Formula One engineer, Adrian Newey, brings to life a fever dream that raises the hypercar bar to its highest point.
- Dynamic purity
- Savage performance of the Cosworth V12
- Not scary when pushed
- Noise and vibration
- Tiny cockpit
- Engine struggles with high ambient temperatures
When Andy Palmer, now Aston Martin’s second-last CEO, promised that the Valkyrie hypercar would be regarded as a pinnacle of the combustion era, it sounded like the sort of hyperbole common to those with limited-run hypercars to sell.
Yet the reality pretty much delivers on that far-off claim, made as long ago as 2016 when Aston and Red Bull Racing first announced they had started to collaborate on F1 designer Adrian Newey’s long-held ambition to make a road car. Much has happened since. Palmer has been putsched, as has his successor as Aston boss, Tobias Moers. And Red Bull is now working on its own Adrian Newey project, the track-only RB17, which we’re promised will ultimately make the Valkyrie seem both fat and slow – improbable as that sounds.
Yet while its parents are already divorced, and most of the 150 Valkyrie coupes have already been delivered to customers, our first drive was truly epic.
I got to experience the Valkyrie exclusively on-track at the Bahrain International Circuit, just ahead of the Formula One season opener there. First impressions were, frankly, a bit stunned – the Valkyrie really does offer an experience well beyond even that of the most extreme hypercars to have gone before.
Although the early claims that it would offer similar performance to an LMP1 race car have been shifted sideways – that comparison now reserved for the track-only AMR Pro version – the regular Valkyrie is undoubtedly the most extreme vehicle to ever legally wear registration plates, having been homologated for road use under Europe’s small series type approval.
There are plenty of the Valkyrie’s (many) technical highlights in our previous coverage, so I’ll just summarise the basics. The hand-built naturally aspirated 6.5-litre Cosworth V12 makes a peak of 746kW at a dizzying 10,600rpm, and meets its limiter at 11,200rpm. A 105kW axial flux electric motor sits between it and the seven-speed sequential gearbox to add assistance and offer an F1 KERS-style energy recovery function.
There is active suspension, including the ability to lower the car’s body in its Track mode to improve downforce, with active elements at both ends – plus in the diffuser tunnel – that allow it to make up to a peak 1100kg of aerodynamic assistance, but also to shed much of this to reduce drag on straights.
Turning Newey’s vision road-legal wasn’t easy. Talking to Aston’s chief designer, Miles Nurnberger, in Bahrain reveals that there were some fairly robust discussions over even tiny dimensional changes.
“We learned to quote millimetres to two decimal places so he didn’t think we were being slapdash,” Nurnberger admits.
At one meeting Newey conceded an 8mm expansion to the passenger compartment, something that won a round of applause from the engineering team. “Nobody could remember Adrian having given up more than 1mm before,” Nurnberger says.
Despite these small increases, passenger accommodation was still well down the list of the Valkyrie’s priorities. It’s definitely a tailored fit, with the teardrop-shaped cockpit forming only a small part of a much bigger silhouette which, up close, is filled with the channels and ducts that help direct airflow.
Access to the cockpit is through what are better thought of as gullwing windows than doors, and involves standing on the base of the seat and then sliding down, although a detachable steering wheel makes access slightly easier.
Once installed, elbow room is minimal and I’m very thankful not to be carrying a passenger; the cabin is barely one and a half occupants wide despite two seating positions. I also need to have the lower padding of the driver’s bucket taken out to give space for my helmeted head to fit under the roof. This at the dizzying height of 182cm. Anyone substantially taller simply won’t fit.
Yet once installed, the view is properly special. The Valkyrie’s heavily curved windscreen feels a little like looking through a visor; another engineering challenge was creating a wiper mechanism that would be able to angle the single blade to maintain contact as it sweeps the screen.
There are two small digital screens for the rear-view cameras, one on each side, plus a wider-angled ‘virtual mirror’ hung from the top of the windscreen. There is also a touchscreen on the right-hand side of the dashboard, this being the first ever fitted to an Aston, although you’ll be unsurprised to hear that I barely glanced at it once moving.
The most important stuff is conveyed by the small screen integrated into the steering wheel, with this dominated by a huge digital rev counter with numbers that go all the way to 12. The wheel also has switches for the ERS electric boost system and a controller to cycle through the various dynamic modes: Urban, Sport and Track. Selecting the last of these unlocks the additional function of a variable traction-control system.
It is brutally loud. The V12 is both directly mounted to the carbon-fibre tub and sits with the meshed gears that drive its valvetrain at the front – meaning that these are just centimetres behind the heads of occupants. Even at idle it sounds savage through the padding of a helmet, the cacophony growing from that point upwards and accompanied by a buzzing high-frequency vibration, much of which comes straight through the seat.
If not wearing a helmet, Aston recommends use of a noise-cancelling headset similar to the ones used in small planes or helicopters. Failing to use this would pose the serious risk of hearing loss. The Valkyrie sounds amazing from outside, but inside the cabin it is just painfully loud.
Getting rolling is easy. Despite its Rimac-produced 1.68kWh battery pack, the Valkyrie isn’t one of those hybrids that can operate in a full EV mode, the V12 needs to be running for it to move. But gentle starts are made under electric power, the engine then linked to the wheels by the clutch once moving.
(As with the McLaren Artura and Ferrari 296GTB/ SF90 Stradale, there is no mechanical reverse gear, the Valkyrie always backing up electrically.) There is also a launch-control system for more aggressive starts, this pretty much dumping the clutch to get the car off the line.
It takes several laps of the Bahrain circuit to build up to full commitment. Initially because Aston works driver Darren Turner is setting the pace in a fully liveried Vantage Formula 1 safety car, this feeling almost painfully slow even as he does his best Bernd Mayländer impression.
Yet even after Turner has peeled off and I have the track to myself, there is plenty more learning curve left, the biggest being to build the trust to actually take the Valkyrie’s engine to its altitudinous red line. Even with the full length of Bahrain’s kilometre-long start-finish straight ahead of me, it was hard not to grab a higher gear well short of the first change-up light illuminating, such is the scale of the sound and fury from behind. Keeping the faith all the way proves both that the Valkyrie keeps getting angrier as it pulls harder, all the way to the limiter.
Performance is massive, the Valkyrie pulling a 300km/h terminal speed before a cautious braking point into Bahrain’s ultra-tight Turn One. But subjectively it feels even more ferocious than it is thanks to the noise and the scintillating, delay-free response of the throttle pedal and the savagery of the transmission’s upshifts. I once drove a Koenigsegg One:1 on a wet runway, and I can honestly say that on dry racetrack the Valkyrie is more viscerally exciting.
The ERS was an anti-climax – this bringing a KERS-like boost of harvested energy through the e-motor that Aston says it can do once a lap. To be honest, I struggled to feel much difference when deploying it.
The Valkyrie I drove had already done multiple stints on track by the time I got to it as well, which might be why it had a numb patch at the top of its brake pedal’s travel, with resistance also softening a few times during bigger stops. This didn’t seem to alter the rate at which the huge carbon-ceramic discs could shed speed; it knocked confidence and meant I was normally braking much too early.
More surprisingly, towards the end of my first session on-track, I also felt the Valkyrie hitting its rev limiter well before I was expecting it to, with a glance at the rev counter showing this had fallen to well under 10,000rpm. On getting back to the pits, the mechanics confirmed that the engine was struggling with Bahrain’s high ambient temperatures and was de-rating to protect itself as the coolant got too hot; cruising around in a higher gear for half a lap or so would restore it to health. But something for anyone planning to use one in hotter conditions to bear in mind.
But it’s not just about going incredibly quickly. The Valkyrie is also impressive driveable for something so potent, especially given the fundamental limitation that comes from wearing road-legal tyres. The Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber produced plentiful grip, but not as much as in a car riding on slicks. Which is a relevant comparison when you consider the possibility of buying something like a Radical SR10 or even a factory-supplied GT3 race car for considerably less outlay.
The Valkyrie’s steering delivers a strong sense of connection as it changes direction keenly, but the traction control has to work hard to maintain order in tighter turns. Downforce builds rapidly as speeds rise, increasing the sense of stability. But even turning the traction control right down in the Track mode confirmed that the Valkyrie doesn’t turn snappy or scary when pushed and provoked in slower corners. At least, not on a wide track with generous run-off areas: the level of respect required on a wet country road would doubtless need to be a fair bit higher.
Despite not driving the Valkyrie on-road, I’m pretty certain it would always feel massively compromised in the real world. This is a car that was created around the vision of the world’s most famous Formula One designer to move the boundaries of the road car, but which would also prioritise performance over everything else. It’s hard to see too many of the 150 lucky buyers complaining too much about the loudness or lack of space considering the bragging rights attendant in owning what looks set to be the most hyper of all hypercars.
Is it the pinnacle? Hell yes – to the extent it is hard to see how the bar could be raised any higher. Back to you, Adrian.
|Key details||2023 Aston Martin Valkyrie|
|Engine||6.5-litre V12 petrol, hybridised|
|Power||850kW @ 10,600rpm (system peak)|
|Torque||925Nm @ 7000rpm (system peak)|
|Transmission||Seven-speed sequential, rear-wheel drive|
|Top speed||355km/h (electronically limited)|