The future of driving—should we as a human population even make it a few more decades—looks to be full of electric vehicles and artificial intelligence, meaning motorsport has to evolve or become obsolete. McLaren has a vision of what that electric, AI evolution will look like for Formula One by 2050, and it’ll remind you of just about every futuristic video game you’ve ever played.
Just don’t tell the V8 loyalists about all of this “electric” business.
The McLaren Applied Technologies arm at McLaren, a company that struggles to build a modern F1 car, gathered a bunch of people to do research on what the series and its cars could become in three decades. They came up with a concept of shapeshifting, 310-mph electric race cars, an AI copilot and race tracks that look like roller coasters without the rails.
It looks, basically, like a scene out of a movie set in 2381, when what’s left of the population has settled on a new planet after Earth became uninhabitable due to climate change, nuclear warfare, asteroids, or all of the above. The idea comes complete with race suits that could probably double as space suits, and tracks carved into cliffside oases surrounded by water features. Seems like a dream.
Of course, it’s important to remember that series regulations define race cars and tracks no matter what year it is, so all of this work on McLaren’s vision for the future was really for nothing other than showing people how fun, cool and still existent F1 could be in 30 years. Without rules, there’s no way to make a practical car design, so this is all a big brainstorming exercise from McLaren.
Brainstorming exercises can be fun, though.
The team McLaren assigned to dreaming all of this up talked to drivers and fans about what they want for the future, and decided that even with all of the tech and AI cars will eventually have, people want driver experiences to be the focus. That led to a car with a driver as a “central nervous system,” McLaren said.
McLaren’s calling its concept car the “MCLExtreme,” which is designed around showing what the driver is doing during the race with a completely clear cockpit area. The idea is that the car can shape shift and meld with the driver, showing their emotions, as perceived by the AI, with exterior lighting and reacting to those emotions with active aerodynamics.
Like an ultra-exaggerated version of F1’s Drag Reduction System, McLaren’s concept is for the car to react to a driver’s anticipation of overtaking another car by folding and tucking in its wings for a more aerodynamic pass. Emotions like that anticipation are apparently displayed on the car using different colors, kind of like how Formula E’s putting color codes onto driver cockpits in broadcasts to show which power levels they’re currently using.
The AI flows into the race suit, which has an orange heads-up display in the helmet that looks like something a super villain would wear, showing strategies and other race information. Then, there are the tracks, with wider race surfaces and steeper banking to pair with the faster cars.
The whole plan, including a bunch of other stuff like “black-out zones” where drivers have no AI or team communications, is here.
It’s like a big school project, without the overly wordy PowerPoint slides or the double-spaced report written in Times New Roman with a bunch of adjectives to hit the page minimum, and with a more interesting topic of discussion.
Now, like 1984, the Terminator and everything else, we can all spend the next 31 years wondering how well this prediction will hold up—you know, if we make it that long.