Mighty Cosworth V12, stunning looks, single-minded and uncompromising
Noise and refinement, more development would have smoothed off some edges
What is it?
Aston Martin’s F1 car for the road. With a little help and motivation from Red Bull’s F1 guru Adrian Newey. Announced in 2016, driven in 2023. The longest gestation of any car we’re aware of. And, behind the scenes, probably one of the most fraught. But it’s made it, with the promised package mostly intact.
And what was the promised package?
A tiny teardrop carbon passenger cell with an all-new 6.5-litre naturally aspirated 65-degree V12 hard mounted to it and out back a clever gearbox integrating an electric motor. That draws power from a 1.8kWh battery pack supplied by Rimac. The powertrain is a stressed member with the suspension hanging off it, saving weight and allowing Aston to originally claim a 1:1 power-to-weight ratio.
That’s slipped. The V12 and e-motor still deliver a combined 1,139bhp, but weight has risen in the face of regulation, legislation and rumoured cost-cutting. It’s now 1,270kg before fluids are added. But still, one thousand, one hundred and sixty horsepower.
Downforce is the talking point, 1,000kg of it, delivered surreptitiously by using the under surfaces more than the top sides. The venturi tunnels are something to behold. The whole car seems to float above the road, perforated by empty spaces. From some angles you can see straight through it.
How small is the cockpit?
It’s race car tight. And access isn’t easy. A fingertip-sized button releases the lightweight door. It flits up and once you’ve wriggled over the wide carbon tub and down into the bowels (likely removing the steering wheel first), you can reach up and pull it down with a lovely ‘krump’ noise. It also has soft close.
You don’t notice, but each minimalist carbon wafer seat is angled inwards at two degrees. The upwards leg incline feels natural almost immediately, and your body is supported everywhere by bits of trim, the floor, the cockpit sides. The steering wheel doesn’t lift high enough, an array of screens provide your rear view with average success.
A central divider prevents the passenger operating the pedals, and further back contains the parking brake switch, hazards and a USB port. But nowhere, not even a pouch, to put your phone. There’s a slot where the crotch harness emerges from on the passenger seat that’s big enough for phone and wallet. Use that. Want more storage? You’ll have to ditch the legally-necessary warning triangle and inflation kit from under the nose. And yes, there’s even a first aid kit. It’s hidden in a slot behind the front numberplate. Have a shunt and it will be ready distributed for your needs.
Give me some interesting factoids.
The central rear brake light is mounted on a spar above the air intake. It meets all necessary brightness laws, despite being very small. But it should have been even smaller. The other legal requirement is that it needs to carry the EU logo and that didn’t fit on the light, so it had to be enlarged by 1.8mm.
At the other end of the car is the famous winged badge. It could have been a sticker, but Aston wanted it to be metal. It’s made from etched titanium and is just 40 microns thick. Thinner than a hair follicle and 99.4 per cent lighter than the standard Aston badge.
Is it easy to drive on road?
To operate, it’s very straightforward and undemanding. Mostly because there’s no clutch pedal to feather and stress about in traffic. The seven-speed gearbox is a single clutch sequential by Ricardo, getting this much power and 663lb ft of torque rolling would stress the clutch hugely. So it pulls away electrically, then bleeds the clutch in automatically around 10mph.
So yes, it’s easy to get rolling in, but the question should have been ‘do you want to drive it on road?’, because the answer to that is probably no. From the moment the e-motor spins the V12 to start it, and it settles into a raucous and penetrating idle, you’re sure of one thing: refinement is absent.
Luckily Aston Martin supplies the Valkyrie with a set of state of the art headsets with intercom. They’re not for show. And even then they merely filter the worst of the soundwaves. So you’re spending time in a cramped cockpit crowded with deafening white noise. The mechanical thrash is ever present, making it hard to focus on any other individual aspects of the car. Put it this way, we have radios to communicate with the photographer and film crew but unless it’s within six inches of my ear I can’t hear it. Mics struggle as on no other car we’ve ever filmed.
Would it be better if it was quieter?
Inside, absolutely. But neither would we have wanted any compromise in the car’s original vision, so maybe this is the price we have to pay. However, I also think corners have been cut slightly. As it stands the Valkyrie we drove didn’t feel completely finished. It wasn’t a matter of trim rattles and squeaks, but a more fundamental issue with the way it drove. On the Michelin Cup 2s Chris Harris and I first drove it on, it had little grip, the brake pedal has an oddly long travel, the steering doesn’t have much natural feel, the gearbox is slow shifting, there are considerable vibrations through the tub. In other words you have to manage certain aspects of this very complex car.
Clearly, given Aston’s well documented financial straits, development has been done on more of a shoestring than is ideal for a car costing £2.4 million plus tax.
Do the flaws undermine the experience?
Through corners yes (more on that in the Driving section), in a straight line, absolutely not. The Cosworth V12 is the best single thing about the car. Yes, it’s a pest when you’re idling about, but really this is a car designed for the track. A track with high noise limits, ideally.
As the revs climb past 3,500 the beast awakens, the sound changes pitch and tone, gaining focus and clarity. And then it just shrieks. The sound is Jurassic. Or 1990s Le Mans. You choose. Best sampled from the pitlane, in all honesty. Inside, weightless acceleration, and barely any need to deploy the ERS button for a 143bhp e-boost.
Is that how the hybrid system works?
Yep, you have to choose when to deploy it – apart from when you pull away. The battery is topped up via spare engine power rather than brake energy. And it can’t run on e-power only.
Does it have rivals?
The obvious one is the AMG One, a car with an equally long, troubled and at times doubtful back story, showing just how challenging it is to get F1 tech into road use. However, our experience with that car was much more limited and riven with reliability issues. We drove the Valkyrie for two days (a day on road and a day on track) and apart from some minor glitches with mirror cameras cutting out, it never missed a beat.
People will cite the Gordon Murray T.50 as a potential rival given it’s another car from the brain of a legendary F1 designer, but Murray has been clear his car is road-focused. The T.50S Niki Lauda, however, is track only.
What's the verdict?
Firstly, we need to celebrate the fact that the Aston Martin Valkyrie has made it into production. For a long time that wasn’t a given. Secondly, what a piece of design. The skill with which the yin and yang of design and engineering have been blended into a compact hypercar that’s lower than a Ford GT40, is remarkable. It’s a fascinating car to pore over.
Yes, there are issues, and likely they all come down to not having the budget for further development. But the truism of the rarefied hypercar sector is that the more expensive the car, the less money there is to make it happen. If you want perfection, buy a Toyota. So the Valkyrie, with heavy F1 input, compromises in areas we’re not used to. Cabin noise is the stand out.
But look, the Valkyrie is exotic and vastly exciting, contains one of the most thrilling, visceral and intense internal combustion engines ever to punch a cylinder and accelerates like a paper dart with afterburners. It’s fabulously single-minded and a marker in the sand to all that might want to follow. Time, we’re sure, will judge it kindly.