The world's most watched sporting series, Formula One, is set to announce a new greener formula later this week, which will take effect in 2013. The rule changes are expected to see the introduction of 1.6 liter turbo engines with more powerful energy recovery systems, reduced maximum rpm (from 18,000 rpm to 10,000 rpm) and fuel (flow and capacity) restrictions, and can be expected to further the sport's objective of encouraging R&D relevant to road cars. While the targeted 30% initial improvement in gas mileage will only improve the current obscenely wasteful 3 mpg to 4 mpg (approx 70 liters/100 km) in 2013, it will enroll the brightest automotive technicians on the planet in a quest for greater efficiency from our automobiles and that's a wonderful outcome.
No official announcements have yet been made, but indications leaking from the teams indicate that the new formula allows for a reduction of engine capacity from the existing naturally-aspirated 2400cc to twin turbocharged 1600cc four-cylinder engines with 3 bar boost and 10,000 rpm limit (currently 18,000), targeting a power output of between 500 and 550 bhp. The output from the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) is expected to be increased to 112kw (150 HP) for a total of 650 to 700 bhp.
The energy storage (battery, super capacitor or flywheel) capacity for the KERS is expected to be set at 2200 kJ, which will mean roughly 150 bhp extra for 24 seconds a lap.
Formula One is the pinnacle of human competitiveness in a sporting event. At the pointy end of the field, each team employs hundreds of employees to hover over computer screens monitoring every single suspension movement, and turn of a wheel whenever a car takes to a circuit. The amount of money spent in the quest for competitiveness is almost obscene. Toyota spent more than a billion dollars one year and didn't even win a race before it pulled out of the competition due to the financial drain, just as Honda and Ford had done before it.
Testing is so expensive to do in a Formula One car that on-track testing has been curtailed to reduce team costs. The bigger teams have circumvented this by building massively expensive simulators to enable drivers and engineers to refine their driving and engineering in a virtual environment. Valentino Rossi's almost instantaneous competitiveness once he sat in a real Ferrari F1 car has been attributed to the many hours he spent in Ferrari's simulator (sublime talents being a given at that level), while Lewis Hamilton commented this week on how happy he was with the MacLaren he will drive in 2011. He had not actually driven the car, but the simulator which gives him a realistic impression of the car had given him cause to make a positive statement to the press.
So while the number of people involved in Formula One might not number more than 10,000 in total, it includes many of the brightest minds and most ingenious problem-solvers, and hence the future of hybrid technologies and more efficient engines looks decidedly brighter than it did a week ago.
Another interesting tidbit which we have heard is that in the years subsequent to 2013, compound turbocharging will be allowed, further increasing the efficiency of the F1 engines. More on Friday when the FIA voting on the technical specification changes will be finalized, and stay tuned for some other interesting articles on the greening of other motorsport series over the next few days.