Formula One: Hybrids Overtake
By Chris Ellis
Here's a prediction; the first race of the 2009 Formula One season will be won by an 800 bhp hybrid. That should finally convince even Bob Lutz that there's something more to hybrids than good PR!
The governing body of world motorsport, the Federation Internationale
de l'Automobile, has proposed that Formula One cars should become hybrids in
just over two years time. In parallel, Formula One engines are being
'functionally stabilized' until 2010, followed by a new set of engine rules in
2011. The new engine rules will focus on fuel efficiency, not just for
racing engines but with the specific objective of delivering solutions relevant
to road vehicles.
The fierce debate between the
manufacturers and the FIA on engine development came to a head last weekend when
the manufacturers missed the deadline to avoid a complete freeze from
2008. Right now, we have the absurd (and expensive) situation that
flat-out development will continue through 2007, followed by a reset to the
engine specifications of June 2006 from the beginning of 2008. All the
parties seem to agree this is crazy, so hopefully they will fix the problem,
fast. For an amusing (and confusing!) perspective on this, take a look at:- www.grandprix.com/ns/ns17147
So far, the FIA proposal on 'energy
storage devices' merely consists of a willingness to lift the existing ban on
such devices, plus a requirement to limit each unit's weight to 20 kilograms (44
lbs). It has been suggested that the FIA originally intended a
capacitor-based system, with single-source procurement of a standard capacitor
which would be sold on to the teams, who would then implement their own
controllers and electric motors. However, some teams preferred alternative
solutions such as hydraulic or kinetic energy systems, and the current FIA
position is that the technology should be 'completely free', provided it is
As the fuel tanks, batteries and pressure
cylinders in conventional racing cars are all 'energy storage devices', this
article adopts the term 'surge power unit' to describe the device the FIA has in
mind. 'Surge power' accurately reflects the FIA's desire to enhance the
spectacle and appeal of Formula One by enabling more overtaking. It is
also consistent with the forecast by Max Mosley (the President of the FIA), that
'in the next 30-50 years it is absolutely certain that every vehicle on the
public road will be fitted with a device that will enable it to recover all the
energy released when the brakes are applied and store it and use it again to
drive and accelerate the vehicle'.
The FIA predicts that the first F1 surge
power units will deliver some 60 bhp for up to nine seconds, with the power
output eventually doubling to over 120 bhp. Race cars will built up energy
in their surge power units by using regenerative braking into each corner for up
to three seconds a time, building up enough energy for a tactical burst of up to
nine seconds of extra acceleration, once or twice a lap. As surge
power units evolve in terms of power and capacity, the issue of 'combined power'
will loom. For example, what if a 'functionally stabilized' engine of 2010
running on a mixture of gasoline and biofuel is able to deliver almost 800 bhp,
to which is added 120 bhp from the surge power unit? This may well be
regarded by the FIA as 'excessive' power. If the FIA eventually imposes a
limit on total power, will it be on 'combined power', with the teams free to
determine the balance, or just on the engine or just on the surge power
unit? The FIA has never suggested limiting ordinary braking power, and
surely wouldn't contemplate limiting eco-friendly regenerative power.
Consequently, regenerative power is the key attribute in racing hybrids, more so
than either energy capacity (above a sensible minimum of at least one braking
event) or accelerative power. Hence the interest, ultimately, in linking
the surge power unit to the front wheels as well as the rear. If the 2011
regulations relax the weight (and hence power) limit on surge power units, the
potential for super-efficient race cars will rise markedly, and have a major
impact on engine requirements, not just in Formula One but in most other forms
of motor sport.
Now that Formula One engines will be
'functionally stable' until 2011, race engineers can begin to focus on the new
source of competitive advantage, the surge power unit. The FIA envisions
that 20 kg surge power units will eventually have an available energy capacity
of some 900 kiloJoules, or some 250 Watt-hours. By 2008 the minimum weight
of a Formula One car, complete with driver, will have dropped from its current
limit of 605 kg to only 550 kg (1213 lbs). To put that 250 Watt hours of
extra energy into perspective, it's equivalent to the difference between the
kinetic energy of the car at 100 mph (152 Whr) and at 160 mph (390 Whr).
In other words, enough energy to accelerate the car from 100 to 160 mph without
the engine running, if there were no aerodynamic and other
Once the difficult issue of containing
the cost of engine development in Formula One is completely resolved, the
attention of the teams will shift to the FIA's proposed new regulation governing
surge power units. The FIA has already started discussions with interested
teams. Jean Todt, who now heads both the racing and road car divisions
within Ferrari, has publicly stated that he finds the energy storage idea
interesting but is waiting for feedback from the road car division on its
relevance to future Ferrari road cars before committing Ferrari's
support. Only the engine manufacturer Cosworth has been
(understandably) negative on the subject, with most of the other manufacturers
keeping their own counsel, at least in public, until they have had time to
consider the full implications.
The regulations for 2009 must be
finalized by the end of December this year, i.e. in only five months time.
There are a host of issues to resolve in this brief period. Here is just a
- By 2008, engines must last three races and gearboxes four, although brake discs will still only have to last one. Surge power units should have to last only one race in 2009, given their novelty and initial reduced predictability and the desirability of detailed examination after every race. Or will they be required to last longer? If the latter, what will be the penalty if they have to be replaced prematurely?
- The FIA has indicated it would be quite happy to see surge power units driving the front wheels. Will the surge power unit weight limit have to include the front drive shafts and differential, if fitted? If a team also adopts inboard front disc brakes, will that mean that all or most of the weight of the front driveshafts will no longer be counted as part of the weight of the surge power unit? Could engine power also be supplied to the front wheels, bearing in mind that four-wheel-drive is currently banned?
- Will the 20 kg weight limit for the surge power unit raise the minimum car weight to 570 kg, or will it remain at 550 kg?
- Can the surge power unit be controlled separately by its own controller and the driver or must it only receive simple instructions from the standard (Microsoft!) ECU? For example, regenerative braking might be required to operate at full power only (outside the pit lane) whenever the brake pedal is pressed, and only at full power (roughly 60 bhp) when the 'go faster' button is pressed. What then happens when the brakes are applied and the surge power unit is already 'full'? Will brake balance be adjusted automatically, or will only the driver be permitted to control it?
- Must regenerative braking be the only source of energy for the surge power unit, or can some be fed from the engine?
So what are the impications for ROAD
cars? None of the existing production hybrid drives add as much as 60 bhp
to the power of the engine. Even the Lexus GS 450h adds only 49 bhp.
With a complete system weight of only 44 lbs (which includes the equivalent of
the battery, the controller and the motor), the FIA expects surge power
units to achieve 120 bhp, eventually. This indicates that a highly durable
road car version should be able to deliver as much additional power as the
hybrid drive in the Toyota Prius (34 bhp), for a fraction of the weight and cost
of the current battery-based system. At least one of the expected
technologies uses almost nothing but steel and fiber composite. While the
racing versions will use very special and expensive steel alloys, the road
versions will use steels that are already produced in hundreds of thousands of
tons per year. The fiber composite in a 44 lb unit will probably total
less than 7 lbs, costing less than $60 by 2012. The bottom line is
that, by 2015, millions of Chinese and Indian families should be able to
afford new cars fitted with hybrid drives derived from surge power units
which first saw action in Formula One cars in late 2008. This will make a
major contribution towards mitigating Peak Oil and Global Warming. Perhaps
Max Mosley's prediction of '30 to 50 years' will prove a little
In Europe and America, the same surge power units should provide the ideal platform for the option of adding 20 to 40 miles of plug-in battery. A recent NREL study ('Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle Energy Storage System Design' at www.nrel.gov/vehiclesandfuels/vsa/pdfs/39614.pdf) indicates that a 'power-blending' strategy (engine and plug-in battery simultaneously producing energy much of the time) should prove more cost-effective than an approach focused simplistically on maximizing engine-off range. It now looks as if surge power units derived from Formula One will eventually prove the ideal foundation for most forms of hybrid, battery-electric and fuel cell vehicles. And sooner rather than later.
Consider this; if negotiations go relatively smoothly, an FIA regulation will be in place in six months time which will then make almost inevitable a Grand Prix win by a hybrid Formula One car in early 2009. If so, all car manufacturers will know early next year that any high performance road car that is not a hybrid by 2010 will be perceived as 'old tech' and will be doomed to lose market share, because it won't be as accelerative or as eco-friendly and efficient, and because it won't project the desired (patriotic?) image. A biofuel hybrid Corvette is now inevitable; it's just a question of when GM gets round to it. And, yes, of course a plug-in battery will be optional.....
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