EV’s, F1, fires and ICE

Photo by: www.kymillman.com/f1

Push vs pull. Mandated vs desired. Two completely different theories on adoption of any process, technology or ideology. The trouble I have is that I don’t like pushed or mandated products and I tend to favor things that meet a specific need or desire.

When McLaren had their garage fire that sent mechanics to the hospital, the story was muted and not much was said beyond that. My first thought was that the batteries in the ECU/Hybrid power unit may be the cause and that’s very concerning for this regulation format. Not surprised there has been no follow up on that story as to the cause for PR reasons.

A week or so later, the entire MotoE grid and paddock building burnt up in a fire that was later revealed to be a battery charger but the big concern over all of this battery technology is thermal runaway.

I was reading an article over at Motor Sport Magazine by Matt Oxley. Now admittedly, Matt is a veteran MotoGP and motorcycle journalist and has covered the sport relentlessly for years. I have a lot of respect for that and for his thoughts on the series he covers. He has a lot of wisdom and insight on motorcycle racing for sure.

Apart from his journalism chops and sage wisdom, my respect for those qualities does not reach a point of swallowing everything he writes because there are elements of any story that run wide of the racing and motorsport apex and into the world of ideology, technological initiatives and other agendas. When running off line in these areas, his sage wisdom and views are no more prescient than mine or yours depending where you fall on any particular concept.

Matt was writing about the recent MotoE fire and about the risk of electric or EV racing. It is a very good article for sure, Matt is a terrific writer, but a couple of his off-apex comments struck me.

“If all this sounds like a lot of effort, there’s little doubt that EV’s are the future, whether you like it or not. At least until someone comes up with a better idea.

Pioneers are never treated kindly. Way back in the earliest years of the internal-combustion engine, motorcyclists and car drivers were considered weird eccentrics. “Get a horse!” was the usual cry from people deafened and choked by the noise and smoke of nascent petroleum-powered vehicles.

Safety wasn’t up to much either. The first oil gusher occurred in 1861, near Titusville, Pennsylvania, where the world’s first oil drilling took place. The gusher killed 19 people when it was accidentally ignited. How many thousands have died in oil accidents since then?”

Matt is absolutely right in that people have died in fuel fires during racing and one cannot criticize EV racing for fires when petrol racing has produced some horrific results.

Where I differ on the subject with Matt is that pioneers of the internal combustion engine (ICE) didn’t enjoy government mandated legislation that forced consumers to buy their products when a horse worked perfectly fine for their lifestyle.

The ICE was slowly improved over time and became an astronomically better option than a horse for just about everyone’s lifestyle including farmers, cartage companies, rail transport and travel etc. When the benefits, safety, and technology advanced to a point where the performance gains far outweighed the previous solutions, the consumers quickly adopted the ICE.

In the nascent era of the ICE, builders began racing their technology to see who was fastest. I find the same desire in Formula E and MotoE just as magical as those heady days in petrol-fueled racing. They are the perfect venues for this kind of EV development and rapid prototyping.

What I do not like is the forced inclusion of hybrid in F1 because “there’s little doubt that EV’s are the future, whether you like it or not.” It’s not a case of liking it or not. That’s a confrontational positioning of a technology that hasn’t developed to a point of standing on its own two legs and bettering what we currently have.

As the ICE replaced the horse due to the superiority of its benefits, the EV has not achieved a level of performance that has eclipsed the ICE in cartage, long-haul travel and weight loads, air travel, safety, agriculture, and emergency services to name a few.

These are early days in the EV world and government mandates won’t instantly evolve EV to a point where it is a far superior product than the ICE for all commerce and leisure needs. It’s improving, it’s getting there. I’m excited to see where it develops next but it isn’t better than what we have and completely unrealistic in many applications.

Whether I like it or not? No thank you, I don’t like it. Not yet. Will I? Of course, when it eclipses what we have on a scale that we currently enjoy. There are few examples of technology asking humanity to go backwards but EV, curly lightbulbs and other nonsense are doing just that. I’d rather ride a horse than drive a Honda Fit EV because while I can go 20 miles farther in the Honda, the Horse is much cheaper. Although the horse doesn’t get a $7500 tax credit.

The fact is, the Tesla model S is doing over 300 miles per charge that that’s fantastic. They are getting there and that’s the point. When they get to the point of eclipsing the ICE in performance, mileage, safety, reliability and convenience, they will be ripe for the market.

Is Formula E and MotoE the perfect proving ground for the technology? Absolutely. As such, I’m not sure F1 needs to be yet another proving ground for EV’s. You may disagree and that’s perfectly fine. I understand. The early days of grand prix racing were men and their machines using ICE technology to go fastest. Today, perhaps it is very similar.

What I do know is that the hybrid formula has bankrupted three teams, put several on life support and rendered the series a Mercedes R&D lab on wheels while their press releases try to create some sense of concern about other teams beating them. Lift and coast, fuel restrictions, artificially degrading tires and so much aerodynamics you could choke a horse. That’s where hybrids have brought us.

We have two modes of transportation in this world and one needs to further develop while the other could immediately be improved with regards to emissions and fuel usage. If the FIA changed the regulations for the 2021 season to an affordable V8 ICE with a fuel flow rate that is lower than the former rate, you’d see some incredible technology that could be deployed on hybrid cars in 2022 that would reduce the emissions and fuel usage of 4-cylinder engines and increase power of their hybrid engine road car models.

Meanwhile, Formula E and MotoE could continue to develop full-electric vehicles and powertrains to a point that eclipses the ICE alternative. I’m all for electric technology but why the draconian mandates (whether we like it or not) when the product is not ready for primetime? Why is it a zero-sum game? Why can we not develop EV technology AND improve ICE technology at the same time?

There are millions of ICE cars in the world and that will continue to be the case for some time so why would we not endeavor to improve the efficiency of those engines? The adoption curve for EV will take a while to mature and, as I said, when they make ICE redundant, the adoption will rapidly increase unless you force consumers, like it or not, to buy an inferior product. I have a major issues with coercion.

If you consider a road car ICE running at 50-56% efficiency, imagine where F1 would take a new version of the V8? If they were hovering around 25-35% back in 2013, would they not reach a far better efficiency now? Then you cut the engine tech in half and you have a 4-cylinder high-performance beast for your road car. Or at least in my simple mind that makes sense but then I’m no engineer.

No doubt the current hybrid is super efficient, I get that, but I’m focused on making the actual ICE more efficient and there is no one better than F1 to do that. No better place to develop EV than Formula E and no better place to develop massively efficient ICE than F1.

F1 needs to get back to good racing, renewed race contracts, affordable engines and excitement…whether you like it or not.

Hat Tip: Motor Sport Magazine

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Michael n

Fossil fuel subsidies world wide are 5 trillion,?which is 6.5 % of global GDP. Something tells me EV subsidies aren’t the problem. Negative chamber, there’s also a thing called a climate emergency which didn’t exist back when the first ICE vehicles were hitting the roads.

Question, are you paid by any fossil fuel company or say the Koch brothers? Etc…that may be your issue.

Michael n

I’m sorry I’m quite sinical when it comes to racing commentators or car journalists. If you aren’t conflicted then I oppologies. I don’t disagree with what you point out, however, I feel you’re trying to argue for a mindset which only focuses on satisfying an archic position, one which tries only to prolong the life of ICE vehicles. That’s why I thought you may be following a fossil fuel script of inaction or deferred action. Motor racing can not exist in two separate realities. F1 will simply die off or transition towards an EV formula, not matter how much we… Read more »


Michael, how does your wife sleep with you at night while you are crying about polar bears? (Don’t get triggered, that was a joke) But honestly, nobody really buys the global warming crap anymore mate.


I feel this is the biggest difference – Formula E cars and all EVs are charged before a trip (to the store, around the track, whatever) whereas in the current F1 formula the electricity is harvested from the energy wasted by the car (powered by an ICE) – from a high-tech sense, isn’t this some amazing stuff? What would be the wonder in continuing to squeeze the regular ICE format? If they went back to a straight ICE 6, how long before y’all are howling for an 8? Then a 10? Seems finite to me. My two cents. I do… Read more »


sorry didn’t mean to reply on your comment – just making a general one


Why does every F1 fan believe the sport is a laboratory? No manufacturer will want to take that chance of removing a prototype engine and placing it in the back of F1 car. They got test mules and their test facilities for that. I think that is overlooked in your words NC is that electric vehicles, for the most part, are aimed at city dwellers where distance is not important and all things needed for life are fairly centralized. The Model S is a fine-looking highway cruiser but the company has moved toward the urban side with the Model X… Read more »

Pritesh Shinde

I think it is an excellent article. Very valid points raised. F1, along with being the pinnacle of motorsport technology, is a sport! It is supposed to be the biggest spectacle of racing. When any of your rules start affecting the entertainment, keeping in mind it’s dna, it’s fabric, we got to question that. Your view that ev/hybrid tech being introduced too fast too soon is entirely true. I can say all this after having watched F1 for 17 out of my 27 year life. Keep contributing to F1 journalism like this, it’s heartening really.


The thing with EVs on the road is that you are dealing with political and economic forces….the environment is the least of anyone’s concern. Think about it, if one REALLY believes in this global warming, then we must immediately ground all the planes, stop the cars, and stop having kids….but that isn’t what we are being told to do…instead we are being told to buy things. Economically, for a hundred years the price of petrol has been increasing because the story was always “we are about to run out of oil”. Well, science has proven that isn’t true, we have… Read more »

The Captain

I agree with where you go with this, but not how you get there NC. The gubment most defiantly helped cars over horses. Many cities banned horses outright from them because of all the horse shit (kinda how we don’t like car emissions). There are plenty of examples of tech asking us to go backwards (cell phones getting bigger was a step back). And nothing about a curly light bulb is a step backwards (and they are not even curly anymore man). You would most defiantly rather be in a Honda Fit than on a horse going to work in… Read more »