Shaping the future of F1

A new F1 engine formula is planned for 2013, and with it will come the next big shift in car design. We asked some of the sport’s great engineering minds to say what they expect to see
By Adam Cooper

The question of what direction Grand Prix racing should take has been challenging the sport’s insiders over the past couple of years. For the most part until now the rules have drifted along with no real direction, with regular tinkering either focused on safety issues or quick fixes to trim speeds.

Last year’s changes, intended to address the issue of overtaking, represented the first time that there had been a properly structured approach to shaping the future of Formula 1. The changes didn’t achieve their aim of allowing cars to follow more closely, broadly because teams clawed back more downforce than had been anticipated, in large part because of the arrival of the double diffuser.

Nevertheless the principle of engineers from different teams working with the FIA for the greater good is a sensible one. Now the focus is on 2013 when a new engine formula, almost certainly based on a small-capacity turbo, is scheduled to be introduced. The engine is likely be just part of a package of changes that will take the sport into the future, and we should learn later this year exactly what we can expect.

So what could the F1 of 2013 look like? To get an idea we asked three experts, beginning with the FIA’s Peter Wright, one of the men at the very heart of the current discussions.

Peter Wright
FIA Technical Advisor

“Who else is going to build engines but the manufacturers? We need to attract them back, and part of the reason they left was because it was flaming expensive and not very relevant. It has to be a lot more relevant and a lot less expensive; their leaving made that message clear.

“F1 has to showcase and develop the technologies that the road car people are interested in, and deliver a strong message that it’s doing something for society. It’s got to do what it’s doing now for vastly less fuel consumption, and the sort of figures being discussed are around the 50 per cent reduction mark.

“Energy disappears through all the little things like the efficiency of the gearbox and the rolling resistance of the tyres, but mainly it gets burned up in braking. You turn it into kinetic energy and then throw it away when you brake. The other main place the energy goes is stirring the air, which is drag, and drag has some complicated linkages with downforce.

“The physics of the problem are straightforward – to recover as much kinetic energy as you can efficiently and without putting the weight up much. You need to reduce the drag, but to maintain the same performance you need downforce at similar levels. And that’s before you even discuss overtaking, because that gets very complicated!

“We’ll need a bit more than half the current power, and that can be delivered effectively with a four-cylinder turbo. It will be a GDI [gasoline direct injection] engine, not high-revving because that’s inefficient. You can probably get it out of a 1.3-litre if you had to, and it probably won’t be more than a 1.6, so my guess is it’s going to be somewhere around 1.4, 1.5. That’s right in the middle of the marketing requirement of the manufacturers.

“You can’t just do the engine by itself. If you halve the power, you’ve either got to do what the Indycar people have suggested, which is halve the weight, because they can’t recover brake energy, or you’ve got to use KERS and get the aerodynamics to match.

“The engine bit is in some ways quite easy. You’ve then got to effectively reduce the drag to about half and figure out how to make the thing accelerate properly, and that’s when you’ve got to recover the kinetic energy and do it with a KERS system.

“It’s not about revs and how light can you make the pistons, it’s about how much of the wasted energy you can get back. The formula will be based on energy use, so you’ll get performance by making the car more efficient in every sense. There will probably be more gears allowed – there are eight-speed ’boxes on the road already – so you can work in the sweet spot of the engine more of the time, which helps efficiency.

“KERS doesn’t have an enormous effect on top speed, because it basically gets you up to high speeds quickly, but it doesn’t maintain the top speed. You have to cut drag, and do it without reducing too much performance by reducing the downforce.

“There are two approaches to that. One, go to much more efficient aerodynamics – reduce the drag of the wheels by fairing them in some way, and go back to ground-effect aerodynamics, rather than wings, because that was way more efficient. The second is to go to movable aerodynamics, so you have high downforce for the corners and low drag for the straights. In some ways that is pretty relevant for the road car industry, and there are even cars around already with movable wings.

“So we’ve got two possible routes on aero, which probably yield the same answer. Which do we want? Then you need to bring in overtaking and decide whether full ground effects with minimum wings will deliver the downforce or lift/drag you want with minimal effect on the car behind, or whether you use movable aero to give the car behind an advantage.

“In other words, you schedule something in the sporting regs to use it in some way to overcome the disadvantage that the car behind has. It’s a big discussion, because it hasn’t been done, so we don’t have the answers.

“So you’ve got to put all that lot in the pot and stir it. What the car looks like when you’ve finished, I don’t know…”

Patrick Head
Williams Director of Engineering

“Ultimately the problem for the FIA has been that they’ve had to slow the cars down so that their entry speeds to the fast corners are not too high. The FIA know where the danger areas are, and to contain the speed of the cars they have steadily made them uglier and uglier – not to look at, but aerodynamically. So we are prohibited pretty much from producing any serious downforce from between the wheels, with a massive front wing hung way ahead of the front axle, and a big rear wing and diffuser that can only start where the rear axle is.

“I’m all for going to regulations that develop downforce more between the wheels and less on the wings, almost to the point of doing away with the front wing. I wouldn’t go to plastic skirts or anything like that, as you can still produce a lot of downforce even by having an edge that comes down to maybe 10mm above the bottom of your plank, so it’s policeable. The problem comes in terminal speeds that would be too high, because the drag would be enormously low.

“In the current environment it’s the drag on the cars that’s consuming vast amounts of fuel. The engines are actually very efficient in terms of specific fuel consumption, but the cars are very inefficient because the drag levels are so high, because that’s how we get around the track quickly. We need the downforce, and we get the drag with it. If you went to a vehicle that produced a lot less downforce but produced it very efficiently, your terminal speeds at certain tracks would go completely out of order!

“Personally I’m in favour of turbo engines, and a four-cylinder with a single turbo revving to maybe 12,000rpm or so is quite enough to produce a pretty racy F1 engine.

“Formula 2 cars have got the combination of a mechanical and electronic boost control and, although it sounds odd to begin with, it would only come in in certain places. It would be quite easy through the standard ECU to ensure that if your speed got up to 200mph or whatever it would just automatically knock your boost back.

“I’d personally make the tyres narrower than what we have now, and do everything to try and make the cars more efficient. Alongside the four-cylinder engine I’d stick a big KERS motor and integrate that.

“We’ve got to look very strongly at making F1 truly more fuel efficient and more relevant, with KERS and maybe a turbocharged-linked little motor generator as well, so that when you’re using full power instead of opening the wastegate you use some of that energy off the turbo shaft to put back into the KERS system.

“Aerodynamicists would not thank me for saying this, but 95 per cent of your performance and 95 per cent of your development is down to aero. We have to find a way of somehow changing that slope. Michelin is talking about [bigger] 18-inch wheels. The interesting thing about that is all of a sudden you’ve got more of your suspension under the control of the mechanical systems on the car, and much less down to what’s going on in the tyre. That means all of a sudden things like damping become more important.”

Paddy Lowe
McLaren Engineering Director, Overtaking Working Group member

“F1 needs to present a tremendous spectacle for the global audience, because we’re competing ultimately with other sports, not with ourselves. That’s the challenge. While there’s a great deal of discussion about cost saving, which is all very sensible as we need to be efficient with our resources, we must be wary of creating a cheap product. The TV audience we have is absolutely immense, and we have the luxury that motor sport seems to be popular across a huge range of countries. So maintaining a spectacle means having an exciting car. But we do have to take on board the realities of the world we live in…

“We have an opportunity to take the initiative on the green aspect. I’m a great believer in human ingenuity, as long as it’s applied to the right problems. If we were honest we’d say that F1 has historically been at the leading edge of human consumption. The challenge for F1, bearing in mind motor sport is founded on the basis of consumption of fossil fuels, is to turn it around into a demonstration of a sensitive and effective use of the finite resources we’ve got.

“We’ve got to be changing the emphasis by 180 degrees and not be leading the field in how wasteful we can be with these resources, but in how ingenious and forward-thinking we can be, setting a good example in either a PR sense or a pure technical sense in supporting the automotive industry with the correct green measures.

“It’s easy to say all that. The difficult bit is what do you actually do? We have to make sure we properly research what we’re doing and come up with strategies that are genuinely in the right direction.

“The rationale of a small turbo engine is good, which is to say it is inherently more efficient and lighter. But we need to take care to make sure the cars still create the right sort of spectacle. That’s a tough one, because the noise the cars make is crucial to people’s experience. In some ways that’s contradictory to what I’ve just been saying! That’s why it needs us to be careful and intelligent about how we dream these things up, to get the spectacle but also get the environmentally sensitive direction.

“I’d like to see more work done on what type of outcome is wanted from KERS. We all went off and did that already, and I’m not sure that what we achieved was particularly effective from a green point of view – I’m not convinced we used the right technology. It’s a big project for people to get into, and it deserves more effort than just ‘get on with it, it’s good for the environment’.

“One of the problems is that we’re all getting so good at aerodynamics that in order to contain performance we’ve had to knock more and more space [available for aero development] out of the system, so that the opportunity for cars to look different becomes less and less, which is a real shame.

“What the Overtaking Working Group did show was that it’s better to create rear downforce with a wing rather than the floor. I know a lot of people say the opposite, but the studies show that. The problem at the moment is that so much downforce is being produced from the floor, and that exceeded OWG expectations. In terms of overtaking, we can do more, and we are for 2011, as the double diffuser is banned. That will take us further towards the OWG intent.

“The wings will have to be trimmed down over time, but if you’re looking at a three- to five-year development period, then I don’t think the cars will change dramatically in terms of bodywork appearance.”