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Formula 1 Takes Pole Position in Green Car Movement

Formula One’s governing body, the FIA, has announced the introduction of a new set of technical regulations for the 2014 season. It is hoped that this will help to improve the sports environmental credentials, and lead the way when it comes to technical innovations in the green car market.

But can an eternally glamorous and high cost sport, which is fundamentally based around the wasteful use of fuel, ever realistically aim to achieve this?

The changes

Engine manufacturers involved in the sport have been asked to downsize their engines from the current V8 powerplants to turbo charged V6 units. With smaller engines tending to be more fuel efficient and Renault has estimating that 75% of the cars it manufacturers by 2015 will be fitted with turbo engines due to the fuel saving potential of such designs, it is hoped that F1 will become more relevant to the green movement within the automotive industry.

This is therefore seen as being a move in the right direction despite objections from purists that the sport should be all about outright performance and the noise of the engines. The FIA had originally intended to introduce 1.6 litre designs, but these were ultimately pulled after Bernie Ecclestone, Ferrari and Mercedes all objected that the spectacle of the sport would be reduced.

With the V6 motors set to be less powerful than the current units, the FIA has doubled the capacity of the Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS) from the current 60kw limit to 120kw. It has also announced that cars will run solely on electric motors while in the pit-lane. It is hoped that this will encourage the car manufacturers involved in the sport to expand their understanding of hybrid technologies and electric engines, while simultaneously improving the sports green credentials.

Reasons for the change

Fuel prices are increasing at an astronomical rate, with research by MoneySupermarket.com showing that 65% of drivers have admitted that they will be forced to consider buying a more fuel efficient model the next time they purchase a new car.

Car manufacturers are well aware of the increasing number of motorists who are interested in the fuel efficient car market, which is why they are keen to both improve their fuel saving technologies and their image of environmental responsibility. This has seen an increase in the number of car manufacturers becoming involved in the Le Mans series; which encourages the adoption of fuel efficient diesel, hybrid and even electric racing cars.

Toyota is rumoured to be planning on joining the series in the coming years in order to compete against Audi and Peugeot, with Porsche having also committed to an entry in 2014.This is important to F1, with Toyota having quit the category in 2009 due to the sports high costs and minimal relevance to the environmental movement.

Is Motorsport relevant?

The car manufacturers therefore appear to be convinced that involvement in motorsport can influence the performance of road cars, despite the scepticism of F1 critics.

However, the belief of the car manufacturers has been supported by former FIA President Max Mosley. Mosley’s leadership skills were severely tested in 1994 when three times Formula One World Champion Ayrton Senna crashed out of the lead during the third round of the championship at Imola. Senna suffered severe head injuries and later lost his life in hospital. This came just one day after rookie driver Roland Ratzenberger had died in an accident on the same circuit. The sport came under heavy criticism from the media, with one French paper simply running the headline “Stop This” following another accident at the next race in Monaco which left Sauber Mercedes driver Karl Wendlinger in a coma.

Mosley responded by announcing the introduction of mandatory crash tests into the sport, which all teams had to pass in order to compete. This led to the establishment of the EuroNCAP test in 1997, which has fundamentally improved survival rates in road car accidents. As Mosley commented upon resigning in 2009: “Early in my Presidency in 1994, we lost Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger. Their deaths led to a fundamental re-evaluation of safety at all levels of motorsport”

I have always been concerned, however, to try to make sure that improvements on the track are relevant to the road. Prompted by our post-Imola response, we became aware that road vehicle crash tests in Europe had not been updated since 1974. A major campaign was launched to change this. We succeeded in forcing legislative change in Europe to develop new front and side-impact crash tests.”

Will F1 improve the fuel efficiency of your road car?

As proven with the establishment of the EuroNCAP tests, Formula One has the potential to have a direct bearing on road car designs. It should also not be forgotten that technologies such as traction control and ABS also have their origins in Formula One.

Manufacturers involved in the sport from 2014 will be able to experiment with and better understand hybrid technologies thanks to the fact that KERS will be a key performance differentiator. Porsche has already created a partnership with the Williams F1 team in order to gain access to their knowledge about hybrid designs, with Infiniti establishing a similar relationship with the championship winning Red Bull team.

These manufacturers would not have established such relationships if they did not believe that the involvement of F1 teams could fundamentally improve the fuel efficiency of their road cars; a feature which is becoming an increasingly important performance differentiator in the eyes of motorists as fuel prices continue to rocket up.

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