McLaren has unveiled a new concept for a Formula One car: the MP4-X. It's a "vision of the future" that looks deadly, but comes with a strong focus on safety. As well as a heads-up display similar to those seen in fighter jets, and tire sensors that warn drivers of imminent blow-outs, the MP4-X incorporates an enclosed cockpit — a change to F1 design currently being considered by the sport's bosses to prevent head injuries.
McLaren claims that "the technology that's been applied to the MP4-X is all real, even if it's still in its earliest stages of conception," but some of the car's features are definitely more science fiction than future science. McLaren suggests that one day, it could introduce a brain-controlled driving system, "monitoring the electrical signals within the driver's brain" and combining this with hand gestures to steer the car. "A vehicle with no physical controls at all is a theoretical possibility, one equipped with visual gesture control systems or holographic instrument panels," says McLaren. "The tech for this sort of thing is still in its earliest stages — but it could be possible."
Other features of the MP4-X are more achievable, but aren't allowed under current F1 rules. These include a sculpted underbody with wind tunnels to create a "powerful aerodynamic effect," and electrodes fitted to the car's bodywork that turn the surrounding air into plasma and can be switched on for extra downforce on corners.
"Plasma flow control would require quite a lot of power, but, in the future, we could take power from the engine and divert it to charge the system," said Geoff McGrath, chief innovation officer at McLaren Applied Technologies. "It's banned in the current F1 regulations — but it's great for achieving high top speeds, particularly at circuits like Monza, where you want to shed all the downforce along the straights and then turn it back on again for the corners."
The MP4-X's canopy is photochromic, hydrophobic, and high-impact
Perhaps the most notable feature of the MP4-X, though, is the canopy, with McLaren stating that F1 is currently "wrestling with the idea of introducing protective structures." The MP4-X's cockpit is covered with a photochromic, hydrophobic, high-impact material, which means it would actively repel water and change its tinting in reaction to light conditions. The racing team also quotes driver Jenson Button, who recently said: "We've got to get a canopy on the car of some sort, because we can't have these sorts of accidents happening as much as they have over the last few years [...] It's not the 1970s anymore, we should know better. Canopies are probably the way to go, but obviously that takes time." They're easier to introduce than brain-control though.