Fuel limit change? Heck no! Why would we do that?

In 2014, Formula 1 ushered in a new era of hybrid engines and with the introduction of the V6—it originally wanted a 4-cylinder—the series added a turbo charger and KERS unit to supplement the ERS design and by 2016 they were delivering a maximum of 2MJ per lap of energy and could enjoy an unlimited amount of energy transfer between the MGU-H and the ES and/or MGU-K.

As for the internal combustion engine or ICE, it still remains at 1.6 liters in capacity with a rev-limit of 15,000rpm and as it lives in its 90-degree formation, I t has two inlet and two exhaust outlet valves per cylinder. The majority of the recent gains in performance have come from the ICE and some incredible fuel innovations from companies like Shell and their V-Power Nitro+ product. Much more has been gained from the ICE performance in fact than the electric side of the equation.

The chokehold on the ICE is its fuel flow rate of 100 kilograms/hour and in order to increase performance, some F1 players are keen to increase either fuel load limit or the fuel flow rate. Mercedes and all of its customer teams have met this notion head on with a “no” vote. I suspect it’s part of their secret sauce if I’m honest.

AUTOSPORT quotes Mercedes boss Toto Wolff as saying:

“[Williams deputy team principal] Claire [Williams] brought it to the point in the meeting itself that the whole world is looking to reduce emissions,” said Wolff. “This is what is happening out there.

“Can we possibly out of the sheer principle vote in favour of an increased fuel allowance from 100kg to 105kg?

“If the sport needs it, it’s fair enough to do it but as a principle we have decided we won’t go there, we will say no.

“We knew before that it would be the only four votes against [the Mercedes teams] it and that is a lost case.”

FIA president Jean Todt has made this hybrid F1 a hallmark of his reign and places climate change as mission one of the organization’s focus. He also believes the world must focus on using electric cars telling CNN:

“We talk a lot about pollution, CO2, climate change, and we have to take that into consideration when we discuss regulations for ongoing championships,” Todt told CNN.

“I thought it was important to create a specific series that could be adapted to the needs of the cities because we need to increase the use of electric cars in our cities.

“That’s why it was a great combination to find the biggest cities in the world, who are climbing on to the use of electric cars, and to implement a single-seater category with electric power.”

Todt speaks of Formula E, an all-electric racing series and one would applaud the effort regardless if the Russian E-Prix has just been canceled. The fact is, if you were looking to expand the electric car design, this is the series to do it in. Williams is involved in this program as well as other F1 teams in one form or fashion.

This brings the notion of “why”? Why is F1 and World Endurance Championship (WEC) LMP1 class so focused on hybrid systems? The fact is, manufacturers are involved and were lured to both series to develop their road-going hybrid programs. Fair enough.

Today’s 6 Hours at Spa Francorchamps was a race in which I can’t think of a team who didn’t have an issue or an LMP 1 team that wasn’t struggling with some hybrid niggles. Ferrari and Mercedes both have had their share of DNF’s in Formula 1 this season such is the complexity of these systems. While F1 struggles to find the accurate fuel-flow rate and performance balance, WEC has done a nice job of balancing the details but they are two different series ran by two different interests.

Why we can’t have nice things

In the end, the climate change movement has impacted Formula 1 and did so at a time when Red Bull Racing’s domination of the sport was getting tedious so the sport capitalized on the yawn-inspiring race results by making sweeping sporting and technical regulation changes that focused on hybrid technology to lure manufacturers.

Since then, some may argue the sport has endured more yawn-inspiring domination from Mercedes at the levels the sport has never seen before and one would think that the series has tried their hybrid experiment and found it wanting. That isn’t the case.

Lather, rinse, repeat

Like most sustainability programs that have lost momentum in the last 3-4 years, they’ve doubled down in a large push to ramp up the message and even rhetoric against those who are not quite sold on the notion and believe that single-digit percentages of hybrid cars sold is a reason F1 shouldn’t be perpetuating the notion at the sacrifice of more exciting racing.

Others argue that a return to normally aspirated ICE’s begat Red Bull yawners and Ferrari yawners and so this new format is the right direction as history cannot prove to be a better, more exciting form of racing. Still, the concept of becoming less efficient with fossil fuels is something Force India’s COO, Otmar Szafnauer, says it shouldn’t do:

“These hybrid power trains were introduced with goal of – or an intent – of reducing the amount of fuel that we use over time,” he said.

“Yes, although the cars will be a bit draggier, if the fuel limit stays the same, then effectively it is like reducing it over time.

“But I still think we should look at doing just that and over time reducing the amount of fuel we use just to complement the philosophy that we had when all this was introduced.”

In the end, if there is no way to get the FIA or teams off this notion of hybrids because it is planet-saving technology and manufacturer-luring kit, then perhaps Toro Rosso’s technical director, James Key, has a more measured approach:

“In the longer term it’s always a good thing to target ever more efficiency,” he said.

“These power units are incredibly efficient now anyway, they are really extraordinary things.

“These engines were designed around a given chassis and a given aerodynamic set-up – in fact for that matter, a given tyre design and we’ve now changed that and you’ve got to make sure that your power unit and the way you use it is compatible with your chassis design.

“So if we do need to squeeze a little bit more just to ensure that races don’t become fuel-saving events, then that’s probably the right thing for the sport but certainly in a longer term we need to look for continued efficiencies as we go down the line.”

The 2017 regulation changes are supposed to solve F1’s current ills and in the last few years, noodling around with the sporting regulations while leaving the technical regulations largely untouched, has been the first attempt. Now, however, things are getting more serious and F1 has to make some changes. Those changes may not include increased fuel flow if Mercedes and their customers have anything to say about it.

Competition of ideas

I’m more trenchant about the entire situation as I believe that the concept of big climate enforcement denies the opportunity for discourse and the exchange of ideas and when a series, person or government claims “saving the planet” as its mission, it suddenly divests itself from normal, vigorous debate on the divergence of scientific opinion. Sloganeering (“there’s no debate”) and capitalizing on a movement to create new revenue streams has never been one of my favorite business acumens and I find the entire notion, at the very least, one that should be stringently debated in the public marketplace of ideas by those qualified.

I could be wrong but I think you may be hard pressed to find anyone in the FIA or F1 paddock inordinately qualified to speak on the cause and effect relationship of global warming—otherwise known as climate change—and what measures the sport can take that will have immediate and measurable impacts on the reduction of, one presumes, global warming or would it simply be climate change either way?

Regardless, instead of running at 3mpg, like they were back in 2013, they are now running between 5-7mpg and this has reduced climate disruption by how much? Where are the measured impacts of this increased efficiency of the F1 racing engine? It sounds and feels great! I’m just not sure that’s really a metric that will energize every F1 fan if I’m honest. They are waiting for awesome racing…still.

Yes!  Recycle damnit!

I can think of nothing wrong with being a good steward of the resources you are given and in more tangible ways, the increased efficiency of a racing engine and reduction of fuel usage is a terrific and noble charter by anyone’s measure. I have been at the forefront of the green movement as it applies to new construction and technology and the price tag for being a LEED certified building is exponentially more than previous, traditional construction materials and methods. No shock then that green racing would also incur a serious uptick in expense and no one knows that better than HRT, Caterham and Marussia racing teams as well as Force India, Williams and Red Bull with their engine supply contracts ballooning from $8-10M to $20-25M per year to pay for being green.

I am with James Key on this one, denying an increased fuel flow rate to improve the racing because the image you’ve set as having reduced fuel use is really nonsensical and unless there is another way to improve engine performance that would allow these cars to push the entire race, then I think we are putting sustainability way ahead of the racing and therein lies the problem and reason for a re-think for 2017.

I’m saving the planet, damnit!

We all want to “save the planet”, I’m just not convinced F1 is having a measurable impact on it nor am I convinced that ignoring great racing in favor of being an R&D lab for sustainable road car engines is really F1’s prime mission or core DNA. Things change they say…yes, yes they do and DTM, BTCC, WRC, MotoGP, NASCAR and GT class racing in the WEC is some of the best racing on the planet. There is a reason for that.

I’m all for a hybrid system in F1 or WEC that pushes the limits, not simply attempts to achieve what we had before. A normally aspirated V8 with KERS and ERS is a plan that can be simply halved in cylinder count and that becomes a 4-cylinder road car engine model for Merc or Renault etc. An increased fuel-flow rate on the current system isn’t admission to climate change commitment failure, it is suggesting that the racing needs to be improved and the series is committed to that. Which position concerns F1 more? IF fans don’t think you’re green or if fans think your racing sucks? I think that one is obvious, Claire.

Showrooms are were brand messages belong

Let the technology find its ultimate brand and corporate message when it is fitted in a road car and presented in showrooms across the world. That’s where the brand and tech message is best delivered for the most impact. Merc can say their new S Class was developed in the crucible of F1 and is the most efficient car engine ever designed running at 50% efficiency using F1 hybrid technology DNA. That’s where the marketplace is listening.

Let’s not place the notion of F1 as the ultimate in sustainable racing as the most critical element to be protected. No one goes to the office and brags to their friends that the racing series they watch is the most processional, most expensive, and most predictable but it does include the most efficient race engines in motor sport. No one!

F1 should have one brand image it’s concerned about…the fastest, loudest, most exciting AND safest racing series in the world. Cars that defy the human mind with performance unheard of on four wheels driven by the very top drivers in the universe on some of the world’s most iconic and legendary race tracks. Now that’s green…as in the color of money.