The New Era of Formula 1

The term effi­ciency may have appeared at odds with the ethos of F1 – that changed 2014

2014 intro­duces what is widely recog­nised as the biggest tech­nical revo­lu­tion in Formula One season since its inau­gural season in 1950. However, while prob­ably the most far-reaching, this is far from being the first major upheaval in the history of the sport. For decades, engi­neers have been pushing the bound­aries of perfor­mance, extracting the absolute maximum from the tech­nology at their disposal and exploring every avenue of devel­op­ment in the pursuit of auto­mo­tive perfec­tion, only to have their creations cast into the annals of racing history. Increas­ingly complex regu­la­tions always force fresh inno­va­tions to suit constantly evolving sporting and tech­nical require­ments.

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.

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 has changed funda­men­tally. Put simply, effi­ciency now equals perfor­mance. Where the power of a normally aspi­rated engine is defined by the amount of air that can be put through it, the perfor­mance of the all-new Turbocharged V6 Hybrid Power Unit 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. 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 has had to become over 30% more effi­cient: a chal­lenge which demands signif­i­cant new tech­nolo­gies.

Part of the effi­ciency gain comes from the V6 Internal Combus­tion Engine (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 are 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.

While areas of ‘familiar’ tech­nology (bore size, crank­shaft centre line, etc.) have been spec­i­fied, 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 always, weight is a key factor in perfor­mance. While the regu­la­tions stip­u­late a new maximum weight limit for the car of 691 kg – up from 642 kg in 2013 – this is now far more diffi­cult to achieve. The Power Unit itself must have a minimum weight of 145 kg, while the addi­tional cooling require­ments of both the turbocharger and Hybrid systems only add to the chal­lenge.

From an aero­dy­namic perspec­tive too, inno­va­tion has been stretched to the limit. Funda­men­tally, there are two key elements to a fast Formula One car: having the most power possible to accel­erate down the straight, plus good mechan­ical and aero­dy­namic perfor­mance to allow for quick cornering. The 2014 regu­la­tions bring with them a new set of chal­lenges not only relating to the more visu­ally obvious elements of the car, but more funda­men­tally in terms of pack­aging.

Hidden from view, the inte­gra­tion of the Power Unit and related systems into the chassis provides a signif­i­cant aero­dy­namic chal­lenge. The Power Unit itself takes a completely different shape to its prede­cessor, while more hybrid systems, a more complex exhaust system, plus an inter­cooler required for the pres­sure charging system are all contributing factors to the cooling require­ments of the car. Managing heat is not only neces­sary in terms of car integrity but also perfor­mance and effi­ciency. Two opposing influ­ences thereby exist: one focused on ensuring that each of these compo­nents oper­ates within an optimal temper­a­ture range, the other on pack­aging the related cooling systems in such a way as not to detract from the aero­dy­namic effi­ciency of the car.

Overall, then, it is clear that Formula One in 2014 presents a fresh set of chal­lenges to designers, engi­neers, drivers and spec­ta­tors alike. As has been the case throughout gener­a­tions of the sport, the intro­duc­tion of new rules serves to encourage inno­va­tion and show­case Formula One as the cutting-edge of new tech­nology: adding a level of intrigue which is rele­vant not only for the interest of spec­ta­tors, but the auto­mo­tive industry as a whole. As the latest phase of an evolu­tionary process that continues to posi­tion Formula One at the heart of contem­po­rary tech­nology, 2014 truly puts the ‘motor’ back into ‘motor­sport’.

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