Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) President Max Mosely says Formula 1 is on the "threshold of a technological leap forward" that will benefit the environment and the regular motorist. FIA (essentially, the governing body for motorsport events) recently banned (October 2007) any further development of F1 engines for 10 years. FIA is directing teams to focus on hybrid systems and other eco-friendly means of producing power. Mosely says the FIA has the opportunity to "nudge the sport in an ecologically and commercially appealing direction. FIA believes halting engine development and concentrating on hybrid and fuel-efficiency technology would translate to greener cars on the highways.
Ten years ago three F1 teams were working on devices, which could recover—and store some of the energy lost in braking—then use it to supplement engine power when on full throttle. Those kinetic systems were banned in the mid-'90s because of concerns over the safety of stored energy, and the cost. But the first such systems are rumored to be on order by at least one team for use in the 2009 season.
Hybrids are growing in number on highways, but they have two major drawbacks according to Mosely: Their batteries recharge at a slow rate, and firm braking loses much of the braking energy in heat. The batteries, electric motors and other hybrid parts are very heavy and subtract from fuel conservation. Mosely is looking to the ingenuity of the F1 teams to come up with small, light systems that could soak up and reuse the energy generated by cars on the road during acceleration.
Racetrack to Showroom
Innovations on the racetrack have often made the jump to the humdrum world of the daily commute—fuel injection, traction control and semi-automatic transmissions to name a few. With this step, the racetrack will become a technological proving ground for green technology, and the multi-millions spent on conventional engine development will be turned to environmental benefit. F1 will begin experimenting with bio-fuels next year, when at least 5.75 percent of the fuel used must come from renewable sources. By 2011, the FIA wants exhaust gases and heat generated by the cars' 2.4-liter, eight-cylinder engines to be captured and used for propulsion.
F1 has come late to the game, however. The Indy Racing League (IRL) already uses 100-percent ethanol, and General Motors is pushing NASCAR to adopt that practice. Ford has already shown the potential for hybrid racers with its Ford Fusion Hydrogen 999, which set a World Record 207.279 mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. Three years before, a Toyota Prius hit 130 mph at Bonneville.
Getting technology out to the general public that would make their performance cars fast and fuel-efficient is the end game for F1. Freeing up millions of dollars—$200 million in one season—spent on engine development puts a whole lot more money in the green technology pot and could bring more funding to small groups working on the same solutions outside of the racing industry.
Formula 1 is not completely altruistic in moving toward fuel efficiency. If an oil crisis occurred, Mosely said, there could be major problems for F1. Politicians looking for points could shut down F1 racing as a waste of fuel. However, if the racing community has become a think tank for green technology, it would help to give them a green image and reduce their fuel-consumption impact.