Most of you have already seen the previews for the next season of Top Gear so you have probably caught a glimpse of a thrilling race between the legendary McLaren F1 and much discussed Bugatti Veyron.
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As mentioned in one of our previous posts, the Top Gear crew has always had an obsession to test exotic and supercars, rather than mass market, affordable vehicles. When they finally got their hands on the hyped Bugatti Veyron, the whole crew was impressed by its stellar performance.
However, not all in the automotive world shared their enthusiasm.
When Volkswagen Group acquired the rights to the Bugatti name in 2000, then-chairman Ferdinand Piëch announced that Volkswagen will release a Bugatti branded supercar soon after. This attracted much attention as it was revealed that the car would be the fastest road car in history.
After initial stability problems the car now known as Bugatti Veyron was finally released in 2005, priced at €1 million. As of today, the Veyron is the most expensive and with 407 km/h (249 mph) top speed is also the fastest road car available. Its W16 engine employs four turbochargers for exactly 1001 hp and 1250 Nm of torque.
Immediately, the car received praise among all journalists for its outrageous speed and engine power, and many claimed that it was a successor of another famous supercar, the McLaren F1.
That comparison was not well received by many racing enthusiasts, most notably Gordon Murray, the man behind the McLaren F1.
His creation was the fastest production car for almost a decade when it was surpassed by Bugatti Veyron, Koenigsegg CCR and SSC Ultimate Aero TT. However, unlike forced induction (turbo or supercharged) cars mentioned above, the F1 is still the fastest production car with a naturally aspirated engine
which was unsurprisingly made by BMW.
Murray insisted that the car had a naturally aspirated engine to increase reliability and driver control, so he asked from Honda a 550 hp engine with a maximum weight of 250 kg. Back then, the combination of Honda and McLaren dominated Formula 1 so the requested engine was supposed to be derived from the actual race car.
When Honda refused, Isuzu was interested to provide their brand new 3.5 V12 engine that was being tested on a Lotus chassis. Nevertheless, the designers rejected Isuzu’s project so in the end BMW decided to develop the engine.
Dubbed S70/2, the engine was 16 kg heavier than 250 kg Murray had in plan, but it was also 14% more powerful, producing 627 hp. Although BMW was given very little time for production, the engine employed several features that were still experimental at the time, but now are featured in almost all BMW modern cars. For instance, the engine block and head are completely made of aluminum alloy while cam carriers, covers, oil sump, dry sump, and housings for the camshaft control were made of magnesium.
Nowadays, almost all BMW engines feature similar aluminum-magnesium construction, making them the lightest and most fuel efficient in their power category.
BMW has also implemented their VANOS variable intake control which would later evolve to Valvetronic technology introduced in 2001.
Although the engine was custom made for “road use” McLaren F1, it was also fitted in the McLaren F1 GTR race car which won Le Mans in 1995. Three years after, BMW V12 LM debuted on the Le Mans track and won using the same engine.
The title of the world’s fastest car has been associated with the F1 for many years, which has much to do with the production and development of Bugatti Veyron but in apart from that, the two cars have very little in common.
Gordon Murray, McLaren and BMW wanted to produce a supercar that would be the last word in handling, performance, technology and speed, but without compromising safety and comfort, whereas the Veyron was built with top speed as the ultimate goal.
For instance, Veyron’s chassis/body structure is made of aluminum and carbon fibres where the all-carbon design of the F1 is far more advanced.
The F1 also features an automatic “air brake” which deploys if the sensors detect a certain combination of speed and deceleration which was the model for Veyron’s similar system. However, the F1 goes even further with automatic brake cooling and fan-assisted boundary control for the rear diffuser.
Even though Veyron produces much more power than the F1, it doesn’t make a it significant advantage for reaching its enormous top speed of 407 km/h:
“The Veyron because of its high CDA figure and huge cooling drag needs 1001 hp to go 12 mph faster than a McLaren F1 producing 627 hp. To help understand the problem of starting a car program from a weak point aerodynamically, we do some calculations: A turbocharged F1 producing 1001 hp would achieve 281 mph assuming the same drivetrain efficiency. Another way of looking at this equation is that an F1 would need “only” 740 hp to reach the Bugatti’s top speed. All this demonstrates just what an uphill struggle the Bugatti team faced to achieve their targets.”
A test conducted in 1998 shows that the engine is capable enough to employ a gearbox with seven gears (standard cars have six) which would increase official top speed of 386.7 km/h even further.
Even from the stylistic point of view, the Veyron cannot be compared with the F1, as the design of the F1 was made after all technical targets were made, while with the Veyron it was vice versa.
In the end, it is obvious that the Veyron and the F1 were built with different targets and even if both are exotic supercars, the F1 was (and still is) a masterpiece of design and engineering, while the Veyron is limited in many areas were the F1 excels, and its even not that superior in the only area it was supposed to be the best.
Now it is apparent that the Veyron was intended to be a showcase and a symbol of Volkswagen Group’s enormous profit, just like the infamous Volkswagen Phaeton.
However, their latest attempt received extremely positive reviews both from the press and enthusiasts. Volkswagen also surprised many by releasing their next supercar under the Audi brand name which had no associations with performance cars whatsoever.
BMW’s first and only mid-engined car was the M1 back in 1978 so we’re curios to see if the company will answer directly to upcoming Mercedes-Benz SLS and the already established Audi R8, or will keep their knowledge for special purposes only, like the epic McLaren F1.