Amid this depressing lockdown and worrying future that is the Corona Virus outbreak, many could be forgiven for writing off F1 and modern life as we know it in general – But there could be a fantastic bright future for Formula 1.
One of my favourite news sources for Formula One is Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport and Michael Schmidt pens an encouraging article today outlining the FIA’s attempts to become truly ‘green’, but also drastically lower the cost of racing. We might also see the possibility of naturally aspirated engines and complete removal of hybrid technology.
Perhaps this would be seen as a drastic outcome just a few weeks ago, but with the Covid-19 outbreak in full swing, one ponders about the longer term implications on Formula 1 and motorsport in general. Could we see a dramatic shift in big manufacturers participating? For sure one would not be surprised to see manufacturers ditch F1 on-masse in a 2008 / 2009 fashion.
Rather than summarise Schimdt’s writing, TJ13 has used autotranslation and natural German speakers’ assistance to give you the article in English below.
How big is the conversion effort?
The FIA is pushing the introduction of alternative fuels with all its might. Synthetic fuel could become the lifeline for the sport. Engine specialist Mario Illien explains what needs to be considered on the technical side.
The beginning is modest. From 2021, the share of fuel from renewable sources should be 20 percent and then increase every year. FIA President Jean Todt wants to switch to 100 percent alternative fuel as soon as possible. “Once a week I check with our engine expert, Gilles Simon, to see how far we’ve come.” he claims.
The world federation is therefore also pushing for research projects that now have to be co-financed by Ferrari. Apparently Ferrari’s fuel supplier Shell is the first of the major manufacturers to agree to support this approach. Other mineral oil companies are still holding back. They would rather advertise their products on the market as long as possible.
The FIA is interested in switching to alternative fuels, whether they are produced entirely in the laboratory or from biomass, for two reasons. The main thing is CO2-neutral. The green coat of paint that motorsport wants to get with this is one thing. But just as important is the independence that the sport gains with it.
If the fuel is CO2-neutral, the fig leaf of the hybrid drive is no longer needed. Then you are independent of the engine’s architecture. Green is green, regardless of whether the power source is then a V6 turbo or a twelve-cylinder naturally aspirated engine.
The use of alternative fuels could become a lifesaver for the sport. The Corona crisis is just pointing to the dead end into which motorsport has maneuvered. If the car manufacturers are eliminated in Formula 1, the top class will have a massive problem.
The current hybrid drives cannot be developed by private suppliers because of their complexity. If one were free with the engine format, external engine specialists such as Ilmor, Cosworth or Gibson could step in.
Under no circumstances new engines
Two arguments are put forward against a rapid introduction of synthetic fuels. Firstly, the availability of such fuels in sufficient quantities and secondly, the high conversion costs for engine manufacturers.
Engine expert Mario Illien sees both as excuses. Advanced by people who prefer to hold on to the status quo as long as possible. “The quantities that motorsport needs are available.”
The Swiss, however, makes a restriction: “Synthetic fuel only makes sense if the energy used to produce it comes entirely from renewable sources. Otherwise, it would be as much a sham as the supposed environmental benefits of electric cars.”
Illien also sees no insurmountable cost to the engine manufacturers. “Synthetic gasoline would require an adaptation of the combustion process. The good thing about this is that in the lab you can bend the fuel to the way you need for optimal combustion.”
“In theory, these fuels could be made more anti-knock, which would allow for more efficient combustion. We could even eliminate some components that are in conventional gasoline that do more harm than good. Sulphur, for example.” The father of the early Mercedes Formula 1 engines states: “So there would be no need to build completely new engines.”
Ethanol means less power
The situation is somewhat different for alcohol-based biofuels. IndyCar engines have been running on ethanol and a 15% blend of conventional fuel for years and days. The reduced calorific value of this mixture leads to higher consumption. This is the only way to compensate for the loss of power to some extent.
But according to Illien, biofuels can also be cultivated in the laboratory to guarantee more efficient combustion. “It depends on how much CO2, hydrogen or oxygen is added to the fuel.”
But with these designer fuels there is also a danger. Illien warns: “The specification would have to be the same for everyone. If everyone is allowed to tailor their fuel, there will be an arms race that will really cost money and get out of hand.” If that’s guaranteed, the cost is not an issue.
At the moment, a liter of specialty gasoline for the current F1 engines costs around $200. “I’m sure it won’t be that expensive with synthetic fuels.” Theoretically, you could go back to high revving naturally aspirated engines. Illien nevertheless advocates turbocharged technology. “Because you can burn more efficiently. Of course it makes a difference if you have 100 or 150 kilograms of fuel in the car.”