Racecars are considered polluters; the natural enemies of “green” hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius. By nature, hybrids are the loveable ones, while racecars are the aggressive gas guzzlers. And given that F1 cars are the ultimate racecars, they must be the worst. Right?
Well actually… Did you know that every Formula 1 race since 2010 has been won by a hybrid?
So Formula 1’s are hybrid cars?
Yes, F1 is a testing ground for Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems technology. In 2009 the FIA, international autosport federation, introduced KERS into Formula 1, because they wanted the sport to become “relevant” again.
An adrenaline-fueled sport that runs around in circles, may not seem very relevant, but consider this: Auto racing is the testing ground for the entire auto industry.
Back in the late 70’s, F1 embraced the, until then exotic, turbo engines, and initially those were thirsty and explosive. But within a few seasons of hardcore competition, the power outputs doubled, fuel-consumption halved and reliability soared.
As a result F1 turbo technology quickly found its way into everyday road cars. And today many of the most economical engines use turbos.
There are more examples of F1-inspired changes in the automobile industry. Just think of seat belts, disc brakes or lightweight materials like aluminum and carbon fiber. And recently KERS technology has been developed at Formula 1 speeds.
So what is KERS? A Kinetic Energy Recovery System recycles the energy that is generated when a car brakes. During an average lap of 80 – 90 seconds, the brakes are used for 10 – 15 seconds. The brake-energy that is harvested in one lap is stored in a battery and can be used for a boost of 80 extra horsepower for 6.7 seconds per lap. That’s quite impressive, after all, many small road cars don’t even have 80 hp.
But the future is much more impressive …
In 2014 the future starts
From 2014, KERS is succeeded by ERS. This Energy Recovery System combines KERS with another system that stores energy from exhaust heat. The combined systems will charge a battery that has a power output of 10 times as much as the ones used through 2013. The ERS will deliver up to 160 hp extra for up to 33.3 seconds per lap. None of these energy recovery systems are new to cars, but once F1 is done with them, their output levels will be.
Furthermore turbos are reintroduced. Basically turbo engines already recycle waste energy. The exhaust gasses that race out of the exhaust, drive an impeller that forces air into the intake, thus feeding the engine the air that it needs to breathe.
The new engines are more fuel-efficient. But by how much? Well, the regulation makers at FIA have decided that the cars will race with 33% less fuel, so they’d better be a lot more fuel-efficient…
Initially the teams will wreck their brains on how to race with so little fuel, while simultaneously trying to figure out these completely new systems. It will be expensive, and initially it will lead to reliability problems. But they will learn a lot, and fast.
In the coming decades, the lessons learned on track will find their way into cars, trucks, public transportation, etc. F1 is developing products that will change entire industries. So it’s not that Greenpeace doesn’t do a lot for the environment, F1 just does more. And the beauty of it is, that these products will be developed during a very entertaining show and competition.
Photos: Sauber F1 Team and Red Bull Racing/Getty Images