MP4-X: McLaren’s futuristic vision of F1 uses solar panels, trick aerodynamics and can read drivers’ minds

McLaren has just unveiled the MP4-X, its futuristic vision for Formula One. The concept car was developed by McLaren Applied Technologies, and includes a number of innovative ideas – and currently illegal features.

“With the futuristic McLaren MP4-X concept racecar, we wanted to peer into the future and imagine the art of the possible,” said John Allert, group brand director at McLaren Technology Group.

“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.”

Breaking the old rules


On the surface, the MP4-X looks radically different to modern Formula One cars, and that’s because it breaks several of the sport’s current rules. Wheels generate a lot of the turbulence in Formula One cars, and current rules require them to be left untouched. The result? Designers of current Formula One cars work hard to minimise their drag-causing effects. Instead, the MP4-X encloses them in aerodynamic shrouds, resulting in much more efficient dynamics.

The MP4-X also includes a closed cockpit, and although this is an aerodynamic benefit, the new design also has safety in mind. It’s possible that the design was partly influenced by McLaren Honda driver Jenson Button, who called for closed cockpits after the death of IndyCar driver Justin Wilson.The closed cockpit design also means drivers could benefit from a heads-up display (HUD), just like that used in fighter jets – and more recently the BMW 7 Series.

Other safety features includes warnings before tyre failures, and materials that appear to “bounce back” after incidents. mclaren_mp4-x_2

The car also includes a blast from the past in the form of ground effect and movable aerodynamics. While ground effect utilises the underside of the car to seal the car to the road and generate downforce, movable aerodynamics allow the driver to vary downforce to where they are on the track. On corner entry the car will feature increased grip, but on straights where it’s not needed downforce can be reduced – removing drag and increasing the car’s overall top speed.

Forward-thinking powertrain

Under the surface, the MP4-X could use batteries combined with solar panels, to maximise speed as well as efficiency. “The other MP4-X feature that gets me excited is the tremendous advancements we are making in motor sport around battery technology.” Jim Newton, market development director at McLaren Applied Technologies (MAT), told Wired.

“The power densities we are able to achieve are genuinely world-leading – in any industry. We are already seeing opportunities to apply these battery and hybrid technologies in diverse industries such as aerospace, and significantly change how those industries operate.”



However, the most interesting aspect of the MP4-X could be its unprecedented link to drivers. Formula One cars already provide really key information about their drivers to teams, but the MP4-X could go as far as monitoring brainwaves.

“As a tactician and strategist, to know what’s on the driver’s mind at that time might help you in more tactical thinking, and then help you to optimise how you communicate with the driver,” Newton told Wired.

“There’s a reason that drivers mostly communicate on the straights – they’re busy in the corners. So to understand to some degree what the driver was thinking without having to communicate verbally may be a considerable advantage.”mclaren_mp4-x_5

The Future of F1

The MP4-X isn’t the first Formula One concept produced, but among the more outlandish features, it contains some very useful directions for the sport. Closed canopies would improve safety, while solar panels and high-density batteries could provide trickle-down benefits for future road cars – much like F1’s current engines do for hybrid cars.

Read next: The UK leads the energy-efficient car revolution – and it has motorsport to thank

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