It's going to be harder than we want it to be.
Rumors are floating around that Mercedes might be making a competitor to the Ferrari 488 GTB and McLaren 650s. The rumors currently substantiate very little, suffice it to say if the car is made it could be a mid-engine hybrid supercar, following the German automaker’s F1 car after its dominant form since the 2014 season. What does this mean, exactly? If indeed the car is going to be based around the Mercedes W09, it means pushrod and pullrod suspension, Brembo carbon disc brakes, infamous Pirelli tires and, of course, the PU106 C hybrid engine.
All of this considered, the question if the car is going to be produced morphs into how the hell are they going to whittle down the cost of the car to match the Ferrari 488? Money in F1 is not traditionally talked about explicitly, so, with speculation, the average cost of an F1 car in materials is believed to be around $9 million. This does not include the cost of R&D, which for teams like McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes is believed to rack up multiple hundreds of millions of dollars. The Mercedes engine, the PU106 C hybrid, is the fastest on the grid and thought to cost about $14 million to develop. If Mercedes wants to put this into a road car, obviously the engineers need to figure some serious cost-savings measures.
This shouldn’t be too difficult, considering F1 engines are made of exotic materials, right? Wrong. The crankcase and block, crank and camshafts, pistons and valves must be made of aluminum and iron-based alloys, according to 2016 F1 regulations. That probably leaves just the R&D to minimize, but that’s going to be difficult too. The PU106 C engine is dead reliable, but it’s a different kind of reliability. An F1 engine needs to be reliable for at least two hours per race weekend, whereas the road-going version, however Mercedes might orchestrate its production, needs to be reliable for multiple years. Of course, on the road, it won’t be taken to redline all of the time.
That still means the engineers need to figure out how to re-manufacture it to last as a road-going version, if they go with the PU106 C design. The engine’s design is meant to be compact and efficient, but as a hybrid turbo system it offers a lot of promise. It’s going to be interesting to see how Mercedes, if this car is made, will keep it affordable to the Ferrari 488 GTB, McLaren 650s crowd, but you can bet it will usher in a brand new era of hypercar technology, even if it does take on average about ten years for F1 technology to trickle down into road cars.