Green F1: Right idea, wrong approach

Jenson Button, Honda, Monte-Carlo, 2007Max Mosley is on a mission: F1 must became the vanguard of environmentally friendly car technology.

Mosley wants F1 to be a showcase for the world’s car manufacturers to display their environmental credentials. And he wants a radical set of F1 rules for 2011 to enshrine that.

It’s deeply divisive and controversial. I agree with Mosley up to a point – F1 does need to bring in green technology. But the approach he has planned is all wrong.

Spec series

F1 is the supreme sporting challenge between the greatest racing drivers in the world. But it is also more than that.

It is supposed to be a showcase for the fastest and most technologically advanced racing cars in the world.

Gerhard Berger, Benetton-BMW, 1986Many might argue that has never really been true. Particularly in the last 25 years, increasing safety demands have forced greater compromises on the cars.

Ground effects, turbos, slick tyres, electronic driver aids – just a sample of the many technologies banned from F1 in the last two and a half decades (for more, see our regular feature Banned!)

F1 is becoming a specification series by stealth. Chassis dimensions are fixed, engine capacity and configuration are fixed, revs are limited, the list goes on. Practically every new technological innovation has to be vetted by the FIA before it can go on a car.

So what is the point of Formula 1 now? To build a faster car?

Bugatti Veyron, Goodwood Festival of SpeedRich people can ring up Volkswagen and buy a 250mph Bugatti Veyron that will do 0-60 mph in F1-rivalling times, and features all manner of technologies banned in F1. It’s getting harder and harder to describe F1 as the pinnacle of automotive technology.

Everything’s Gone Green

Many F1 fans view the green debate with suspicion.

Let’s leave aside questions about the true nature of the threat of climate change and start from the point that there is an enormous pressure on car manufacturers to reduce vehicle emissions.

The European Union are demanding that by 2012 the average CO2 output of a manufacturer’s entire car range must not exceed 130g per km. Very few car makers are expected to meet it.

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari, Melbourne, 2006Mosley argues that F1 can help. By forcing the use of green technologies in the sport participating manufacturers will be able to develop green solutions faster. Seeing ‘green’ cars racing will also have marketing value – making their road counterparts more appealing to motorists.

It might also make the manufacturers more likely to stay in F1 as the financial burden of racing would pay a visible reward by helping them develop cars.

All of this makes sense. Mosley has been regularly criticised by the F1 press and this very website for many of his hastily devised and ill-considered rules changes in recent years. But he should be applauded for being aware of the political threat the environment debate poses to F1.

The sports’ fans may not consider themselves ‘political’ – but no multi-billion dollar enterprise can exist in a vacuum divorced from reality.

Fatal flaw

But there is a fundamental and potentially fatal flaw in Mosley’s thinking.

There is no agreement over what kind of environmentally friendly cars we might be driving in the future.

BMW Hydrogen 7Will it be petrol-electric hybrids like the Toyota Prius? Bioethanol fuelled vehicles like those offered across Saab’s range? Hydrogen internal combustion such as used on the BMW Hydrogen 7?

Hydrogen cells? Electric cells? Or a combination of all of the above plus perhaps solar panels and energy recovery technologies?

I don’t know which is the right answer. There is no consensus between car manufacturers. But Mosley thinks he knows best

Already he is pushing for F1 to switch to bioethanol power, and is advocating 2.2-litre V6 turbo engines that will also use energy recovery technologies.

But this is putting the cart before the horse. Why not allow the teams to pursue all of the above options?

Surely the best way to get people interested in the different environmental technologies produced by car manufacturers is to let them race each other with them?

Then Toyota could bring a petrol-electric hybrid F1 car and BMW can run a hydrogen internal combustion engine F1 car – just like their road cars.

And F1 can do what F1 does best – giving engineers a level playing field to develop exotic new technologies as aggressively as possible.

Peugeot 908 HDI FAP, Valencia, 2007I can’t see why the world’s leading car manufacturers would want to be shackled to a green technology they aren’t intending to use on their road cars.

Audi have said for years that the reason they embrace sports car racing instead of F1 is because there they’re free to demonstrate their diesel engine power. Peugeot are now doing the same.

I’m all for green technology in F1. But please, let’s not have the sport arbitrarily adopt a single green solution. Let the best one win on the race track. The green age can be a golden age for motor racing.

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14 comments on Green F1: Right idea, wrong approach

  1. Nathan Jones said on 1st June 2007, 14:16

    very well said, it could very well b like the “good old days” where cars even looked differant! who knows tey might even be able to “race” each other!
    dare to dream………

  2. A well argued and sensible post – and that’s coming from someone who maintains that the whole anthropogenic global warming thing is a crock of excreta. The point is that, whether F1 bows to ever-changing public opinion or not, the engineers should be free to develop the best answer to the perceived problem. Ultimately we will all be running electric cars; but, in the meantime, there is no reason why F1 should not investigate whatever alternatives there might be.

  3. Number 38 said on 1st June 2007, 15:48

    “green technology”…..so what?
    This is a political issue and has no place in motor racing.
    If constructors want to use “green technology” to promote their road cars that should be their CHOICE, not a requirement. And what benefit does Williams or Toro Rosso, etc. get from such legislation and EXPENSE? This is mere “feel good” policy for the few and Keith is spot-on…….why limit it to ONLY MadMax’s version of “green technology”. And one more thought, I wonder how much Honda’s sales have increased due to their “green” display this year? Ha Ha

  4. Number 38 said on 1st June 2007, 15:55

    This is such a silly issue……
    I can just imagine Mister Bigbucks changing his mind…..the McLaren supercar has less emmisions than the Ferrari, opps! he’s changed his mind gain, the supercar is out he’s now leaning toward some 40 mpg Renault shoebox! The influence of F1 is staggering !!!

  5. All-in-all, this is a good piece.

    I agree that this is a solid opportunity to open the specifications of Formula 1; if the worry is safety, I say the rules should specify only two requirements of a car’s power plant, the first being a cap on emitions, and the second being a cap on horsepower. All cars must be homologated before first practice of a gran prix, where they can be put on a dyno and tested.

    The other opportunity is that the cars can prove fuel economy by banning physical refueling. (That means solar panels are okay.)

  6. Johnny said on 2nd June 2007, 5:44

    Interesting piece. I think it would be good for F1 if the manufacturers were able to compete with different green techs and innovation was a bigger part of the sport again. It would add an interesting dynamic to F1 and maybe even shuffle the running order. As far as the green debate in racing, it seems like every series is moving in that direction so at least there is some small hope that F1 can do it in a more interesting way than just having cars that run on biofuel.

  7. Number 38 said on 3rd June 2007, 19:07

    I’m an oldie from the early years of F1 when F1 was real racing and involved SPORT. Today it has deteriorated into a perverted business and is now being invaded by political ploys, the most obvious, the sudden need to “go green”. I am not against any of this “image building” and that’s all it really is, but to legislate through ONLY MadMax Mosley’s view is ridiculous. The part that concerns me is some of my friends seem to be caught up in the rush to “go green” and have
    lost perspective of what F1 is.
    Mr. chunter (above) I applaud your interest to “open the specifications of Formula 1″ but that’s not going to happen, MadMax has already concocted wierd regs to the year 2011 and they are the opposite of what you would like to see, there is talk of limited horsepower, 770hp was the figure and 10,000 rev limit also. Several folks think banning re-fueling is a viable idea but I ask how long is the race? 150 miles will require at least 60-70 gallons….now we’re racing tank trucks! And 3 mpg is 3 mpg whether you fill a large tank once or a small tank several times. That’s NOT an environmental alternative.
    And one more piece of information for your consideration…….just because “every other series” is moving in that direction doesn’t make it right. WHO is the leader?
    Is F1 subserviant to GP2 or A1?
    ALL of this “green technology” stuff is commercial image building and has no place in F1 motor racing. And about ‘chunter’s’ solar panel, that would best be mounted on a stick and used as a sail. Now THERE’S inovation….TWO benefits from one device!
    It’s Sunday afternoon……an idle mind at work . Enjoy the humor, it’s free.

  8. The eighties and early nineties were great you different looking cars with different sized engines with different specification on each car, now all that is different today is the colour schemes, let the engineers do their job and make some of the beautiful F1 cars come back, Plus I would love to see VW come into F1 with a turbo diesel just imagine all the black smoke at the start it would be like wacky racers :)

  9. Mattmagrat said on 4th June 2007, 14:08

    My friends and I think we have the solution; simply have a restriction on the total fuel available to each car at each circuit and every year the total amount of fuel will go down by an agreed amount, say 5%. Then remove any engine restirctions ensuring that teams have the chance to design alternative ways of maximising performance. The manufacturers are free to do whatever they like to make up the performance. Just think of the various solutions that could be tried: elecric motors with energy recovery systems, large diesel engines (as it has more potential power for a given volume than petrol) versus little tiny petrol engines turbo/supercharged to the max. Maybe an ultra efficient gas turbine charging batteries of an electric engine backed up with solar panels… Ultimately, as everyone has the same amount of fuel the ptoential power is identical, which even the current heavily restricted engine regs does not do.

    This arrangement would also benfefit the non-manufacturing teams as they could licence the developed technology back out to industry if (when) they come up with something ground breaking and patent it.

  10. Number 38 said on 5th June 2007, 22:02

    Hey! I’ve got the ultimate “green Tech” car…….
    a great huge clockworks motor,
    wound by hand of course, no fuel required; and a gimmick on the brake pedal that engages great rubber bands and winds them up during braking and launches me forward when the pedal is released; and a turbine like propeller spun by the driver pedalling a bicycle crank; and; and; and;
    You might be laughing but I’m not, this is what f1 is coming to. F1 is no place for “green technology”. Period!

  11. My solution to the whole debacle is a horsepower limit, not an engine dev freeze. Manufacturers will be forced to find gains in economy. They could use any kind of engine they wanted. One would hope that this leads f1 towards alternative energy sources. F1 seems much more interesting when you have truly different ideas competing with each other.

  12. Eugenio Perez-Maldonado said on 6th February 2008, 18:17

    Forget about pollution direcly generated by the cars. Formula 1 pollutes in it’s development and logistics. A F1 engine is so fine tunned and clean inside out, that you could brew an expresso straight out of a cylinder after a race.. damn good one by the way. 20 F1 cars can generate the same amount of exhaust harmful particles than a single road car.

    The FIA can go “green” simply by controlling the use of wind tunnels. These babies pollute as much as ariplanes.. in the ground. These have an increase activity during the winter when the new F1 models are developed. Pollution is trigered this time of year because of the greenhouse-effect in cold weather. An option is to operate these tunnels with alternative energies.

    F1 travels too much. Imagine going from a race to Asia to a test in Europe back to race in America, back to test again… moving all your team by air every week. The FIA can do a better job in the F1 calendar. Whats the use in going twice to Europe, and Asia every year??? Do all European races at a time and then all Asian ones, etc.. The FIA can also control the amount of testing during the season like they did a couple of years ago.

    The FIA could also be more vigilant on recycling. My guess is that F1 teams travel with drained cars. Where do all coolants and lubricants go after races in each track??

  13. Steve Johnston said on 3rd April 2008, 6:00

    Formula 1 has to cut back on technology so that the drivers have time to react to the tracks that stay the same as their cars get faster every year. A formula 1 car also is made to turn about 5 times faster than any Bugatti Veyron will ever dream of. The formula one car also has a engine that is smaller than 3 liters If the same engine in a formula 1 car was modified for economics it would get about 70 MPG and that is the Point of formula one.

  14. Steve said on 24th July 2008, 12:26

    What Happened to the FIA’s tree planting programme that offset its contibution to Co2 emmisions. If this is still progressing then the need to go green for racing is negated!

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