And maybe hybrid technology is the key?
[social_buttons]Today, twenty of the fastest cars on Earth will line up at the start of round 7 of the Formula 1 World Championship at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, to do battle for the biggest prize in world motor sport.
Capable of accelerating to 200 mph, and coming back to a complete standstill 12 seconds flat, a modern F1 car represents the pinnacle of automotive technology, precisely the reason that big name Japanese manufacturers Toyota and Honda have entered the sport as constructors in recent years.
Formula 1 has never been cheap – even the smallest teams have annual budgets in excess of $100 million to field two cars – but considering the resources available to the new Japanese teams, who are rumoured to have spent almost $2 billion between them on F1 in the past four years, one might expect a good chance of the Japanese national anthem being played when the constructors trophy is handed out this afternoon.
But much to the chagrin of boardrooms at several motor manufacturers, the silverware is more likely to go to long time contenders McLaren or Ferrari, who although not considered cheap, have repeatedly shown that you need more than money to earn success.
It’s for this reason that Honda CEO Takeo Fukui has said that “it kills me” when he considers the consistent mid-field ranking of the Honda F1 team, and that he would spend a trillion yen ($10 billion) to fix the problem – if he could, but Fukui also recognises that this is “not a problem that money can solve” – right now.
But the F1 game is changing. As of 2009, new aerodynamic rules threaten to annul the huge aero advantages that have been the key to success for McLaren, Ferrari, and until recently Renault. Furthermore, recognising green as the future of the auto industry, F1’s ruling body placed a freeze on traditional engine development this year, mandating that future performance enhancements can only be obtained through recovery of spent energy.
This means that F1 teams are frantically developing hybrid drivetrain solutions, allowing energy to be recovered during breaking and re-used under acceleration. This approach moves F1 development away from the black-art of aerodynamics and chassis design, and back to straight forward technical engineering excellence – an area in which traditional Japanese manufacturers have always excelled.
And this move towards greener racing has benefits for consumers too. Many innovations proven in the harsh world of competition eventually find their way into showrooms, with many manufacturers investing in competition not only as a brand building exercise, but as a way of attracting and retaining the best and brightest engineering talent. Turbo chargers, electronic engine management, traction control, and many more developments that make motoring better today were first conceived as ways to gain fractions of a second on the race track.
Honda might not finish well today, but the marketing department are certainly excited at the prospect of a hybrid vehicle inspired by a $10 billion program, proven on race tracks around the world in front of an annual TV audience measured in the billions of viewers. I certainly am..
Also at Gas 2.0: Formula 1 Racing to Go Hybrid from 2009-2013