Formula One Is Going Green
By Chris Ellis
Just before the British Grand Prix last week, the FIA (the governing body of world motor sport) declared its intention to drag Formula One into the 21st century.
The full transcript of the press conference is available at the Formula1.com web site. Fans of motor racing will want to analyze every sentence, but it's the announcement's impact on road cars which should excite everyone who is concerned about fuel prices and global warming. The central message is that the most technically advanced and heavily-funded form of motor sport will now be obliged to focus on fuel economy, one of the key issues that concern ordinary drivers. Consequently, Formula One will become relevant and useful again, rather than just an advanced form of horse racing.
The President of the FIA, Max Moseley, gave a stark warning to the auto makers (BMW, DaimlerChrysler, Fiat, Honda, Renault/Nissan, Toyota, etc) who control most of the Formula One teams. He claimed that they were spending hundreds of millions of dollars every year just trying to get a few more rpm out of their racing engines. This was unsustainable, and wasted superb engineering resources on an ultimately futile objective. Formula One should be the proving ground for advanced automotive technology, but it has fallen behind in areas such as fuel consumption. In the mid-90s at least two teams experimented with hybrid systems, but the FIA stopped them because it was concerned about safety. Since then, battery-based hybrid drives have been successfully launched in road cars. The FIA has now decided to allow (petrol-only) hybrids from the beginning of 2009, subject to final approval at the end of this year.
The FIA is placing only two major constraints on the technology used. The first, which is paramount, is safety. The second is a weight limit of 20 kilograms (44 lbs) for the complete 'surge power unit'. For example, if ultra-capacitors are used, the motor and controller/inverter must be included within the 20 kg weight budget. The technology is otherwise 'free'. Among the obvious alternatives are hydraulic systems and kinetic energy storage systems (quaintly referred to as 'inertia systems' by the FIA). While 20 kilograms would be a prohibitive limitation using conventional materials in a 1.5 ton road car, the minimum weight of a Formula One car, including the driver, will have fallen to only 550 kilograms (1213 lbs) by 2008. In addition, key components have much shorter target 'lives', say ten hours versus five thousand, and much higher component stresses are allowed in racing. Consequently, the FIA estimates that the early systems will be capable of delivering some 60 bhp of additional power for as much as nine seconds, with peak power doubling over several years of further development. The FIA quotes the initial energy storage capacity it anticipates as 400 kilojoules, which translates to some 110 Watt hours.
Let's put that probable 60 bhp of power boost into perspective. The hybrid drive in the Toyota Prius adds only some 34 bhp to the 76 bhp engine of a vehicle which weighs three times as much with a couple of passengers. The FIA's 'entertainment objective' of introducing more overtaking is clearly going to be a racing certainty.
On engines, the FIA game plan distills to the following, assuming no significant changes. From now through to the end of 2010, the cars will run with homologated (i.e. 'frozen') engine designs, essentially the current engines. These are 2.4 liter V8s, producing almost 800 bhp. Despite the light weight of the current cars, they usually get only 4 miles per gallon on a typical track. The fuel consumption is so high because the cars repeatedly surge up to 180 mph or more and then brake heavily, many times in each lap of a typical circuit, throwing away the kinetic energy of the car as heat from the brakes every time they do it. In addition, the cars' coefficients of drag are almost twice those of sleek road cars, as a result of the massive downforce generated by their wings, and open wheels, etc. One might think of Formula One as an attempt to run the EPA's city cycle at insane speeds in cars that have the aerodynamic drag of an SUV! Unlike NASCAR and the IRL, where speeds remain very high and there is little merit in regenerative braking, Formula One cries out for it, and is about to get it. Because some Formula One races are run on public roads (such as Monaco) and all the other tracks have many road-like turns, the capabilities demanded of Formula One cars are much more 'realistic' than those needed for banked ovals. Consequently, there is genuine potential for race-bred Formula One technology to find its way, eventually, into road cars. This certainly should be true of hybrid technology. A $20,000 unit that can add 200 bhp to a $100,000 sports car and double its mpg in the city is likely to have a market.
The FIA is determined to whittle away at downforce, which implies reducing drag, but would like to prevent top speeds rising. Consequently, the FIA is going to have to cut engine power beyond 2010, particularly as power levels build up from the surge power units. Here's the deal the FIA is putting to the participating auto makers. Together, agree a new engine formula, with only two constraints. First any new engine must still sound and feel like a racing engine. Second, and I quote directly because it's critical - 'any research to improve that racing engine would have to be directly relevant to research to improve fuel efficiency in road cars'. That changes the whole ball game.
Amongst the other pearls that emerged during the press conference, Moseley indicated that "we'd be quite happy" with an energy storage device connected to the front wheels. This would effectively turn the car into a four-wheel-drive vehicle, and give it better traction off the line and out of corners. This competitive advantage probably means all the teams will want it, once it's proved to work. Ditto road hybrids? Another interesting move is that the fuel used in Formula One must have a biofuel content in excess of 5.75% from the start of the the season after next.
Standing further back, consider this. Almost any mechanical engineer (and most others!) on the planet would jump at the chance of joining a Formula One team. It's the most competitive and prestigious engineering activity of all, beating aerospace and computing hands down. Now the FIA has told these engineers to stop playing around and to concentrate on doing something useful, which is precisely what most engineers prefer doing. The Directors of R&D in the major auto companies are going to realize, once they've recovered from the shock, that they now have the awesome talents of their racing divisions aimed at one of their key corporate objectives. The clever ones will insist that Racing is still paid for by Marketing, but will also make sure that technology transfer is pursued aggressively. The pace of hybrid development will then accelerate as only a race car can.
The FIA appears to agree with Toyota's view that almost all road vehicles will eventually have regenerative braking, delivered by surge power units (SPUs). It won't matter what the engine runs on, or whether there is a conventional engine at all. If fuel cells finally make it, running on whatever, they will need SPUs to achieve the advertised levels of efficiency. Without an SPU a fuel cell vehicle will probably cost more to run than a 'cellulosic hybrid'. For a pure Electric Vehicle (much beloved by readers of this site), it already makes sense to insulate the high capacity battery from power spikes with an SPU. I suspect this thinking lay behind Max's slightly disparaging comments on current hybrid road cars, and his remark that - "It is a completely different basic technology and will be part of a more complex system eventually on road cars". Presumably the FIA has in mind plug-ins with Formula-One-derived SPUs. Plug-in Corvettes, anyone?
Despite Max's apparent denial of the 'hybridization' Formula One, of course the cars will be hybrids in 2009. In fact, this is exactly what the FIA said back in December 2005: 'It is intended to allow systems for energy storage and recovery (hybrid systems) from 2009, provided this can be done without causing budgetary difficulties for any of the competing teams'. The neat solution the FIA has come up with is to force the major teams to throttle back on engine development, releasing funds for SPU development. The smaller teams are protected by 'open access' to SPU supply, with a suggested price cap.
Now for some personal observations. Back in 2003, Max wrote me in response to my paper 'Efficient Racing', saying essentially 'I agree with much of what you say, but the teams won't go for it'. Now that he is about to retire, it seems to me that he is determined to force the pace. The paper's at:- www.the-mia.com/filelibrary/EfficientRacing.pdf Of course, EV World readers saw it first.
I met with Peter Wright (the FIA's technical advisor) the day before the announcement, and Peter asked me to let him know how we might respond. I believe we will be able to build 'Racing PowerBeams' that deliver at least 60 bhp within the 20 kg limit, but there is an array of issues to be resolved over the next six months before the new regulation goes firm and we can be sure what we can actually deliver. EV World readers will be the first (of the general public) to know.
At the 1996 British Grand Prix, I realised I was standing only five feet from Stephen Hawking, who was only fifteen feet from Kofi Annan. They were there just to watch (and feel) the race. What other sport can claim the same range of spectators? Not your average football game! Because the United States is the only country that doesn't regard it's national Grand Prix as more important than the Super Bowl, most Americans won't appreciate the seismic impact of this announcement, not just on motor sport but on the whole automotive industry. But Ford and GM will, and may already regret not being in the game. GM was never in, but Ford may now feel particularly foolish, having dropped out just as the game was about to get really interesting, and when Ford was already beginning to score points. However, they'll be relieved to hear that we will be only too happy to sell them SPUs, at a little less than the price ceiling suggested by the FIA.
Now for some speculation on what a 2012 Formula One car might be like. I suspect it will look very similar to today's cars, but a major evolution will be in progress under the skin. The wheels and tyres will be a little larger, the wings a little smaller, but beyond that you'll be hard pressed to tell a 2012 from a 2007, unless you're close. But the sound will be quite different, a stallion's scream rather than the annoying high-pitched whine of a giant wasp. The 2012s won't just sound like racing cars, they could sound like great racing cars. Here's why they might.
To cut power and improve efficiency, let's assume the 2011 regulations include an engine capacity upper limit of two liters, with a 13,000 rpm limit and a maximum of six cylinders. Of course the teams could use four cylinder engines, but no one does of course. Naturally, all the engines are running on a fuel made mainly from cellulosic ethanol, now that Global Warming is acknowledged as a major threat, even by the United States government. The cellulosic fuel produces much less CO2 than gasoline, but it also allows the engine to develop more power, hence the new regulation's radical cut in permitted engine speed. However, the new engines still produce over 400 bhp, in addition to the 150 bhp from the SPUs (substantially enlarged in 2011). At 12,000 rpm a new six will make almost the same music as a 4 liter 400 bhp V12 Ferrari engine running with no mufflers at 6,000 rpm. As promised, the 2012s will sound like great race cars!
The 2012 BMW is particularly interesting. BMW uses a straight six (what else?) mounted alongside the latest twin rotor PowerBeam, in the space once occupied by a V10. The PowerBeam takes all of its regenerative energy from the front wheels, and feeds at least half of it forward again on acceleration, but it transmits the rest to the rear wheels. On a slow circuit like Monaco, the 2012 is slightly faster that the 2007, sounds much better and uses only half the fuel. Sounds like progress, quite literally.
The essence of this announcement by the FIA is that some of the world's finest engineering resources are now going to focus on surge power units, the key foundation technology for improved vehicle fuel efficiency, whatever the fuel or engine. This thrust will be supplemented later by major efforts in engine development aimed at cutting fuel consumption further. A particular objective is to ensure that new developments are only undertaken if they will eventually benefit road vehicles.
Max Moseley must be congratulated for raising the protective umbrella of 'relevance' over Formula One. However bad things get with Peak Oil and Energy Security, Formula One can now claim, with increasing validity, that it's no longer part of the problem because it provides the crucible for some of the key solutions. That is some legacy.
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