Green F1: Right idea, wrong approach

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

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.

Related links

Tags: / / / /