Silver Linings? – LEGO Speed Champions, Mercedes-AMG F1 W12 E Performance & Project One (76909)

I’m far from a car buff as you well know, but Formula 1 has a special place in my heart. It’s not that I was particularly interested to begin with, but in the early 1990s my brother couldn’t get enough of it and so I casually picked up a few things from his magazines and of course watching races on TV. That and of course the Michael Schumacher era began soon to be followed by Sebastian Vettel. That’s why even today I try to keep an eye on developments there, if only tangentially. Checking out the Mercedes-AMG F1 W12 E Performance & Project One (76909) therefore was also a bit of a given, be it just to poke a bit of fun at my brother and have a discussion about the details of the model(s).

LEGO Speed Champions, Mercedes AMG F1 W12 E Performance & Project One (76909), Box

Contents and Pricing

As a dual pack this set initially cost 40 Euro MSRP, but after LEGO‘s ridiculous recent price hike costs 45 Euro. The good news is that despite all this, this more or loss still equates to merely twice the price of single-item sets. Unlike e.g. with the Lamborghini Urus ST-X & Lamborghini Huracán Super Trofeo EVO (76899) they didn’t throw a large premium on top. At the same time the less good news comes in that you won’t be able to shave much off those 40 Euro. As an exclusive set only available at LEGO stores and a handful select retailers there’s no wriggle room for large discounts.

However, effectively I got mine for 38 Euro, which in a funny way is even LEGO‘s fault. they appear to be producing this set in such low numbers that they’re constantly running out and it’s out of stock. I tried to pick it up directly in the Leipzig LEGO store on three separate occasions before I gave up and ordered it from one of those few alternate vendors that still had some packages. You should be prepared that it may take a moment before you can get your hand on this.

LEGO Speed Champions, Mercedes AMG F1 W12 E Performance & Project One (76909), Overview

Sticker Madness

Another of those things I keep boring you with is of course my dislike for stickers/ decals and in this case it’s really, really bad. As we all know, the Mercedes Formula 1 cars aren’t called Silver Arrows for nothing and consequently this would have meant that LEGO had to produce a ton of pieces for this set in Flat Silver, which of course never happens. Instead they are trying to compensate this with “illusion painting” by means of printed adhesive foil and here once more the sheer number of sticker pieces is beyond belief. And the AMG Project One doesn’t do much better, since in reality it’s also another silver Mercedes. So ultimately you end up with two relatively large sticker sheets and what makes it even worse for me is that you right away can see how they’re even trying to cheat the surface curvature by using gradients on the F1 car’s spine.

LEGO Speed Champions, Mercedes AMG F1 W12 E Performance & Project One (76909), Stickers

The Formula 1 W12 1

LEGO Speed Champions, Mercedes AMG F1 W12 E Performance & Project One (76909), F1, Variants PiecesInevitably LEGO‘s heavy reliance on stickers is a two-edged sword and while not using them increases the re-usability value of the sets, but it also diminishes the aesthetic value. Often this can be overlooked, but with the Formula 1 car it really shows very painfully. It has none of the magic it should have and more or less just looks black. This also affects the minute differences between Hamilton‘s car and Bottas‘ version for which some extra pieces are included. Aside from the distinct Yellow camera bar the differentiation is lost without the stickers.

As such, only the Dark Turquoise and Dark Red elements will really stand out and add some flair. The Dark Red 1 x 4 modified plate is exclusive to this set and so are the little knobs used for the rear view mirrors. The wedge slopes have since appeared in more sets, but initially were also limited to this one. There’s a few unique printed parts like the wheel covers used to shim over the regular wheels and create the illusion of those specially marked tires to indicate their softness rating. I feel that this is a bit of a missed opportunity. While the Blue looks very harmonious and calm for a display model, in light of the overall lack of contrast I would have preferred Yellow or Red markings. In fact it would have been cool if they included at least one of those options as an alternative. Other printed pieces are the Mercedes star of course or the faux air intake above the cockpit.

The assembly of the car is simple enough, but make no mistake – this is overall rather fragile. Many elements literally only hang by a single stud or clip and handling requires a tender touch. The model should be held by the modified plates mimicking the chassis or the wheels, but other areas will immediately come off if you don’t have a tender touch. That’s almost like on the real thing except that it doesn’t require racing at 300+ kph or bumping into a wall for the front or rear wing to fly off.

The other apparent issue is the lack of smoothness. At this point I don’t consider it so much a general limitation of using LEGO bricks, but rather of the scale. Point in case: With introductions like the recent “jester shoe” arch it would be possible to create some of the subtle, yet complex curves, just not at this size. This also goes for the suspensions of the wheels, which of course aren’t big fat tubes on the real thing. Neither are spoilers and winglets big and chunky, but I guess there’s really no good way to translate all those paper-thin carbon fiber bits into bricks.

LEGO Speed Champions, Mercedes AMG F1 W12 E Performance & Project One (76909), F1, CockpitThe cockpit is surprisingly adequate in its sparseness and even using the game pad once introduced for the Collectible Minifigures series for the steering wheel is fitting. However, since there is no sticker for it I feel that including the printed version from way back then might still have been better, even if it doesn’t represent the actual button layout. A point that has caused much discussion is the largely inaccurate depiction of the HALO device. Using a rigid tube is really not ideal and overall it looks way too bulky and too large. Short of creating a new piece I can’t think of a much better solution, though. All the swords/ blades or hotdogs that come to my mind are not curved enough to capture the shape.

The Project One

The second car in the package is apparently one I know even less about than the F1 one. That’s why it more or less looks like the many other (super) sports cars in the series. Indeed it also almost builds like the Aston Martin Vantage or the Corvette, give or take the necessary variations to accommodate each car’s specific details. In this case this in particular refers to the large fin blade in the aft section.

Otherwise the car is rather mundane and once more one can only bemoan that there are no genuine silver parts. This would make things look so much more interesting even without the stickers.

Similar to other cars in this year’s Speed champions line-up this one also uses the new 2 x 3 curved wedge slope and all the same these are also printed with the shapes for the headlights. The other printed parts are the AMG logo on the intake grille and of course the canopy piece. The latter lacks opacity, something which sadly has become an “expected” (or dreaded?) standard, even if it didn’t need to be this way if LEGO invested a bit more time and care.

LEGO Speed Champions, Mercedes AMG F1 W12 E Performance & Project One (76909), AMG, CockpitThe cockpit is very plain again and shamelessly exploits the fact that a) those racing cars have very stripped down interiors in the first place and b) the dark tinted glass would further restrict visibility. Would be nice to have some bright red Recaro seats and support tubing from the inner frame shining through from time to time, though.

Concluding Thoughts

Despite my criticisms this is quite an okay set. LEGO (and by extension Mercedes AMG) had the good sense to not gouge their fans with excessive pricing inflated by licensing fees and that alone deserves some recognition. As someone who builds these models only for fun it would of course have been even better if the set were broadly available in retail and thus I could have gotten some discount, but sometimes it can’t be helped.

The Formula 1 car is clearly the weaker of the two due to the limitations of the system. This would probably make more sense as a Creator Expert/ Icons set in around 1/12th scale, but ironically then I might not be able to afford it. I guess I’m caught between a rock and a hard place on that. If you take the set at its face value it is definitely okay and will fit nicely into your collection of similar Speed Champions models.

Island Architecture – LEGO Architecture, Singapore (21057)

It’s been ages since I last reviewed a LEGO Architecture set, which is not least of all related how few there are overall and this severely limiting the scope of what I might even be interested in. That and of course the ridiculous pricing of these packages. Only now that the Singapore (21057) skyline has come out I got interested in it again.

LEGO Architecture, Singapore (21057), Box

As far as that goes, my knowledge of the actual location is limited to what you can see during the annual Formula 1 broadcasts and some documentaries, but my impression that on some level I might actually like to visit it. At the same time I’m not too sure about that “golden cage” thing with their very, very regulated daily life and strict rules for everything plus the tropical climate is probably also another thing you would have to get used to. Either way, there’s certainly some intriguing aspects to that big city/ island/ state all rolled into one.

Pricing and Contents

As already mentioned, I find the price point of the Architecture sets highly questionable. You pay a lot of money for a big pile of mostly 1 x 1 and 1 x 2 elements. Even if the result may turn out nice, after all, this always feels like LEGO are really milking it due to the adult target demographic for these sets. This is not much different for this outing with its 827 pieces at a whopping 60 Euro suggested retail price. It’s really no wonder they are breaking new revenue records every year.

Given this, it is even more advisable to look around for good discounts and this isn’t even my usual “I’m on a budget.” excuse. I really mean it when I say that you should really try and avoid paying full price. I got my package for 43 Euro during some Amazon promo, but even that still feels steep. Ideally this would sell for somewhere around 45 Euro MSRP, so it could come down to 35 Euro with discounts.

LEGO Architecture, Singapore (21057), Overview, Front Side

One of the reasons why I’m so adamant about not paying too much here is the sheer audacity with which LEGO cheapened out here. For starters they didn’t use one of those nice foldable boxes with a lid as has been common for most Architecture sets, but rather a standard push-tab box as used in other series. This will of course limit the value of keeping it around, even more so if you damage it while attempting to crack it open.

The other thing why I’m more than slightly unforgiving of the hefty price is the rather generic nature of the content. Sure, there’s quite a few printed pieces, but except for the new 2 x 3 tile on the OCBC Centre they’re not exclusive to this set. The same goes for the recolored elements. In my opinion these items do not offset the cost enough to justify such a price, nice as their inclusion may be. Am I being to picky? Perhaps, yet I really feel the price/ value proposition is not the best, even if I got attracted by some of that in the first place.

LEGO Architecture, Singapore (21057), Overview, Back Side

The Model

A glance at the model as a whole from a more human-sized eye level shows how crammed everything is. This is in a way true to the original, with space on an island being an expensive premium, but I feel it is not ideal to overstuff a smaller rendition of the same thing just as much. Everything looks rather distractingly noisy and is of course overshadowed by the behemoth that is the Marina Bay Sands hotel, not only a very large building in the general sense, but one of the world’s largest hotels indeed. Compared to it, most other buildings look tiny, including other skyscrapers and high-rises.

This becomes even more of an issue due to the base having been kept narrow to be in line with other models from this series. There’s no genuine depth here and especially the smaller elements don’t have much room to breathe. the geographical layout in the real world is apparently also quite different with individual buildings existing in different districts of the city quite a ways apart.

LEGO Architecture, Singapore (21057), Overview, Ground Level Front View

With the Marina Bay Sands hotel dominating everything and drawing all the attention, we have to address the elephant in the room: The color of the windows/ glass front. This has caused quite some debate on the internet at large. Apparently at one point there was a predecessor to this set released as an exclusive only in Singapore that had them in the standard Trans Light Blue instead of Trans Dark Blue and it looked better. Was it correct, though? Probably not. This is a bit of a multi-layered problem, so here are my thoughts on it.

First you have to ask yourself how these windows look in reality. If you look up photos online, you can find a multitude of colors depending on the angle, time of day and other factors, making any interpretation as to what the actual color might be difficult. This is of course inevitable with the panels themselves being high-tech products sandwiched together from multiple layers of glass and foil and covered with special coatings to reflect UV and Infrared light to support rooms not getting too heated or their occupants suffering eye damage. In turn, the complex physical interactions cause huge shifts in how the color is perceived. A lot of that is also simply affected by the water surrounding the area reflecting in the windows.

The other problem is that the windows are directly built onto White bricks due to the constraints of the scale. This makes everything look shallow and lacking in depth. They would have to have chosen a completely approach to the construction of the model to put some dark plates underneath. Could they have done things differently beyond that? Yes and no. I tried to “fix” things by applying a few Satin Trans Black (Trans Black with the iridescent coating) tiles I had floating around in my stock, but it doesn’t really solve the problem, either. On the other hand I’m pretty confident that LEGO could have mitigated this somewhat by printing on additional fine horizontal lines in Silver or White. the point here would have been that this would have better represented the actual number of floors in the building and distracted from the studs underneath peeking through.

LEGO Architecture, Singapore (21057), Marina Bay Sands, Front View

The back side of the hotel is covered in 1 x 2 modified grille tiles, which is an adequate representation of the window shades, balconies and protrusions, but similar to the front it looks rather flat due to being White on White. Apparently it’s less of an issue, though, since you’re not going to see it as often.

LEGO Architecture, Singapore (21057), Marina Bay Sands, Back View

An interesting tidbit is hidden inside the hotel’s towers where some pistol handle pieces are creatively used to connect the front and back plates in order to reinforce the overall connection. To me this almost feels like an admission that in the end LEGO may need simple direction inverter pieces, after all. Most of their competitors have something along those lines and as e.g. the Mega Pokémon figures prove, it makes life so much easier and opens so much more options, especially in such tight and restricted spaces.

LEGO Architecture, Singapore (21057), Marina Bay Sands, Insides

Moving on to the rest of the model, there is a selection of skyscrapers. I already mentioned the OCBC Centre and the tiles that come with it. These no doubt will be useful in the future to emulate all sorts of grates in situations where you can’t actually use other pieces to create them. Heck, this even could be used to simulate some basket weave on chairs and other furniture. There are also a ton of the newer 1 x 1 x 2 brackets, both in the up and down versions in this building along with some 1 x 1 x 1. They’re all in Tan, which is a new color for these pieces. They’re included out of sheer necessity or else it would be nearly impossible to build this just one brick thick overall.

Similarly a result of need are the new 1 x 4 x 1 rounded pieces on the edges, used here to connect the brackets and stabilize what otherwise would be a rather fragile stack of bricks. This piece will likely be very popular to simulate fake relief columns on facades and similar. The just released Real Madrid – Santiago Bernabéu Stadium (10299) also has 80 of them to simulate some exterior supports. On that note – this particular building is clipped onto the base at an angle only by ways of two actual clips, which makes it a rather wobbly connection. Most of the time it will look like it’s tipping in one direction or the other due to how thin it is nothing acting as a stopper.

LEGO Architecture, Singapore (21057), Skyscrapers, Back View

The large white thing in the middle is supposed to represent One Raffles Place. This was easily the least satisfying build in the whole set as you essentially layer a ton of 1 x 2 and 1 x 1 plates in Trans Black for the windows which are then framed with a few white elements. It just felt tedious. Next to it is Lau Pa Sat, which if it wasn’t for the unique octagonal shape would be barely recognizable. This is clearly a case where LEGO would have needed to create a new piece to represent the spokes and roofs or just left it out. The Fullerton Hotel fares slightly better, though the similarities with the actual thing are not really recognizable, least of all by the uninitiated that never have seen it for real or researched it intensely. Again a case where they could just have done away with it.

Doing so would have freed up more space for the Gardens by the Bay, which thanks to their unique artificial trees and the way they are represented here adds some interest. With the other buildings out of the way they likely could have spread things out and even added some hint at the skywalk or added another building like the blossom-shaped ArtScience Museum.

LEGO Architecture, Singapore (21057), Skyscrapers, Front View

The Boat Quay is represented by a bunch of tiny huts, which is okay, but if you didn’t look it up, you almost wouldn’t know what it’s supposed to be. The waterline is way too narrow and of course there is not a single boat or landing bridge to be seen anywhere. No doubt this is one of those quarters that would be bustling with activity throughout certain times of the day and might have deserved some more love. The nondescript building in the background is likely a reference to some of the living quarters outside downtown, but nobody really seems to know for certain. Anyway, be careful to pre-sort the printed bricks (also used on the Fullerton) to prevent things from looking crooked. There are ever so slight variations in each print that can disturb the pattern’s regularity.

LEGO Architecture, Singapore (21057), Boat Quay, Front View

On thing that has irked me are the “palms”. It’s just the same triple leaf piece we’ve seen so many times and at the very least I would have hoped for a color like Dark Green and perhaps a few more to really hint at the luscious tropical environment.

Concluding Thoughts

For fans and collectors of the series this set will be perfectly fine, but as an occasional buyer I feel somewhat unsatisfied. There’s just not much here that would compel me to keep the model around assembled, so I’m going to dismantle it and scalp it for parts. I’m not going to pretend that this wasn’t the plan, but I always leave room for sets to convince me otherwise. I still think the biggest issue is that they tried to cram in too much and in the process none of the elements present really shines, not least of all due to the Marina Bay Sands towering over everything. Perhaps they indeed should have just created a “Marina Bay Sands with Surroundings” package instead and foregone the other stuff…

Explorer-ing… Cars – LEGO Explorer Magazine, August 2021

As I’ve probably already written a hundred times I’m not that obsessed when it comes to cars, bikes and other motorized vehicles, but oddly enough I do watch the occasional race on TV. Summer is of course racing season, so it’s not the worst idea that the latest LEGO Explorer magazine deals with some of that subject matter.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, August 2021, Cover

Of course as usual the topic is tackled way too broadly and generically for my taste with everything from actual racing cars to super sports cars to electric vehicles thrown into the mix. Perhaps a bit too higgledy-piggledy for its own good and I maintain my position that a narrower focus in each issue would help. The future of cars could be worth its own edition as could racing cars and then there’s still enough room left to include the fancy cars from Speed Champions.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, August 2021, Info Page

There’s some additional info pages with a few tidbits such as the speed records depicted here, though I feel that kids cannot really relate to the numbers. A proper diagram translating everything to relative speeds like you find it in more scientifically-minded literature would probably have helped.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, August 2021, Info Page

There’s a small coloring page based on the Lamborghini Siàn, which of course LEGO have in their portfolio as a 400 Euro Technic model, so it’s not hard to see where this is coming from. Not sure, though, whether coloring a plan view is that attractive. A proper perspective drawing shouldn’t have been too difficult to create, or should it?!

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, August 2021, Coloring Page

The road-based game map offers some potential for creative play outside the original rules, so it’s regrettable that it isn’t actually a separate oversize poster.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, August 2021, Road Game

The actual poster presents some specialty machines, including the super expensive LEGO model of the Liebherr excavator, but is ultimately not much to write home about. You know, that old “I’ve seen this stock photo a million times.” thing. They really should put in more work to create their own photos and artwork.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, August 2021, Poster

The buildable extra is kind of okay, but at the same time also a bit lame. You know what it’s supposed to represent – a Formula 1 or Indycar car – but it’s way too minimalist to really look good. Mostly it’s simply too flat and I can’t really understand why they didn’t use e.g. this 1 x 1 curved slope for the dorsal spine’s air intake at least, among other pieces they could have chosen to better represent the curved shapes of such a vehicle. 

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, August 2021, Extra

Overall this is a somewhat lackluster issue of this particular mag. It doesn’t enthuse you and “just exists”. The editors seem to not quite have known what to focus on and what to emphasize, so this feels like a bit of everything thrown in and ending up as an indistinguishable blob of something. Let’s hope that the next editions will be better again…