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Is F1 going to save the combustion engine from oblivion?

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With Audi and Honda expanding F1’s ranks by committing to adopting sustainable-fuel turbo-hybrid regulations from 2026, what’s happening has implications far beyond the spectacle of the six automakers battling each other on the track.

In fact, there is a larger global picture here that may very well determine the future of road car engines.

Shortly after Honda’s recent U-turn decision, some key information has emerged about where F1 is headed and what that means for the cars we see on the road every day.

As Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said: “For me, it shows that the internal combustion engine is not dead, that there is still life in combustion.

“Obviously when they (Honda) pulled out, it was because of electrification. And I think maybe with sustainable fuels and zero emissions, coupled with Formula 1’s 2026 line, combustion is relevant to them again.”

EU development

For years, the government has led automakers and the public down the path of mandating an all-electric future, but things have been changing in recent months.

The European Union’s ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2035 seemed to mark the death knell for the internal combustion engine, but that’s not so clear now.

Concessions have been made to secure the necessary approval from governments as the EU regulations pass through parliament.

And, in addition to low-volume automakers now being able to continue selling conventional engines, the German government has stepped in to ensure that engines powered by carbon-neutral e-fuels are exempt.

The move prompted the Italian government to seek an exemption for biofuels.

Now, with the help in part of F1 representatives including chief executive Stefano Domenicali, who are at the heart of European discussions to better educate policymakers, the message appears to be coming through more thoughtfully. response.

Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali with VIPs on the grid

Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali with VIPs on the grid

Photography: Mark Sutton/ motorsport pictures

Just recently, the G7 meeting in Japan clarified its vision for the future of road cars, which is that they will be electrified, not just electric, but also fuel usage.

In a statement outlining their commitment, the G7 countries said they wanted to: “achieve 100 per cent electric vehicles in new passenger car sales by 2035; promote associated infrastructure and sustainable carbon-neutral fuels, including sustainable bio and synthetic fuels.”

Likewise, growing awareness of the life-cycle carbon footprint of EVs compared to hybrids and conventional cars suggests that there is no clear evidence that EVs are significantly better.

That doesn’t mean automakers are suddenly abandoning the transition to EVs entirely in favor of more conventional engines.

But there seems to be a smarter approach open to policy, and the reality is mounting that the internal combustion engine has a future — especially if it can be powered by carbon-neutral fuel.

New thought

Even Honda itself, which announced its exit from F1 three years ago due to its switch to electric cars, has said it is now open to the future direction of its road car – even if its own plans have not yet changed.

Plus: How F1’s fuel of the future is shaping the auto industry

When the Japanese company announced its 2026 commitment with Aston Martin last month, Honda Chief Executive Toshihiro Mibe said his company could not ignore the possibility of the internal combustion engine for some time to come .

“We’re going to go electrified, we have no plans for e-fuels at the moment,” he said.

“But in 2035, or 2040, if you ask me if the cars running on the street can’t run on fuel, that’s unthinkable. I think we have to be prepared for e-fuels and the possible demand. But e-fuels Fuel also has its issues, such as cost.”

Red Bull Honda logo on the hood

Red Bull Honda logo on the hood

Photography: Zak Mauger / motorsport pictures

This openness of mind is what F1’s Domenicali has long called for, as he is annoyed that electric cars, which he sees as almost a politician’s “religious” cast, are the only answer to carbon-neutral road cars.

Speaking exclusively to Autosport, Domenicali said: “When you talk about electrification, the approach I personally don’t like is this religion, when you say ‘well, the world is going to be fully electric and the internal combustion engine is the devil.’

“Personally, I don’t think it’s the right thing to do, and it’s not the right thing to do.

“In everything we do, the goal of sustainability is the right thing to do, but as always in life, transformation is the key to success. If you’re pushing for something you can’t deliver, it’s wrong.

“And it basically doesn’t help you achieve the larger goal that everyone wants to achieve.”

more realistic future

F1 has long talked up its belief in a future with both electric motors and sustainable-fuel combustion engines on the road – with no place for fossil fuels.

It’s hard to predict the exact difference between electric and internal combustion engines these days.

But the extent to which F1 pushes its development of hybrid technology and sustainable fuels – both in terms of energy input requirements and cost base – is crucial to defining this.

This is why F1 is pursuing the path of sustainable fuels, because it is about improving technology at a rate that would not be possible if conventional commercial forces could not.

Domenicali added: “When we decided on sustainable fuel hybrids, we had the opportunity to try and reduce the time-to-market of new technologies, which we believe will be critical in our approach to a fully decarbonized future world.

“We know today that electrification is huge in terms of complexity. So I think F1 will help to achieve that in another, more efficient way.

A maintenance sign representing a car being refueled in a Haas F1 garage

A maintenance sign representing a car being refueled in a Haas F1 garage

Photography: Andy Horn / motorsport pictures

“If you think about the number of cars, commercial vehicles, trucks, ships and planes, there is an energy demand that means it’s not possible to just go in one direction.

“I think the reason Honda is back, and Audi and other manufacturers have confirmed their presence here, is because they see this as an opportunity to accelerate sustainable development in a different way through F1.

“It’s also important to understand how all the fuel manufacturers are now changing the way they go from fuel suppliers to energy suppliers. It’s a different way that will allow the world to attack sustainability projects in a very consistent way.”

face challenge

FIA president Mohammad bin Sulayem said his governing body must now step up as he said it had a duty to act and do what was best for the environment.

In particular, he noted how ethical concerns over the use of cobalt in some batteries suggest that electricity is not a perfect solution, while lithium extraction is known to have its own environmental downsides.

“Unless we lead, it will fail,” he told Autosport. “I want to see the FIA ​​as the center for certifying fuels because as the governing body of world motorsport we are neutral, we are fair and we are trustworthy.

“But I believe there is now common sense to understand: are we going after what we want, or are we rushing things (too much)?

“I respect the government saying ‘let’s see’. I mean, can we keep the internal combustion engine and still achieve our goals?

“As long as we do it in an ethical way (carbon neutrality), who cares how we do it.

“But look at Cobalt. You need cobalt to do it (batteries), and we’ve looked at: Where is the source? If you look at our regulations, they have to come from ethical sources as well. Then they have to recycle again.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14, sparking sparks

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14, sparking sparks

Photography: Steven Tee / motorsport pictures

“I’m optimistic that we can achieve (our goals). Sustainable fuels are important. People try to put that aside, but now people are using it. So I think working with energy companies, teams and OEMs, We can get where we need to be.”

The Pioneering Power of F1

Over the decades, F1 has regularly changed its regulations to ensure it is relevant to the road, and now it appears it could lead the way and help set the agenda on the road for years to come.

If F1 can succeed in changing the mindset that the only thing that matters is carbon-neutral transport, why can’t it make the internal combustion engine a part of our everyday lives?

Asked if he could see a long-term future for the internal combustion engine, Ben Sulayem said: “Yes, I can. But we all have to grapple with a challenge.

“I do believe some manufacturers were taking a leisurely pace because of the process with only E5 and E10 fuel.

“There’s a lot of pressure right now, but you can’t do it alone. The FIA, the OEMs and the manufacturers are very important about this. It’s a shared responsibility.”

It’s this challenge, and the possibilities that the direction of F1 presents, that matters to Domenicali.

“To think that the internal combustion engine will disappear by 2035 is to think we’re getting younger: it’s impossible,” he said.

“It’s wrong to say that, and it leads astray those who haven’t been following the subject closely. That’s why I feel like we have a duty to do our part on this kind of subject.

“No one knows what the future limit will be, but with sustainable fuels, you could argue that if you have a fully sustainable fuel and you’re going to achieve zero tailpipe emissions, what’s the benefit in going the other direction Woolen cloth?”

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Vandoorne to drive Aston Martin F1 car in Pirelli tyre test at Spa

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Aston reserve driver Vandoorne will share driving duties with team principal Lance Stroll, while Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri will each drive a day for McLaren.

It will be the Belgian’s first time driving an active F1 car on track since December 2020 when he represented Mercedes in Abu Dhabi testing.

While the Spa test will focus on Pirelli’s no-carpet tyres, it will give Vandoorne a valuable opportunity to sample the 2023 car, helping him correlate with Aston Martin’s simulator work.

If either Stroll or Fernando Alonso were unwell at any point for the rest of the season, his life would also be made easier.

The 31-year-old shared the Aston substitute with defending Formula Two champion Felipe Drugovich, and the two took turns on call.

Dubovic drove the AMR23 for two days during the Bahrain test in February, when Stroll was not present, and he had the opportunity to test drive the AMR23. Since then, the Brazilian has continued to rack up more miles in private testing of the 2021 car.

Stoffel Vandoorne, Reserve Driver, Aston Martin F1 Team

Stoffel Vandoorne, Reserve Driver, Aston Martin F1 Team

Photography: Mark Sutton/ motorsport pictures

As well as his role at Aston, Vandoorne is one of McLaren’s backup drivers and his performance at Spa will also make it easier for him to step into the MCL60 should the need arise.

As well as giving him a general feel for downforce levels for 2023, the two cars share the Mercedes powerplant and thus have similar settings on their respective steering wheels.

Also read:

Vandoorne made his F1 debut for McLaren in Bahrain in 2016, replacing current Aston team-mate Alonso.

He then completed two full seasons in 2017 and 2018, the first with Honda power and the second with Renault. He finished 16th at the World Championships in both seasons, with a best finish of seventh.

He was dropped by McLaren at the end of 2018, but has since rebuilt his career in Formula E, winning the 2021-22 championship for Mercedes and serving as an F1 substitute.

He currently drives for the DS Penske Formula E team and is also a substitute for the Peugeot WEC team.

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McLaren “true contenders” for F1 best of the rest tag

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McLaren has only scored one point after three rounds in 2023 as it struggles to find the car competitive.

But both Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri have seen plenty of upgrades in recent races, allowing the former to finish second in a row, while Piastri has finished in the top five in each of his past two races.

Despite being 136 points behind second-placed Mercedes in the constructors’ championship, Russell believes McLaren is a real threat for the remainder of the race behind leaders Red Bull.

“Obviously they’re a real contender for second fastest team,” Russell said of Woking.

“Oddly enough, Aston Martin was clearly second at the start of the year.

“And they don’t seem to be that competitive now. Ferrari haven’t made much progress. McLaren has made huge progress.

“So without McLaren we’d be very, very happy with the progress we’ve made. Leading the midfield, widening the gap and closing in on Red Bull.

“McLaren has just fully embraced it. But that makes you optimistic that bigger strides are possible.

“I believe in my team. I think it gives us the confidence and optimism to take this step towards Red Bull.

“We’re not too focused on McLaren, Aston or Ferrari. We’re focused on Red Bull. We’re trying to make that big step.”

George Russell, Mercedes F1 W14

George Russell, Mercedes F1 W14

Photography: Steve Etherington/ motorsport pictures

Russell fought his way back from 18th on the grid at last weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix, jumping to sixth at the checkered flag after Mercedes strategists told him 11th was his favorite.

Russell was pleased with the final result, but felt it was “proof” of a “missed opportunity” for Hungary.

Also read:

“The strategy tells me that if we maximize everything, the P11 is the most realistic, the P7 is the most realistic,” Russell told Autosport.

“Sixth place without a safety car, without a VSC, it’s a really great result.

“But it also proved that this weekend could be a missed opportunity. I believe I could have gone there with Lewis yesterday, it’s one of my favorite circuits and the car always does well here.

“When you have two cars out there, fighting for second gives you more options, and Lewis is also very strong. If things turned out a little differently, he would also be P2.

“So as a missed opportunity we will learn from it. But the positive side is we are leading Aston and Ferrari.”

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Top speed, car sizes, race weekends and more compared

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Formula 1 has relied on junior classes to develop the next generation of drivers, and its teams are eager to snag their brightest talent.

The ‘old’ Formula 2 car was a ruleset rather than its own separate entity, sometimes sharing the grid with F1, and later rule changes made the two cars separate championships.

The second class was renamed the F3000 in 1985 as the series switched to a naturally aspirated engine formula and extended the life of the earlier Cosworth DFV lineage. Throughout the life of the F3000, different engine and chassis suppliers came and went, with companies including Reynard, Lola, Ralt and March among them, all producing cars before the championship became a single specification.

When the F3000 championship began to fade due to declining team interest and declining track quality, the second level of racing was reborn in 2005. Bernie Ecclestone tried to bring the junior championship to F1’s bottom line and, along with Flavio Briatore and Bruno Michel, helped build the GP2 series.

GP2 became the FIA ​​Formula Two Championship in 2017, but many key hallmarks of GP2’s early series have stood the test of time. The GP3 series, a third-tier category designed to compete with the myriad Formula 3 championships around it, was added to the F1 Act in 2010 and became FIA ​​Formula 3 in 2019.

There are major differences in the way F2 is run compared to F1, there are subtle changes in form and there are big differences in the overall performance of the cars. The following are the key areas of comparison between F1 and F2.

F1 vs. F2 – key differences

car

Formula 1

Formula Two

top speed

220+ mph

208 mph

Minimum weight including driver

798 kg

788 kg

DRS?

Yes

Yes

engine size

1.6 liter V6

3.4 liter V6

Approximate Power

1,000 horsepower

620 hp

car size

5.63m x 2m x 0.95m

5.22m x 1.9m x 1.09m

tire size

18 inches

18 inches

game every weekend

One (two for sprint weekends)

Two (one sprint, one feature)

game length

305 km/190 miles

Sprint – 120 km/74.5 miles

Features – 170 km/105.6 miles

team

10

11

driver

20

twenty two

2023 Pole Times – Red Bull Ring

1 point 04.391

1 meter 14,643

2023 Pole Times – Monaco

1 meter 11.365

1 meter 21.053

2023 Pole Times – Silverstone

1 meter 26.720

1 meter 39,832

Current single-spec F2 cars can be seen as simpler, smaller versions of F1 cars

Current single-spec F2 cars can be seen as simpler, smaller versions of F1 cars

Photography: Simon Galloway/ motorsport pictures

What is the difference between F1 and F2 racing?

In F1, each team designs its own chassis according to a set of well-defined technical regulations laid down by the FIA. For the 2022 ruleset, the FIA ​​has updated the wording of the rules to better define the bounding box within which bodies can be developed and build a system more in line with the proliferation of available CAD products.

It features a range of safety systems such as a roll cage, halo and anti-intrusion panels mounted around the monocoque. There are also anti-collision structures on the side, front and rear of the car to minimize the impact on the driver in the car.

F2 is a single-spec series with all teams using the Dallara F2 2018 model. The car and driver must weigh a minimum of 788kg and feature F1 standard safety features such as the aforementioned crash structures and halos. Use only parts supplied by Dallara, Hewland or sold by F2 promoters.

F2 cars use floor venturi tunnels, which F1 adopts in 2022, 40 years after banning ground-effect aerodynamics. These designs aren’t as extreme as those in F1, but they work on the same principle, and the car is also enhanced with front and rear wings to create downforce. Like F1, F2 cars are fitted with a Drag Reduction System (DRS), which operates on the same parameters as its parent series.

While F1 cars typically reach speeds in excess of 220 mph during a race, with DRS switched on, an F2 car could theoretically hit 208 mph at full low downforce.

What is the difference between F1 and F2 tires?

Pirelli supplies all championships on the official F1 ladder, and F2 and F3 also use the Italian company’s rubber.

F2 started using 18-inch tires in 2020, two years before entering F1. F2 tires are slightly narrower than F1 tires and generally have less grip because of the naturally lower speeds of the junior series cars.

There are four dry-weather tire compounds for the F2: hard, medium, soft and supersoft – with the first three using the same white, yellow and red color coding as the F1. Extra soft textures are indicated by purple text on the side walls. Each car is supplied with five sets of dry weather tires per wheel, consisting of two of the prescribed compounds, with a set of “premium” tires to be returned after practice. Three sets of wet tires are also available – the F2 has no intermediate compound.

Tire blankets are banned in F2, meaning drivers must warm up their tires naturally. This often creates a larger offset during the pit stops, with drivers leaving the pits vulnerable to those who have already completed laps in the new group.

The “primary” and “option” compounds (harder tires are the main tires and softer tires are the options) must be used during featured races, and pit stops are required to replace them. Tire parking is allowed during a sprint, but not mandatory. Since only two dry compounds are used each weekend, Pirelli and F2 decide which tire to use before the weekend. There may be a single step in the compound (for example, medium and soft), or there may be a larger step for greater excursions (for example, medium and extra soft).

620bhp Mecachrome F2 engine

620bhp Mecachrome F2 engine

Photography: Sutton Images

What is the difference between F1 and F2 powertrains?

F1 has used a turbo-hybrid system since 2014, with a turbocharger and a motor-generator set on the rear axle to form a hybrid package. The internal combustion engine is a 1.6-liter V6. By 2022, F1 engines run on E10 fuel, where 10% of the fuel composition consists of combustibles of biosourced origin.

The MGU-K in an F1 car can produce up to 160bhp for a total power output of around 1000bhp. Figures for F1’s current four powertrain manufacturers (Ferrari, Mercedes, Renault and Red Bull Powertrain) vary but are all believed to have efficiencies in excess of 50%.

F2’s single-spec powertrain is produced by French manufacturer Mecachrome, which briefly participated in F1 in 1998 and 1999, and took over Renault’s engine program. The Mecachrome unit was a 3.4-litre V6 engine, virtually the same one used in the F3, but with a modified turbocharger from Van der Lee. It produces around 620bhp and is driven by a six-speed Hewland gearbox.

To ensure fairness in powertrain supply, Mecachrome units are randomly assigned to teams, as there may be minor differences in overall power output.

F2 is currently being used as a test bed to assist F1 in developing more sustainable fuel, using Aramco-produced fuel with 55% of its content from sustainable bio-sources, with the aim of increasing this figure to 100% by 2026/27. The Saudi oil brand replaced longtime supplier Elf as the sole producer of the F2 fuel.

How much does F1 cost compared to F2?

In recent years, Formula 1 has been constrained by a cost cap of about $135 million through 2023, with some minor adjustments for inflation and other ancillary costs. The cost cap covers most development and operating costs, but excludes driver salaries, salaries of the team’s three highest-paid employees, travel costs and marketing expenses. As Red Bull found out in 2022, violating this cap carries a range of penalties depending on the extent of the overrun.

The bulk of this budget comes from the FIA’s prize money, investment and sponsorship mix. Some teams, such as Red Bull and Mercedes, are self-sufficient in terms of bonuses and sponsors and do not require direct input from their ownership structures.

F2 teams have much smaller budgets, and with the series’ fairly limited reach, teams will rarely start the season with a full sponsor portfolio ready to fund every race. As such, drivers should pay for their rides through their own sponsors or a driver academy.

Depending on the team, the budget of an F2 driver can vary from 2 million to 3 million euros, and can even exceed this budget to get a seat in a better team. To keep costs down, F2 limited the number of employees working on each car on race weekends and designed the cars to be relatively cheap. A team can buy a complete F2 car, without the engine, for around 500,000 euros.

George Russell, Lando Norris and Charles Leclerc are recent notable F2 graduates entering F1

George Russell, Lando Norris and Charles Leclerc are recent notable F2 graduates entering F1

Photography: Glenn Dunbar/ motorsport pictures

How do drivers get from F2 to F1?

To compete in F2, drivers must hold an A or B international FIA license. They cannot conduct private tests on F2 machines, only the group tests offered by the series. There are also restrictions on the single-seater cars that drivers can test in private, and if a driver is double-duty in another category, they must commit to racing in F2 in the event of any conflict.

Depending on a driver’s final standing at the end of the F2 season, they may receive Superlicense points to help qualify for F1. To obtain a super license to compete in F1, a driver needs to earn 40 points.

The distribution of Super License points is:

end of season position

SL points

first place

40

second place

40

third place

40

fourth place

30

the fifth place

20

sixth place

10

Number 7

8

number 8

6

No.9

4

No. 10

3

These can be applied cumulatively over the course of three seasons.

F1 VS F2 weekend format

F1 has been running in the same basic format for years, with FP1 and FP2 taking place on Fridays, each one hour long. FP3 races are also one hour long and take place on the Saturday before the three-stage qualifying format in place since 2006. F1 races must be at least 305 kilometers in length (excluding Monaco) and must not exceed two hours in duration, with a three-hour window if any red flags are raised.

However, sprint weekends are different and that changes for 2023. The only practice session kicked off with Friday’s race, followed by qualifying for Sunday’s Grand Prix. Sprint qualifying and the race are both held on Saturdays, with 2023 seeing six sprint weekends for added variety.

F2 has a practice session lasting 45 minutes on Friday, with a half-hour qualifying session later in the day. It’s effectively a time trial and drivers just need to maintain the fastest lap at the end of the race to secure pole for Sunday’s race.

Many F1 teams have junior drivers in F2 teams

Many F1 teams have junior drivers in F2 teams

Photography: Red Bull Content Pool

The sprint race takes place on Saturday, using the same grid as qualifying, but with the top ten swapped. The number of laps “equal to the minimum number of complete laps over a distance of 120 km (100 km in Monaco)”, according to the 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 scoring system, the score is finally dropped to eighth place, and the fastest lap points are awarded to the top 10 competitors.

The F2 weekend’s featured race “should be equal to the minimum number of complete laps over a distance of 170km (140km in Monaco, 160km in Budapest)”. It features mandatory pit stops where drivers must use both primary and optional compounds during the race. If a driver pits before completing the sixth lap, the mandatory stop does not count. This information is also not recorded if a driver stops under the Virtual Safety Car unless they are already in the pits when the VSC is triggered.

F2 attempted three weekend races in 2021, but the practice was generally unpopular and canceled for 2022 due to gaps left on the calendar. Prior to this, the main race was held on Saturday, and the starting position of the sprint race was determined by the results and the reversal of the top eight.

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