Autosport recently revealed some of the likely technical specifications for F1 starting in 2013. The cars look to be getting a complete overhaul as the rumour is that cars will be allowed to use the underbody of the cars to generate downforce (also called ground effect downforce) and with 1.6-litre turbocharged four cylinder engines. However, I think that F1 has missed a chance to make itself more relevant to motor industry and get some manufacturers back into the sport.
My proactive solution to the road F1 is planning to go down is after the jump.
A Word About Ground Effect
If you’ve been reading my thoughts on F1 for a while here on The Lowdown Blog, you’d know that I’m a huge champion of ground effect on open-wheel race cars. The wings on your standard F1 car generate quite a bit of downforce (enough for it to drive upside-down on the ceiling of a tunnel at less than 100 MPH) but they also produce a lot of turbulent air. Following another car means running in turbulent air which means running with reduced downforce. This was the idea behind the Delta Wing concept that was championed for the next generation of IndyCar. It was also the aerodynamic principle that Champ Car used to try to improve racing with the introduction of the DP01 chassis in 2007.
The reason why I like ground effect downforce is that you don’t lose downforce in turbulent air. Sure, the wings lose their downforce but ground effect downforce minimizes the total downforce loss. Ground effect downforce, with an underbody designed efficiently, also gives off little to no turbulent air.
The problem now becomes the top of the car. F1 has been trying to reduce the downforce of its cars to reduce turbulent air. But thanks to aerodynamic ingenuity and double diffusers, the downforce is back to near 2008 levels. Now, we don’t know how much downforce the loss of double diffusers will cost the cars but we do know that teams’ aerodynamic departments will be working to claw back as much downforce as possible. With this reintroduction of downforce, we have to reduce the wing-generated downforce to minimize the downforce lost by following another car. The best way I way I can think of reducing downforce is to shrink the front wing to something similar to 2008 and lower the rear wing to about 2008 height. This should keep the reduce the length of the turbulent air “tail” behind the car while lowering the car’s overall downforce. The higher the proportion of downforce from the underbody of the car, the better the racing should be.
The Engine Formula
As mentioned above, the new engines are looking like they will be 1.6-litre turbocharged four cylinder engines. Autosport also says that these engines will be boosted by energy recovery systems that will have the cars producing about 650 horsepower. There are also plans for there to be a fuel flow limit so the engines have to be relatively more frugal than now. While I think that this engine formula is a step in the right direction, there are flaws. First, while 1.6-litre engines are reasonably common in small cars, I don’t think the engine has the wide range of uses as you would see with 2.0-litre turbo fours which are in compact cars, hot hatches, family sedans and I’m sure more. The diversity of use would make developing technologies for 2.0-litre engines more appealing to manufacturers. Also, the horsepower is far too close to IndyCar levels. The current generation of IndyCars are so easy to pilot around superspeedways that you hold your foot to the floor and never lift. With only 650 horsepower and a five engine per season limit, I don’t think we’re in any danger of breaking the sound barrier. That’s why I’ve come up with two alternate engine formulas to make F1 more relevant to manufacturers and shake things up.
Alternative 1: 1.6-litre or 2.0-litre Turbocharged Four Cylinder Engines with a 100 Litre Fuel Tank
If F1 wants to be green, there’s no way better than to put a limit on the amount of fuel they can carry onboard. Currently, the 2.4-litre naturally aspirated V8s that are in F1 cars drink roughly 150 kilos of fuel per 300+ km race. Using a rough conversion factor of one litre of fuel equalling 0.75 kilos of fuel, that’s about 200 litres per race. I say cut the fuel used in half.
Teams and engine builders will only be limited by their imaginations when figuring out how to make the race distance on limited fuel. They could run whatever rev limit or turbo boost they want. Theoretically, a car with a lower downforce, lower drag setting would get better mileage than a higher downforce setup. That means teams can turn up the revs if they’re running low downforce. Of course, that means giving up speed in the twisty bits. And turning up the revs would also mean more speed but worse mileage. That would force the drivers to make fuel mileage with their right foot. Turning down the revs means less top end but no pedalling to save fuel. I think this engine formula will make the drivers a bigger factor in getting the most out of their cars.
In this whole piece of hypothesizing, I’ve not once mentioned a KERS-like device. That was for a very deliberate reason. Increasing fuel mileage through an energy recovery system would make it easier for teams to double their fuel mileage. My idea here is to force teams to be innovative in saving fuel. They can try looking for ways to make cars slipperier through the air. They can develop stronger yet lighter materials that can be used on road cars. They can improve the direct injection systems to improve mileage. They have carte blanche to double the mileage over the current generation of cars. Make them put some effort into improving fuel mileage so we can see that on road cars in the future.
Alternative 2: Turbocharged Production Engines
This is essentially the new LMP2 engine formula. Starting in 2011, the ACO have mandated that LMP2 cars run with production based engines. So far, we’ve seen Honda commit to producing a production-based 2.8-L turbo V6 engine based on what you can find in the Accord while Ford’s EcoBoost engine is being prepped for competition by Roush Yates Engines. LMP2 engine commitments from AER and Judd while Nissan, BMW, Toyota and Jaguar engines are rumoured to be available for next year’s running.
The big thing about production engines is that they can’t be used as stressed members of the chassis. That means the chassis will have to be built differently (read: heavier) than they currently are but it also means that any car can run any engine. McLaren could switch from Mercedes to Jaguar or their own engines currently in the back of the MP4-12C. HRT could run with Seat power to make a sort of Spanish national team. Peter Sauber could run with an engine out of a BMW 3 Series. The possibilities for engine manufacturers is limitless.
The other interesting dynamic would be the actual selection of engines by constructors. You could pick a larger, heavier but more powerful and durable engine or the smaller, lighter, less powerful and more fragile engine. You know that Adrian Newey would want the small engine in the back for aerodynamics but how would that stack up against a more powerful engine run by Ferrari or McLaren. Would the engine or aerodynamics win the day? It would mean different cars for different tracks and you’d never be entirely certain who would win.
The trick with getting production based engines is getting manufacturers into the series. There has to be some incentive for them to invest in F1. That’s the reason that we’ve seen BMW, Renault (in all but name) and Toyota abandon F1 in the last year. F1 is a high cost game and innovation is so tightly regulated that there is little they can do that would benefit their road car divisions. We’ve seen technologies developed such as traction control, anti-lock brakes, and semi-automatic transmissions. At this point, what could auto manufacturers want to develop for their cars that they can make using the seemingly infinite budgets of F1 race teams? At this point, the only real thing to develop is lightweight and/or high-efficiency pseudo-hybrid energy recovery systems to lower fuel mileage.
I don’t like this idea as much as my first engine proposal. Bringing production engines into F1 is a good idea, especially with them likely to be cheaper than purpose-built race engines. However, given the latest drive to lower costs in F1, I’m not sure pushing teams to build more robust cars (or more chassis should the teams value light cars with a shorter life span) would be in keeping with that priority. While racing is a business, it takes money to win. That’s why I’ve never believed in budget reducing regulations. If teams can’t spend their money in one place, they spend it somewhere else to try to gain an advantage. Why not encourage them to make road cars better as well as race cars? Remember the 80s and 90s when we saw an influx of electronic drivers aids and other new trick devices? I think I have most of those on my car.
But all this talk about turbochargers and energy recovery and fuel efficiency brings me to a point that I’m worried that we’re all forgetting. All these ideas are great but if all we have is a parade or one team dominating the season, it will all be for naught. We’ve had years where Ferrari was so dominant that watching the race was only necessary to see who finished third on back. The last thing F1 needs is to give into the tree huggers demands only to alienate the fans who buy the tickets, watch the races and wear the merchandise.