With the Formula 1 (F1) Grand Prix season revving up for the first race of the season in Melbourne this Sunday, we look at the energy efficiency of the modern F1 car and the possibility of an electric future for the sport.
Australians have had a long and passionate relationship with domestic motorsport, going back nearly a hundred years. The longest running motorsport competition was the Australian Alpine Rally back in 1921, one of the oldest surviving motor sport events in the world, and this was followed by the very first Australian Grand Prix held in 1928.
Today that passion shows no sign of abating. Nearly 250,000 people attended the Melbourne Grand Prix, multi day event, in 2018 (with over 1 million viewers watching at home), with similar crowds expected this weekend, to watch their favourite drivers, teams and cars compete.
The modern F1 car is an incredible feat of engineering, with millions of dollars and the best technical and mechanical minds in the world working under immense pressure and time constraints to produce the fastest, most dynamic racing vehicle possible. But how energy efficient are F1 cars?
According to Formula 1, each state of the art vehicle has an internal combustion engine and an Energy Recovery System (ERS) which greatly increases the unit’s overall efficiency by harvesting (and redeploying) heat energy from the exhaust and brakes that would usually go to waste. The introduction of a Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) in 2009, which captured waste energy created under braking and transformed it into electrical energy, ensured the teams had an extra 80bhp (brake horse power) or so to play with for just over six seconds a lap.
But with the automotive world changing rapidly, and innovation starting to skew towards the sustainability of electric vehicles, many commentators are debating whether the F1 car could ever adapt to an electric model.
A number of F1 team owners have been exploring the various routes to a more sustainable future, and in 2014 they introduced the inaugural Formula E championship - the world’s first all-electric city street race championship. There are currently 11 teams and 22 drivers, with a total of nine manufacturers - Jaguar, Nissan, BMW and Audi to name a few. Formula E ‘serves as a competitive platform for global car manufacturers and mobility providers to test and develop road-relevant technologies’ and could be a proving ground for the viability of an electric F1 future.
According to a recent report in Reuters, Tesla leads a group of manufacturers that are producing electric supercars as powerful as Formula 1’s and have batteries that can last the 300km distance of a championship race. And in Singapore, Vanda Electrics has teamed up with Williams F1 to develop the Vanda Dendrobium – the world’s first battery operated supercar that boasts a top speed of 320kph and can accelerate from 0 to 100kph in 2.7 seconds.
The next few years will be very interesting for the evolution of the Formula 1 championship. One thing is for certain, the cars and teams will continue to revolutionise what’s technically possible between driver and driving machine. And as battery technology continues to advance we could yet see our first all-electric Grand Prix here in Australia. In the meantime, we’re looking forward to this Sunday’s high octane excitement at Albert Park!
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