Opening Up The Valkyrie
Aston Martin has built a $4.2 million F1 car for the road. But what’s it like to drive this already mythical 849 kW creature?
The home straight at the Bahrain International Circuit measures just over one kilometre – or long enough for Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton to brake their F1 cars into the first turn at a speed approaching 330kph.
The circuit in the sand dunes provided the backdrop for the F1 season opener earlier this month (March). It was also an inspired location for the launch of perhaps the most eagerly-awaited hypercar of the new millennium, the Aston Martin Valkyrie.
Like the F1-inspired Mercedes-AMG One, Aston’s oft-delayed project has been a long time coming. Low-slung, lightweight and insanely fast, the $4.2 million Valkyrie claims to push the boundaries of automotive design to the max — and then some.
Production of the outrageous two-seater began in 2021 but thanks to Covid and further delays, this February was the earliest chance for journalists to experience this 849 kW car on the track. Naturally, Robb Report ANZ was first on the starting grid in Bahrain for the drive of a lifetime…
A split-second glance at instruments on the Valkyrie’s detachable steering wheel reveals I’m hurtling towards turn one at 301kph. It’s not far short of grand prix car performance but much, much faster than anticipated.
Harnessed in to an enclosed cockpit with air-con blasting in my face, there’s an otherworldly feel to driving the Valkyrie. And while my eyes focus on the distance markers leading into the corner, the numbers flicking up on the digital readout somehow feel far removed from my speed of travel.
Brake, brake, brake, then turn the perfectly weighted electro-hydraulic, power-assisted steering to clip the apex of the curve. Valkyrie definitely sounds like an F1 car, a 12-into-1 exhaust system providing the awesome soundtrack. That acoustic high is something that would likely be missing from a turbocharged V6.
The naturally aspirated, 6.5-litre V12 created by Cosworth screams as I flick down through the gears in Track mode, the most dynamic of the three settings. There’s no ‘drive’ button in a Valkyrie – every change of the ‘old school’ single clutch, seven-speed sequential ‘box is made via the paddle-shifters.
Grip is phenomenal but it’s the sheer shove-in-the-back power of the Aston as it exits the bend that astonishes most. Then comes the V12’s sting in the tail – an extra boost of 119 kW provided by a rear-mounted, Rimac-sourced hybrid system. Those same 1.7kWh batteries power the Valkyrie’s reverse gear, although hopefully I won’t be needing that today.
In the right hands, the rear-wheel drive Aston Martin will rocket from 0-100km/h in just 3.0 seconds and on to a frankly ridiculous top speed of around 380km/h. Maximum rpm is a head-spinning 11,100rpm. The coupe is silly quick but unlike the two F1 cars I’ve driven, Valkyrie is also remarkably easy to steer, with mid-engine balance and epic downforce that keeps everything firmly glued to the track.
Remember, this is a car built for the road, so it also features number plates, door camera mirrors and a full suspension lift system for creeping over speed humps. Luggage space is restricted to a tiny cubbyhole in the frunk no bigger than a bag of flour.
The all-alloy, overhead cam engine helps keep the Valkyrie down to a modest 1,270kg on the road. In fact, climbing out of the teardrop-shaped cockpit once back in the pitlane, I notice the bodywork is so trim that when fully open, the wing doors gently flutter in the breeze.
Engineers didn’t use a single steel component in the car’s structure, which is 100 percent carbon fibre. Every part has been on a strict diet, with magnesium alloy wheels weighing less than the Michelin Pilot Cup tyres, the world’s smallest, high-level brake light – just 6.5mm wide – and fantastically efficient titanium brakes with carbon ceramic discs.
“We used so much titanium that the Ministry of Defence called from London to ask exactly what we needed it for – they thought we might be building something we shouldn’t,” chuckles Miles Nurnberger, Aston Martin’s amiable director of design.
Nurnberger is one of the few members of the team involved in the Valkyrie project since its inception in 2016. Despite a brief and somewhat unlikely spell at budget brand Dacia in 2021, he returned last year in time to see the car come to life.
Conceived at a time when Aston Martin and Red Bull Racing were partners, the Valkyrie is the brainchild of F1 legend, Adrian Newey. Considered one of the best engineers in the sport, his racing car designs for McLaren, Williams and Red Bull have won 11 constructors’ titles and almost 200 grand prix.
Key to Newey’s radical design was a striking aerodynamic exterior and an open underfloor. Two channels large enough to hide an adult pass around the cockpit, serving up air to the car’s massive rear diffuser. The resulting downforce is in the region of 1,100kg at 150km/h.
“Adrian had always wanted to design a car for the road,” says Nurnberger. “He thought creating a road car would be less constrained by the regulations he faced in F1 and therefore easier – he soon realised it is equally as difficult.
“His idea was a teardrop-shaped cabin as compact as possible. It was an aerodynamic concept that challenged us every step of the way. In car design, most mornings you go to work and already know the answers. With Valkyrie it was solving a new problem every day.”
Among them was the thorny issue of the famous Aston Martin winged badge – a logo that has adorned every one of the British marque’s cars since the 1920s.
“Adrian didn’t want our badge on the front of the car because it was 6mm deep, weighed too much and created vortices that affected the aerodynamics.
“Once again it was left to the team to innovate, so we developed a metal badge that was 40 microns thick and now weighs 95 percent less than the one we use on a Vantage. We could have designed a sticker or painted it on but that wasn’t good enough.”
The windscreen wiper alone took more than a year to design. Sweeping water off a curved section of glass at high speed, as well as meeting strict road regulations, forced Aston to scour the internet for solutions.
“We even challenged the regulations and spoke to firms who specialised in high-tech glass. In the end, we contacted a company that designed the windscreen on the Space Shuttle and they came up with a solution. The Valkyrie wiper actually has a torsion bar and pivots as it crosses the curved surface.”
Just 150 examples of Aston Martin’s first hypercar will be built, plus a further 25 ‘track-focussed’ AMR Pro cars (if you’re lunatic enough). A run of 85 roofless Spider versions will be the last model off the company’s Gaydon production line. All versions are sold and there’s even a waiting list.
Nurnberger is currently working on the next generation of Aston Martin models and states he’ll utilise features from the Valkyrie in their design. That’s likely to include hybridisation and a number of high-performance versions, similar to the barnstorming DBX 707 SUV.
Of course, none will compete with the incredible Valkyrie, a car that is likely to achieve mythical status in the years ahead, like the ground-breaking McLaren F1 and Bugatti Chiron. Just climb into the Aston Martin’s space capsule cockpit and press the start button – everyone lucky enough enters like an astronaut and leaves a race track hero.
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