We’ve been having a discussion over an editorial piece I wrote yesterday concerning the hybrid engine in Formula 1 and if this was indeed the direction the sport should be heading in. It’s not a hatchet piece on green technology or slamming the green movement but rather a piece asking if hybrid is right for F1.
It was, however, FIA president Jean Todt who moved F1 into the hybrid formula and engine manufacturers such as Renault and Mercedes who endorsed the move with some suggesting that both threatened to leave the sport if it did not move toward hybrids.
F1 teams had decided to stop using the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) after a year in use for cost reasons back in 2009 and Todt was not happy about it saying:
“I am convinced that we absolutely must reflect the environment with new technologies,” Todt said. “We must adapt to our time and review fundamentally motorsport – even create new disciplines. “After giving up on Kers, we will accomplish nothing innovative next year. I’m sorry about that.”
And so began F1’s march into a format that apparently would “reflect the environment”—in short, hybrid engines. As I stated in the editorial, there is no doubt the technology being used in the new power unit is top shelf but is it the direction F1 should be heading in and why was it imperative that a racing series reflect the environment? Especially when the teams knew in 2009 that the technology was expensive and the series was challenged by the global economic downturn of 2008 with Honda, Toyota and BMW leaving the sport?
The early critic of the new engine in 2014—the first year they were used—was none other than F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone himself. While most F1 pundits were miffed by his candid commentary on the new engines, he’s maintained that they aren’t right for F1 and even lobbied to return to the predecessor in the form of a V8 engine.
Now, Mercedes boss Niki Lauda and Ferrari boss, Maurizio Arrivebene, are calling for a change to 1,000bhp engines in 2017 and wider tires along with other changes that would make the cars much more difficult to drive and more exciting to watch. That, on the surface, sounds fine but Ecclestone isn’t done yet—he says that isn’t enough telling Forbes:
“They can develop the current engine but it isn’t a solution because they can’t do what has to be done. The engine that we have got, when it was conceived, nobody knew exactly how it would turn out, and this power unit is not suitable for what it is being used for. It’s that simple. Good power unit and a wonderful bit of engineering but not designed for Formula One. It was never designed to finish in the way it has.”
As my editorial suggested, I agree with him. I think these engines can be developed but in the end, is it the right direction for F1? One need only look at the renewed interest in WEC sports car racing to see where the manufacturers are focused and where the road car technology is being developed. It’s no easy solution but F1 needs to find an answer sooner rather than later.
Hat Tip: Forbes