Formula One's Push for Radical Relevance
The perspective of EV World's UK auto racing correspondent
By Bill Moore
Chris Ellis, EV World's UK motor racing correspondent, has more than a journalistic interest in the changes being proposed at FIA, the governing body for Formula One racing. His company, HyKinesys, is actively developing the kind of equipment that racing teams are likely to be looking for in the next three years if all the participants, from the governing board to the manufacturers to the teams, themselves, buy into the changes being proposed.
He sat down over a recent weekend to digest the two 30-page proposals, one governing chassis changes and the other power plants as to their potential impact on racing, as well as his company. We asked him to share with us his analysis of the proposed rule changes and how they might eventually impact not only F1 racing, but the consumer auto marketplace, since this is the raison dete behind making Formula One radically revelant.
IN BRIEF: Synopsis of Interview
Health Warning: Ellis stressed that FIA stresses these proposals, which FIA hopes will take effect in 2011, are "very much proposals" and "far from a done deal." But his personal take is that the organization is getting quite close to what the final regulations will look like.
The changes being proposed are, in his professional view, very radical and rapidly evolving with the new chassis rules being the most recent piece of the puzzle to emerge. In terms of the powertrain, FIA would cut engine horsepower from 750 bhp to 270 kW (363 bhp). The kinetic energy recovery systems (electrical, mechanical, thermal, etc.) increase from 2009's 60 kW to a proposed 200 kW, giving the 2011 cars a total of 470 kW of energy or approximately 630 bhp, making them in Ellis' words "real hybrids". In fact, Ellis contends, by 2011, they will surpass any consumer hybrid on the road today in terms of their overall reliance on stored kinetic energy. The ratio of engine to energy storage is likely to be 50/50 by 2015, he predicts, up from the current 2011 target of roughly 60/40.
Ellis likens this 270:200 ratio to Toyota's chairman ordering his lead Lexus engineeer to take the GS 350 -- the non-hybrid version of the GS 450h -- and cut the 290 hp engine in the car by half to 140 bhp, while also adding 100 bhp (75 kW) of hybrid-electric drive. Now the car has 240 hp to play with, but the coefficient of drag, determined by the body shape and chassis, also has to be cut from it current 0.26 to 0.19, the same as the EV1. As a result, the GS 350 would go, Ellis calculates, from 29 mpg to 50 mpg, while acceleration and top speed would remain the same. This is equivalent to what Formula One is attempting to do for its F1 cars.
FIA's proposals do not favor one particular kinetic energy storage device or system over another. There is the assumption, however that some form of turbo-compounding will be part of the 200 kW, probably something around 30 kW of energy recovered from the exhaust system and feed directly back to the engine. Also, electric wheel motors will not be part of the drive system, Ellis argues for a number of technical reasons he didn't want to go into at the moment. However, A123 batteries are given "an honorable mention," he added.
The revamped greener cars will have to be ready to race by March, 2009 so the teams have to be working hard to identify and prefect the appropriate technology between now and then. This means the cars will begin being tested by this time next years or mid-summer 2008. The 2009 cars will only be able to capture energy from the rear axle, but Ellis thinks it probable that by 2011 the teams will also be making use of the front axle as well.
Because of the current uncertainty over which combination of energy capture will turn out to be the most effective in terms of cost, performance and durability, Ellis sees the "rich teams" running two or three parallel development programs for as long as they possibly can before having to make a decision on which approach to use on the track in Melbourne, Australia in March 2009.
Because of the radical revolution being proposed, the economic impact on manufacturers will not be trivial. Ellis says watch who pays for this; it is likely to no longer be funded solely out of the marketing and advertising budgets of companies like Mercedes and Toyota, but from their mainstream R&D budgets with decisions made at the boardroom level. This is all part of FIA's strategy to make the technology used in F1 racing more relevant to road cars; it is, in essence, bringing the rules into closer compliance with what the developments directors at the carmakers would want to see. Strategically, what is happening is the decision making is shifting from the teams to the corporate boardrooms who fund them. Now companies, who are currently not players like Ford, VW and Audi, get seats at the table, as well.
In terms of its potential impact on the American racing scene, all of the auto racing fraternities with the exception of Nascar, are -- like F1 -- looking over their shoulder at the real world and gradually adapting to their rules to fit it. They are, as Ellis sees it, somewhat consistent with what is "coming out of the Senate and The White House" -- "thou shalt use as much E-85 as possible."
An American Le Mans car needs only a few minor modifications to bring it into parity with a European version. Similarly, a Champ racing car could hold its own against a F1 car with only small changes. So US racing isn't all that far behind in terms of where F1 is proposing to go. The same can't be said for Nascar, which is clearly and happily stuck in the 1950s and makes no pretension of trying to be environmentally responsible or reflective of technological advancement.
For Ellis, whose company is developing a "surge power" energy system for both F1 and the Automotive X-Prize, the real question is how much and how soon will what's being done in Formula One percolate down to the consumer world? He sees it as being very close, at least from his company's perspective, because where are important pieces of each in both systems; parts of his Formula One unit are also in the X-Prize unit, as well as a still-secret program he's developing in partnership with two very large, American-based trans-nationals, which he promises I'll get to drive this time next year and will "knock your socks off." Of the current eleven teams currently participating in Formula One, he has NDAs with two of the teams and will be briefing four more. He's also briefed more than half of the leading automobile manufacturers.
Fear is the primary motivator for the radicalization of F1, Ellis believes. Fear that some day in the future, when the next oil crisis hits and gas lines appear again, governments like the EU Commission will simply order racing to shut down in order to save fuel for its citizenry. FIA wants to be in a position to argue that it shouldn't be shut down because it is the crucible in which fuel saving technologies are being developed through intense competition every couple weeks. The second reason is that FIA is a socially responsible organization that knows climate change is for real and that oil is not an infinite resource. And finally, Formula One is the "third world war without bullets" as global teams tensely compete with one another in ways that simply aren't seen at the consumer level of auto manufacturing. It is the pressure of competition that is driving technology at a pace far faster than the normal development cycle in Detroit or Tokyo of Stuttgart.
While neither Chinese nor Indian car manufacturers have yet to get involved in F1 or similar racing programs, the opening of the track in Shanghai and a talk of building one in New Delhi suggests that as local interest in high performance auto racing develops in the two largest populated nations on the planet, it will likely be followed by the larger national car companies. As more F1 races are added elsewhere in the world, FIA is dropping some in venues in Europe, starting with the French Grand Prix in 2008, in order to make room on the calendar. Ellis sees within five years at least one major Chinese auto manufacturer entering the F1 lists.
Ellis is working to try and get two more F1 circuits in North America by 2011; one on each coast, which would mean the Formula One calendar would then have three races in North America. He points out that unlike Nascar, which requires big oval tracks, F1 can be raced almost anywhere because all Formula One circuits are road tracks. He adds that this next generation of cars will be significantly quiter than today's 750 hp vehicles that require spectators to wear ear protectors. These quiter or more accurately "less loud" cars will make staging races on city streets more acceptable to the local residents.
To the question of will there ever be an all-electric equivalent to F1, Ellis thinks no, at least if they have to rely solely on battery chemistry as we know it today. He thinks the demands of a hour of racing at the speeds necessary to keep it exciting will require something closer to a small fusion drive at some distant point in the future, maybe 2100.
You can listen to the complete 35-minute discussion by using either of the two MP3 players at the top of the page or by downloading the 8.3 MB MP3 file to your computer for transfer to your favorite MP3 device.