It takes a great mind to develop a truly special car, but to create the one you see here took no less than five of the world's most talented designers, engineers, and executives from two very special companies. One is Aston Martin, a brand underperforming for most of its 103-year history but now enjoying unprecedented prosperity thanks to its new CEO, Andy Palmer. The recent success and the flock of new cars wouldn't be possible without the help of Aston Martin veterans: Marek Reichman, design director and David King, director of special projects and motorsport. Both have played a major role in developing the Aston Martin models of the last decade and their experience is crucial for the success of the AM-RB 001. The car represents several firsts for Aston Martin: the first mid-engined car, the first car with world-beating performance, and the first to be built in a partnership with a company new to road cars.
A hint as to what makes this car so special is in its AM-RB 001 name: It's a joint collaboration between Aston Martin and the four-time Formula 1 World Champion Red Bull. Both partners were planning a similar hypercar and found a perfect teammate in each other. As Christian Horner, team principal of the Red Bull F1 team reveals, "It was Adrian [Newey, chief technical officer at Red Bull Racing] who came to me and said, 'Hey, I wanna do a road car.' And I thought, 'OK, how can we make that happen? Thanks to the relationship we enjoyed with Andy [Palmer] in our previous lives [they worked together for Infiniti], it seemed like a perfect opportunity to bring our companies together." Palmer describes how it all happened: "We had a long discussion between Christian, Adrian, and I over sausage and mash in a pub in Woburn in January 2015. By March, we got the contract signed and the team has worked like hell to get us where we are today."
Indeed, only 18 months after that meaningful dinner, we've come to the Aston Martin factory in Gaydon to witness the car for the first time. The roughly 1,500 workers of the plant laid down their tools for a moment to participate in person in this historical moment, along with journalists and celebrities. To underline the link between the two companies (and add even more drama), Daniel Ricciardo arrived at the party fashionably late in his F1 car after doing a few donuts in front of the building. He may not be prompt, but the man knows how to make an entrance.
The decision to make its own road car is a move that puts Red Bull's technology arm in a wholly new context. As Christian Horner put it, "There was an English racing driver who once said that we're just a drinks company. I think we've demonstrated both in Formula 1 and now with this project that there's much more to Red Bull Advanced Technology than meets the eye. It's a great thing for us to be involved in, taking the DNA that we have in the fantastic cars Adrian has designed for us and implementing that into this car built in the U.K. I'm sure Ron Dennis is spitting his coffee out right now."
The car looks dramatic already under the sheet: smaller, lower, and closer to an endurance prototype race car than to what you would normally call a car. When the curtain falls, it reveals stunning architecture, pushing the envelope to an unprecedented level. And it's not just a pure fantasy concept car that will be followed by a dull production version. As Reichman assures, "In principle, it's the final design concept. We are now working through all of the requirements of getting the car onto the road, and hitting the targets that we put on ourselves in terms of power and weight. But literally what you see is what you get."
The radical concept is credited to the experience of Adrian Newey, often depicted as no less than the best automotive engineer in the world. With 10 Formula 1 World Championship titles won with Red Bull, Williams, and McLaren, and two CART titles won in the '80s, he seems to be the most appropriate person to give Aston Martin and Red Bull what it takes to prove their advantage over Bugatti, Ferrari, Pagani, and the like. And yet Newey never engaged himself in developing a road car before, even if he claims this is something he's dreamed of since he was 6. "It was racing cars that defined most of my career, but the interest has always been there." Clearly, he already had some time to think what his dream car for the road would look like: "This car is an evolution of the ideas I had over the years. You can see it as an F1 car morphing into the PlayStation X1 car and then into this. You can see some common themes, particularly below the waistline, around front, and the front suspension. We wanted to keep the car small; cars these days tend to get big and clumsy."
Adrian wants to stress the importance of the small dimensions of AM-RB 001: "We wanted to keep this really compact. I'm very keen we came up with a car that hasn't gone in the direction of one or two of its rivals. The P1 and LaFerrari are one and a half times its weight. Light and small cars are more involving to drive. Making a car big means you haven't made the effort to make it small. Many people think AM-RB 001 is a single-seater, but it's not. It's a two-seater, and Reichman, for instance, who is 6-foot-4, fits in the car comfortably even with his helmet on. It was possible thanks to the packaging experience we developed in Formula 1." But even the greatest engineer in the world needed a partner for other parts of the job: "We're not car designers, so we felt that we needed someone suitable."
That's where Reichman and his team stepped in. Their experience played a crucial role in meeting the legislation needs and dealing with things like ergonomics for a driver other than Daniel Ricciardo. You don't engage Aston Martin's design team only for that, however. Reichman is clear about who's responsible for what: "Everything you see that is green on the car is Aston's priority. Everything dark gray is Adrian's priority. It's a balance between the areas in carbon fiber that are really pushing the air to meet the aerodynamic needs of the design and all of the upper surfaces using the air to generate a beautiful form."
If this sounds like two ideas for a car conflated in a single project, that's how it really is. In fact, AM-RB 001 started its life as two cars from the PlayStation's Gran Turismo saga. As Reichman admits, he already had some ideas before approaching Red Bull: "We worked around our Gran Turismo game car, the DB100. It was our first idea of what the potential mid-engined Aston Martin could be." But the process of joining it together with Adrian Newey's car went smoothly: "Adrian's view on the car was very similar to ours when we first met. It was like two minds thinking in a parallel universe that have a very similar thought process."
But did this car really need to be so extreme, or is this about making a statement? Reichman admits that "it's a bit of both," agreeing to be drawn into a quick round of Q&A. What's with these headlamps? "We have a new headlamp technology; they're LEDs but it's a very specific cluster of LEDs to give us a tiny package. We're not showing them yet, as to not give an advantage to our competitors." So why did you reveal the car at such an early stage of its development in the first place? "Partly, it's about bringing the customers on the journey and partly because you journalists were pestering us to show it to you. Seriously speaking, it felt like the right time to share this car, because at the end of the day it'd leak somehow after we showed it to more than 300 potential customers." Am I right in thinking that there's a blown diffuser in the design? "Effectively, yes." After all, it's a patent that was pioneered by Newey in Formula 1 back in the '90s. Now he's taking it to the road cars along with the F1-leauge of aerodynamics. Reichman again: "Effectively, the underbody of the whole car works as a diffuser, while the whole front of it is a wing." Are there active aerodynamics? "Hardly any." How will the doors open? "Dihedral doors were considered, but we opted for gullwing doors to make entry to the cabin easier. You stand in the car and drop yourself down into it. The steering wheel comes off to aid that."
Even if the interior isn't revealed until early next year, we may rest assured that it'll be special. Not necessarily the most uncompromising; as Newey puts it, "as a road car, the 001 will hopefully be comfortable and practical. You don't have to psyche yourself up to drive it. If we had come up with an LMP1 car for the road with all its discomfort, we would have failed." He goes on by promising it'll have "air conditioning and all the creature comforts," including an infotainment system with a touchpad. But then he admits, "I'll be honest, luggage space isn't huge. Just one overnight bag," but that should be enough to "potter down to the shops in it." The most interesting bit is how the driver and passenger will be seated inside the car. Taking note of Newey's experience in packaging people inside an F1 car, AM-RB 001 will adopt a similar reclined feet-up driving position with the driver's ankles higher than his hips.
The LMP-car-to-do-groceries-in theme will translate to the way the 001 will behave on the road. Newey says, "Top speed isn't really the difficult bit for a sports car; it's not top speed that we've chased. First of all, it's about the driving enjoyment on the road, and that means it has to be a car of two characters: one that is capable of extreme performance when you want it, like on a track, but equally comfortable if it's stuck in a traffic jam down the King's Road."
What kind of the engine should propel such a car? According to Newey, there's just one answer, and it's certainly not the current turbo hybrid from the F1 car: "AM-RB 001 is the ultimate expression of performance, and therefore, for all the emotive reasons, it has a high-revving, high-capacity, naturally aspirated V-12." Like all of the other parts of the car, it's purely bespoke, so the motor bears no relation to the twin-turbo 5.2L V-12 that has just been finished for the DB11. No one wants to comment on the power output yet, stating only that they're aiming for a better than 1:1 power-to-weight ratio. Given the target weight of less than a ton, or roughly 900 kg, we're looking at a near 1,000hp machine here. The pursuit of the lowest possible weight still leaves some of the questions unanswered, such as what kind of gearbox will be used. Newey admits, "We don't like the current trends of double-clutch gearboxes; they weigh 150 kg and they're very bulky, which doesn't suit the concept. We're seeing what we can do about that. Packaging the powertrain and its cooling gear has taken a few iterations; I'm working on the sixth right now." No word on the hybrid yet either, other than there aren't many fans of them in Gaydon.
Such exceptional technology comes at a high price, obviously. As Reichman reveals, "The price will be between 2 and 3 million pounds ($2.65 to 4 million). We work through the production costs, the additional content of the options that can be anything up to training programs that are involved." David King takes over, "We need to make sure we use our best experts and balance creativity with discipline to support our usual quality targets. AM-RB 001 takes things to a new level admittedly, but we have the skills and team with the Red Bull guys to deliver that." Being the person responsible for putting the car in production, he reveals the timeline: "Approximately late next year we'll see the prototypes testing for the first time. I think early 2019 would be reasonable expectation for our first deliveries." That's enough time to find an appropriate name for the car, which still remains nameless. As Palmer reveals, "AM-RB 001 doesn't really roll of the tongue, does it? The proper name is coming. Currently it's somewhere in the legal department as we're seeing what we can register." If this sounds vague, don't expect any detailed information on how many are going to be built, either: "This is where car companies always mess a little bit with the numbers. We say 99, but no more than 150. That means that any person buying this car knows whether we do a special version or prototype. There are never going to be more than 150 of them, even if I ask for one." Palmer confirms, "The demand is astronomical. Without showing the car, we already had 370 clear requests to be on the list, so we're already oversubscribed."
Newey is keen to speak more about these "special versions" that are to come. An even more extreme track-only specification is in the cards: "It's going to be a small production run of 25. Having wider front wings, bigger slick tires, and a bigger rear aerofoil, it should be in LMP1 league of performance." That seems impossibly fast, and what makes it even more impressive is that Palmer is at pains to point out how closely the road and track versions are related: "We want them to be recognized as the same car."
AM-RB 001 will go down as one of the most revolutionary Aston Martins in history not only because of its own achievements, but also because it starts a new chapter. Once it's complete, the 001 will influence the way the future Aston Martins are developed, inclusive of the AM-RBs to come after this one. Palmer says there could be a "002, 003, or a 007 even." The mid-engine arrangement will inevitably find its way to other Aston Martins, too, as "it would be a shame if you didn't incorporate that into cars of the future." So, there it is: AM-RB 001, a car that changed the supercar landscape even before it was completed.