does that leave the Mercedes-AMG ONE? Trying to class it as a beater of sleeper
seems a bit preposterous. It certainly didn't leave me disappointed, even through I compared it in unfavorable terms to its immediate competition; but how could it be a sleeper
, when it bills itself as a F1 car for the not-so-average Joe? In the end, I guess it's a neutral
vote from me: the ONE is an absolutely astronomical car, hyped to the Moon and sold at a proportionate price; a supercar certainly worth of the reputation and lofty claims of its manufacturer, and one that will bring to Stuttgart its fair share of new automotive firsts. And if you're sleeping on this, perhaps you should ask your doctor if you may be suffering from narcolepsy. But at the same time, there are other cars I'd much rather drive in its weight class.
With almost 1000 horsepower on tap, it's a F1 car for the roads...
...but perhaps the roads aren't the right place for a F1 car