F1 racing leads the charge for greener cars

By Nat Hunt.

Motorsport in general is seen by most as a gratuitous waste of petrol, rubber, and more money than anyone would care to think about. Therefore, it’s a fair question as to why it’s featuring on a blog about socially responsible design…

Two weeks ago I wrote about Tesla, their patent release, and the ripple effect it promises to have on the automotive industry. If you read it, you’ll remember the dilemma I mentioned regarding the lack of technological drive in the industry; and that’s where the F1 comes in.

The Federation Internationale de l’ Automobile (International Automobile Federation) is the governing body behind Formula 1 racing, and they dictate the yearly rules about performance and safety regulations. Since WWI they have been reducing the power output of engines both for safety, and to push teams to be more creative in the ways they make their cars faster. In 1989 turbochargers were banned, in 2006 the 3.0L V10 engines were reduced to a maximum of 2.4L V8s. Despite the reductions, engine manufacturers were consistently able to make their engines more and more powerful, and this technology has filtered through to the consumer market.

It’s possibly worth establishing at this point that, from an environmental standpoint, this is a good thing. Consumers expect a certain amount of power in a car, whether that’s enough to make it go from A to B, or enough to go from A to B very quickly. If that same amount of power can be reached with a smaller, more efficient engine, then less fuel is being used.

In 2014, arguably the biggest ruling changes ever were enforced, creating massive challenges for F1 engine manufacturers. The 2.4L V8 engines were reduced to 1.6L V6 engines, now turbocharged. Turbochargers recover lost energy by using the movement of exhaust fumes to compress more air into the engine, increasing power, but additional energy recover systems were put in place as well. In 2014 drivers are also given 30% less fuel than they would normally have used in the past.

2014 F1 Renault Engine

Renault’s 2014 F1 engine. Image courtesy of http://www.motorreport.com.au.

Because of this, F1 engines now feature a number of new components. In addition to the turbocharger, the Motor Generator Unit-Heat (MGU-H) wraps around the exhaust of the engine, and harvests the intense heat generated to deliver more power to the engine. The Kinetic MGU (MGU-K) generates electricity by braking the vehicle, used in addition to standard brake pads. These systems combined deliver more than 160hp, 21% of the engines maximum power output – all from energy recovered by the vehicle itself.

All of this may sound technical and overwhelming, to put it into more basic terms; currently we expend energy on cooling petrol engines and slowing down our cars. F1 regulation changes are driving manufacturers to develop technologies where we gain that energy, rather than losing it, and use that to power vehicles instead of petrol.

And it’s working. Not only are technologies such as electronic turbochargers being developed, but the new rules are encouraging other car manufacturers, in this case Honda, to re-join F1 racing due to the challenge of “various green technologies”.

2014 Renault F1engine. Image courtesy of the MotorReport.com.au

Renault’s 2014 F1 engine. Image courtesy of http://www.motorreport.com.au

“Thus the challenge is to convert each unit of gasoline into energy…” 2014 more or less marks the year where F1 becomes not about making better petrol engines, but shifting into emerging hybrid and electric technologies to once again be the starting point for automotive technology. I think this is socially responsible design in action.

What do you think?

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