Formula One Cars to Go Hybrid

F1Formula One (F1) racing appears to stand in contrast with current global trends. The fuel thirsty high performance vehicles thumb their nose at modern practical automotive trends of fuel frugality. However, Formula One racing is in transforming in a way that will make it a leader in high performance fuel efficient technology. Max Mosley, president of the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), the governing body for Formula One racing, sent a letter to the Formula One community laying out a process for Formula One race cars to become hybrids[1].  The process is already underway.

Mosley said: “Formula One is becoming unsustainable. The major manufacturers are currently employing up to 1000 people to put two cars on the grid. This is clearly unacceptable at a time when all these companies are facing difficult market conditions.

Also, with attention on energy problems world-wide, Formula One cannot afford to be profligate in its use of fuel.”

The initiative focuses on the use of Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS) that recover energy from the braking system that would normally be dissipated as heat and store it for later use.  The concept is not unlike the regenerative braking systems in hybrid vehicles but engineered for racing conditions and performance.

The racing regulations have be modified to allow for hybrid systems beginning in the 2009 racing season.  BMW has announced intentions to begin phasing in KERS technology during the 2009 racing season.

The rapid deceleration of high performance Formula One race cars can generate significant surges of energy.  Currently, the braking systems generate levels of heat exceeding 1800°F.  Formula One KERS need to be able to absorb this large amount of energy very quickly.  Conventional batteries have limitations on how quickly they can absorb this energy.  The popular means of means storage for energy in the Formula One KERS are flywheels or capacitors.  Flywheels as sometimes chosen because of their advantage of being more compact than capacitors.  However, currently research in ultracapacitors is yielding capacitors with very high energy densities that can store large amounts of energy in small packages without the mechanical complexity of a flywheel.

This all serves to fulfill Mosley’s vision that “[t]he target should be a (very challenging) 50% reduction from today’s levels of fuel consumption by 2015, while maintaining current speeds.”

[1] This letter was sent out on July 3rd, 2008.  View the full letter from Max Mosley here:

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