Formula One and Sustainability: How F1 is Driving Efficiency to New Heights

Jenson Button second corner
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Guest Post

In the not so distant past, sustainable or eco-friendly transport meant small fuel efficient engines with the equally smaller sized car bodies. Electric vehicles were called a compromise – in desire, speed and driving range. Prius moved the needle on the hybrids. Tesla came along with their model S and then BMW started their i-series development program and they changed the EV outlook. This is all good news for automotive sustainability and all common knowledge.

What is not common is that most of us will not think of the super cars or the Formula 1 cars with their V8’s and V10’s belting out close to a 1000 horse power emptying their gasoline tanks on each pit stop they make, as sustainable.

Could it be possible that some of the most powerful cars in the world are the ones that lead the pack and give us a road map for sustainability? Would it surprise you that the innovations in the regenerative braking in Prius came out of the Formula 1 sport? The sport actually is the innovation pot for next gen on-road hybrid cars and Formula 1 is now looking to drive sustainability through out its life cycle of the sport and not just the car.

The relevancy of sport

The first realization dawned back in 2006, when Max Mosley, the then head of F1 governing body, Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) called for a green overhaul of the sport. The overhaul never took place and the move for a green-er sport rather happened in baby steps after a few years when the Formula One Teams Association (FOTA) actually began monitoring the emissions of the teams they were responsible for. These emissions just didn’t include the emissions caused during races, but also those created during development, construction, and practice – in other words, looking at the full life-cycle of the sport.

To remain relevant as a sport in today’s world, sustainability has to be the most important factor driving the F1 community. Although companies backing the sport are themselves committed towards sustainable practices, but when it comes to the sport, many do back out during crisis – as happened during the Japan’s natural disaster in 2011. How does one prevent that? How can we make the F1 an inherently sustainable sport, which, regardless of any disasters or shoe string budgets, keeps going without the fear of literally running out of fuel?

The Plan

In 2013, Formula One Association conducted a study and found out that its member teams managed to cut its emissions by 7% overall from 2009 to 2011.  Another study by Trucost revealed that races contribute only 0.3% of the total emissions – largest chunk is taken up during the product development stage, choice of materials and electricity use. This clearly sets an area of focus to make the most impact – engines. New regulations in the sport mean that all cars now use 1.6 litre engines as opposed to the old 2.4 litre standard. At the same time, fuel consumption has to fall to 40% less across each season – which is of course a huge change. Impressively though, the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) promised that this would result in no loss of speed and that the sport would be just as exciting.

For instance, one new technology is called Ters (Thermal Energy Recovery System), which works by harnessing the energy produced when braking. When the brakes are put on at high speed this of course generates a lot of heat and a lot of friction. Normally this is wasted and in fact can be a bad thing, but with this new system that energy is stored which enables the cars to generate the same power while using 30% less fuel.

Williams developed a Kers (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) for Formula One in 2001 but dropped it after the FIA changed some of their rules. Now though the technology is already being used for trams, power grids and buses.

And it might not be long until we start to see this kind of technology in commercial vehicles. Regular cars don’t generate quite as much heat in the brakes, but there’s still energy there to be used and BMW are already looking into waste heat conversion (from exhaust among other areas). This is a great example of formula one leading the way and inspiring better efficiency across the automotive industry.

And this is just one example of how teams are making their vehicles more efficient. McLaren have long been involved in developing super-light carbon fibre and have revolutionised the production process making it quicker and cheaper to build a car’s chassis. As such, it is increasingly being used in road vehicles and has also benefited a range of other industries – including other sports.

In short, Formula One has introduced rules that force their competitors to think about engineering. By challenging them to lower the sizes of the engines they use, and by setting specific goals, they force engineers to think of creative new ways to save energy and at the same time improve the image of the sport. This is something that everyone can benefit from, and these kinds of changes are only like to continue going forward.

Formula E

2014 will see the introduction of a new sport – Formula E – a championship specifically for electric cars. Ten teams have already signed up to the international competition including teams from both China and the US. One team, Drayson Racing, only recently managed to break the world speed record for electric cars – it’s easy to see how this could benefit the electric car industry. The series is going to take place in 10 cities around the world to maintain the international flavour and will be right in the heart of the city (Tom Philips who is a spokesman for Formula E claims that it makes sense as they are built for urban areas).

Technically called FIA Formula E Championship – “this centres around three core values of Energy, Environment and Entertainment and is a fusion of engineering, technology, sport, science, design, music and entertainment – all combining to drive the change towards an electric future.” The cars will be able to accelerate from 0-100 km/h in just three seconds with maximum speed of 220 km/h. Noise decibels are expected to be around 80 dB and pit stops will be based around batteries running out of charge. The electric drive train is supplied by McLaren and the Rechargeable Energy Storage System (batteries) from Williams Advanced Engineering. Traditional racing companies are betting on the Formula E.

Perhaps that’s what the next step in racing is going to be – a vision of of a sustainable sport that’s embedded into the research and development and not something as an add-on.

About the author:

This post is written by Gemma Hastings, a blogger and content writer with Solar Panel Grants. She is an energy expert and advises on saving energy for future use.

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