Formula One lagging behind with technology?

Brought to you by Adam Macdonald

It is a commonly known fact that as we (as humans) develop more and more complex technologies for means of communication, we actually share less important information with each other.  One example of this is SMS messaging, where tone is taken out of what is said.  It’s virtually impossible to convey sarcasm by the medium of text.

Of course, Formula One is no different in the technology trends.  Whilst extras like KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) could one day be useful, items like DRS (Drag Reduction System) and the Double DRS will never be a necessary part of road cars machinery; and let’s not even get started on double diffusers.  KERS was, after all, the brainchild of the now departed from the FIA, Max Mosley.

Mario Theissen, the boss of BMW Sauber back in 2009, said, “I would say if it isn’t made mandatory it will disappear.” And so it did! For the British GP 2009 only Ferrari ran with the heavy KERS units (qualifying 9th and 11th), whilst the technology light Brawn GPs were running away with the WDC and WCC, and the RBs just about kept pace. Theissen continued to say, “We evaluated different alleys, proceeding with KERS or proceeding on the aero side and what could we do with no KERS on board.”

The systems were reported to have cost £350,000 a race to run, not including the initial setup costs.

And there it was summed up perfectly, without needing a long-winded explanation – 2009 was the start of the aero era, where not only was the new technology on the racing cars less beneficial, but also redundant to road cars.  So this begs the question as to what purpose does introducing these costly technologies to the car actually achieves?

It was only 2 months ago that Luca di Montezemolo announced Ferrari would be cutting their road car output to 7,000 per year, after their most successful year for sales ever in 2012.  (It’s lucky that the figure does not include F1 cars, as Felipe Massa has become a fan of testing out the crash barriers recently).

He compared the Ferrari aura of exclusivity to “waiting for a beautiful woman.”  In this same announcement, he Ferrari vowed would NEVER make an electric car.  The Bologna born Chairman said, “We will never manufacture an electric car as long as I’m chairman.”  Such a clear defiant stance to the direction of the sport cannot, in any way, be constructive.

Ferrari is the only high-end sports car producer to publicly speak out against electric power, with Porsche currently leading the way in this field.

With the introduction of these intricate technologies, the cars at the back of the grid are forced closer to the breadline in terms of finances, as the disparity between the big 4 (Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes and McLaren) and the midfield teams grows.  All this, only for a few electric cars to be in regular circulation; of which only a small proportion contain technology that has been slightly influenced by the premier racing tier.

So how useful are these electric quirks?

The Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt were launched in late 2010, which are the leaders in PEVs (plug-in electric vehicles).  Hybrid cars have been around for close to 14 years now, and are steadily selling which bodes well for the future, with Forbes.com predicting there will 3.8 million EVs (electrical vehicles) worldwide by 2020.

Dave Hurst, of Pike Research, has described the sales of EVs as not currently meeting automakers’ or politicians’ expectations.  Much of this can be put down to the global recession from 2008, whereby the UK, like much of the Western world is experiencing a double dip recession.  At this point it would seem more sensible for a sport like F1 to protect what it has, rather than try these new gismos for the car.

Follow the leader

Japan, with 28% of global sales in 2012, is the market leader for EVs.  So with no Japanese drivers on the grid currently, and no Japanese manufacturers until 2015 when Honda return, is F1 lagging behind the world with no influence from the Asian market, and in fact playing catch up at the worst possible time?  Even more poignant is the fact that the second biggest share is in the US, with 26%, where F1 is only beginning to reconquer.

Over the pond from the UK, oval tracks are all the rage as NASCAR dominates.  In May, the series announced that the series would be using a 100 mph pace car to demonstrate the potential for green technologies.  Mike Lynch, Managing Director of Green Innovation for the Daytona Beach based sport, said the NASCAR is “not going to limit itself to using one type of energy powered car.”

On 20th June 2013, Nissan unveiled their DeltaWing-style electric car, which will be entered into Le Mans in 2014.  The futuristic looking car will be trialling more of the new technologies that have been so successful already in the Asian car markets.

If Formula One is behind these two series already, then it surely has to either catch up very quickly to maintain its supremacy or take a different path in the development of the sport.  If it does neither then the future for the sport could be extremely bleak.  Especially given the fact the FIA seem more worried about discussing tyre related matters and FOM are seemingly not too bothered about getting a new Concorde agreement in place, however there have been recent developments with these matters, so there is still hope.

The FIA needs to reassess if the technologies are a feasible option moving forward.  Criticism for the 2014 engines has been widespread throughout the paddock.  However, if these new regulations are to spell the end of the aerodynamic era, it can only be a positive thing for the technologies of the future, giving them a real prospect of making a difference to the racing.

10 responses to “Formula One lagging behind with technology?

  1. “2009 was the start of the aero era”

    The Lotus 78 truly started the aero era.

    “Ferrari is the only high-end sports car producer to publicly speak out against electric power,”

    LaFerrari uses KERS or as they call it HY-KERS.

    “The Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt were launched in late 2010, which are the leaders in PEVs (plug-in electric vehicles)”

    While the Volt can be plugged in it is in fact a hybrid. It’s electric only range is around 25 miles. Would you spend $40,000 on a car with a 25 mile range?

    Until an electric only car can replicate what any petrol / diesel engined car can do in terms of speed, range, reliability they’ll remain on the fringes .

    And I notice you never addressed the weak link of any portable electric system – the battery.

    • The Volt uses a petrol engine to keep the battery charged once the initial charge is drained. In most daily driving, at least on this side of the pond, 25 miles per day is rarely exceeded. The total range of the car is around 300 miles, befor the file tank needs refilling. Unlike PEV only vehicles, all one needs is a petrol station to continue the journey. And no, I don’t work for Chevy, I just happen to think that it’s a clever solution. Oh, BTW, if they were priced comparably to other vehicles in its class, they would be destroying their sales targets. Even with Gov. rebates, they are too expensive to make the money back in fuel savings over the length of time the average owner keeps the car.

      That said, the FIA are decidedly on the right track with the turbo ERS systems, particularly with spooling the turbo up before acceleration, and using the ERS to boost power. It turns out that the fuel estimates for small displacement turbo engines are not being met in the real world, current theory being lag and performance driving are the main culprits. Next years engines should put F1 technology at the forefront of solving that problem for manufactures and may indeed lead to commercial real world applications showing up in cars that cost less than half a million of your currency of choice. IMO of course.

    • The new tesla exec cars are supposed to have a 230 mile range. Also 0-60 around 5s. Plugs into regular socket and you can get from empty 65m in 1 hour charge. 11kw rated charger in the Uk means about £3.50 for 200m.

      So I’ve read…

        • And when the battery in a Tesla is shot it costs around $40,000 to replace it. Reports I’ve read suggest that heavy use of the Tesla will require a new battery system every 5 years. Also, if the battery system is fully discharged then you need to replace them as they can’t be recharged. So lets say you use the car a lot, keep it for 10 years and you live in the US. The car costs $110,000 new, 2 new battery systems will cost you $80,000. So you spent $190,000. For that price you could have bought a Ferrari 458. And unless you are willing to replace the battery again (your 3rd one) it’s unsellable as a new owner will have to put in a new battery.

          • Especially troublesome when Bolivia holds so much of the world’s lithium and is refusing to release it.

    • Cav, unless you live in Southern Florida there is almost nowhere to recharge many of the cars. A huge drawback!

  2. “End of the aero era” – how is that possible, it will always be about aero won’t it, unless we can race in a vacuum. Even then we would need aero for downforce otherwise we would float in space!

    • I think he means the end of the Red Bull supremacy. It’s only been since 2009 (start of aerodynamics being so important) that the RBs have shot to the front.

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