The New Turbo Generation?
2013 should see new engine designs unless the FIA decide that the move is too costly. However, what form they will take is still very much open to debate. The FIA supported by the car manufacturers are keen to be more road relevant. The aborted KERS project was part of that plan and it could yet surface in the engine department with a move away from the normally aspirated units currently employed.
Turbo or Not Turbo?
One possible move (and which was discussed here some 18 months before one website this week claimed to have an exclusive) is a switch to turbo engines. However, before you start thinking about a return to the monsters of the late ’80’s, these could be very different beasts.
About two years ago, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) developed a small turbocharged engine fitted with direct fuel injection that matched the performance of current hybrid motors at a fraction of the cost. They also offered better fuel consumption due to their small weight. With European Union rules in the pipeline to judge car manufacturers by the average CO2 emission across their entire fleet, I suggested that this was exactly the kind of engine that manufacturers were crying out for, especially performance manufacturers such as Ferrari.
And where better to develop the technology than Formula One?
After a number of spectacularly off-target predictions (okay, it seems McLaren weren’t sandbagging, Brawn were as good as their testing speed and Michael Schumacher would return to F1) it looks like I might have hit the bulls-eye on this one with Ferrari talking about exactly the power-unit I described.
“If F1 has to develop something helpful for real driving conditions, then the best solution is for an engine that is turbocharged and GDI. That is what we would support.”
Amedeo Felisa, Ferrari CEO
Gasoline Direct Injection, GDI offers even greater fuel economy. It is a form of fuel injection whereby instead of injection of the fuel under pressure into the inlet stream it is injected directly into the cylinder. This allows precise control of the amount of fuel injected and by careful design of the injector can also lead to a more controlled combustion. The result is improved efficiency.
What About KERS?
It’s looking more likely that KERS could return, even before 2013, although it may be a standard unit available to all the teams. The talk is of less restrictions on the amount it can be used compared with 2009 in order to offset the weight penalty of carrying the system which was marginal last year. However, the issue with that is in further developing the system and the cost incurred. McLaren were class leading last year and Williams’ system while never seeing the race track is turning into a commercial success. Either could be supplied to the rest of the field but the cost of the development needed to increase storage and transfer rates would have to be passed on.
Interestingly, KERS makes an ideal partner for the small turbo engines discussed above. The lighter engine will help offset the weight of carrying KERS while the energy recovery system is the perfect way to eliminate turbo lag. Potentially, in a road going car, stored energy could be released automatically in order to cover the engine lag and again Formula 1 could play a part in developing the technology side-by-side.
Improved normally-aspirated engines, perhaps extended with direct injection technology would be the low cost option although with the lowest benefit. There is also of course the rotary engine although there has been little interest in developing the system outside of Mazda.
One alternative mentioned this week is the gas turbine engine, something that Colin Chapman tinkered with in the early 1970’s with moderate success. A company has reportedly contacted the FIA with a proposal to supply such engines, however, the big question is whether the manufacturer teams would want to go along with such an idea. The idea of a single engine supplier was quickly shot down and it is difficult to see Ferrari wanting to go the gas turbine route. The technology’s one hope may be in a multiple engine configuration series, with some form of equalising factor between types – potentially an unpopular route if one developing technology is seen to be favoured over another. The other issue with the gas turbine is that it’s green credentials rely on using biofuels, the subject of continued debate as to just how green they really are.
At the moment, the teams look to be closing in on 1.5 litre turbo-powered engines, able to produce something like 670 bhp. They may not be totally clean but they seem to be taking Formula 1 in the right direction.
Image © Bridgestone Corporation