The drive towards all-electric cars has taken another big step forward, with the announcement that all-electric drive is coming to Formula One from 2013. The move is not quite what it sounds, however.
From 2013, cars competing in F1 races will be required to operate solely on electric power when they’re in the pit lane. The rest of the time, the cars will be running on the track using their normal high-tech combustion engines with supplemental power provided by sophisticated kinetic energy recovery systems, KERS.
Meanwhile, cars competing in Formula One will also be moving from their existing 2.4-litre V8 engines to a hybrid combination of the KERS (kinetic energy recovery system) and much smaller four-cylinder engines with a capacity of just 1.6 litres. This is quite a radical move for F1 and it signifies that the FIA, which regulates the world’s premier class of motorsport, is serious about ensuring the series continues to lead the world in high-performance automotive technology.
Starting in 2013, the scream of F1 will be marked by the high-revving, small-capacity engines, which will be limited to 12,000 rpm. Of course, that scream will be accompanied by what is likely to be a rather eerie silence as the cars come into the pits with little sound apart from perhaps the crunch of fat racing tyres.
Fans of the sport, including F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone and boss of Ferrari Luca di Montezemolo have already expressed their reservations about the move to smaller engines and all-electric power. There is little doubt, however, that the days when motorsports can continue its eager carbon-churning ways are on the wane.
The FIA’s latest move also appears to be aimed at addressing the impression that Grand Prix racers are out of step with today’s increasingly environmentally-conscious world. Though the exhaust note of the little 1.6-litre engines is reported to sound ‘terrible’, the FIA seems to think it needs to make the sport look at least a little bit green.
The KERS system already being used by most F1 teams works by recovering energy generated under braking and storing it for later use. A button on the steering wheel allows the driver to choose when to make use of the brief, turbocharger-like burst of acceleration.
Starting in 2013, the KERS system will also be used to power the cars from the time the enter pit lane until they exit and rejoin the track. The amount of energy stored in the system is reportedly enough to let the car run nothing but electricity during its trip into the pits.
As the upcoming versions of KERS are supposed to have four times the power of existing units, this should not prove too much of a problem. Despite the reservations of Ecclestone and di Montezemolo and, probably, large numbers of F1 fans around the world, some of the biggest names in Formula 1 are giving the changes their support.
Adam Parr is the head of Williams, which has won nine Formula One Championships and is one of the most venerable names in motorsport. The Williams chairman says he believes very strongly in the upcoming changes.
Mr Parr said that F1 is defined by its technological expertise. He added that regular radical changes to both chassis and engine technology are a fundamental part of the sport. He reckons fans will get bored if the sport grows stale, which he says is the case with the design of the existing V8 engines.