Increasingly complex regulations always force fresh innovations to suit constantly evolving sporting and technical requirements, but the revolution of 2014 has subtly different roots, with rules written to encourage rather than restrict new technology.
As the automotive industry increasingly demands more from less, efficiency and hybrid technologies become all the more relevant. As the pinnacle of automotive technology and performance, Formula One has a significant role to play in driving these technologies forward.
These factors form the core of what is widely recognised as the biggest technical revolution since the first Formula One season in 1950; a fundamental shift in philosophy explained over the course of this article.
Focus on Efficiency
In years gone by, the term efficiency may have appeared at odds with the ethos of Formula One; a conservative contrast to the ‘flat-out’ image of the sport. For 2014 however, that perception will change fundamentally. Put simply, efficiency now equals performance. Where the power of a normally aspirated engine was defined by the amount of air that could be put through it, Power Unit performance is now defined by the amount of fuel available to each competitor. The driver who can extract the most performance from the available 100 kg of fuel energy – in other words, achieve the best conversion efficiency – will have a competitive advantage, and the more efficiently the Power Unit can convert fuel energy into kinetic energy, the more that advantage will grow.
Of course, efficiency has long been a key area of development in Formula One. In years gone by – where fuel usage has not been limited – the advantage lay in weight saving. Put simply, the less fuel you carried, the lighter – and faster – the car; particularly at the start of the race. For 2014, however, the race fuel allowance has been fixed at a maximum of 100 kg, compared to a typical race fuel load of around 150 kg in 2013. To complete the same race distance at similar speeds, the Power Unit must become over 30% more efficient: a challenge which demands significant new technologies.
Part of the efficiency gain comes from the V6 ICE; a smaller capacity ‘down-sized’ engine running at lower speeds than its predecessor. The power output – and therefore efficiency – is enhanced by turbocharging, allowing additional power to be extracted from the same quantity of fuel energy. The really clever part, though, comes in the form of the ERS Hybrid system. In 2014, there will be up to seven possible energy journeys to re-use energy within the vehicle. The target: to achieve the same power output – around 750 hp – using around one third less fuel.
Areas of ‘familiar’ technology (bore size, crankshaft centre line, etc.) have been specified, but technical freedom has been left in the areas likely to generate gains in overall efficiency. It’s a formula designed to encourage innovation in the pursuit and development of cutting-edge technologies that are ultimately relevant to the everyday motorist.
As the pinnacle of competitive motorsport, Formula One has always carried a responsibility for developing new technologies which push the boundaries of performance; both within the sport itself and ultimately feeding down into the systems found in road-going vehicles. Generally speaking, however, regulation changes have traditionally been implemented to limit factors such as speed – for safety reasons – and costs. The 2014 rules by contrast have been designed first and foremost to encourage innovation and new technology.
Of course, efficiency has always walked hand-in-hand with development from a performance perspective. By the end of the V8 era for example, cars could complete a race distance using over 10% less fuel than they did at the start of the V8 era in 2006.
During the early development phases of KERS in 2007, the system weighed in at over 100 kg and worked at a thermal efficiency level of 39%. By the end of the 2012 season the units weighed just 24 kg, but were capable of 80% thermal efficiency levels. In other words, Formula One development enabled a twelve-fold increase in power density from KERS systems; the impact of which has filtered down into Hybrid systems used by the everyday motorist.
This rate of development – while impressive and relevant in its own right – has come as somewhat of a by-product to the ultimate goal of faster lap time, but this has now fundamentally changed. Taking the new Hybrid system as an example, the lessons learned from the previous generation KERS system may have formed the foundation for the new ERS but make no mistake: this is a significant step forward in both absolute power and in duty cycle.
While the permitted maximum power of the MGU-K has increased from 60 to 120 kW compared with that of KERS – a feat theoretically achievable through using two of the previous motors in tandem – the electric motor must now propel the car for around 30 seconds per lap as opposed to just seven. With only five motors permitted per driver each season in contrast to a previously unregulated quantity, reliability as well as effectiveness of these systems will be absolutely crucial. KERS may have provided the bedrock, but this represents a major technological journey necessitating innovation and new solutions to achieve the necessary combination of performance and reliability.