ICE is where big gains in F1 are being made…shockingly

Honda says that they have made big strides in engine performance but as this is the first year of open development, it’s not quite enough time to suggest they would be battling the likes of Ferrari or Mercedes just yet.

“We know the target, which other teams have already achieved,” Hasegawa said.

“We know most of the teams are using the same concept of our engine but obviously we don’t know the exact solution, the exact design, the same level of performance we can achieve.

“But we know the direction and we know some elements to achieve that performance, but we still have not concluded what elements we have to introduce.

“[We are focusing] mainly the combustion but also every area, such as fuel consumption, auxiliary parts – everywhere we’re trying to find more horsepower.”

Once again, I read with interest from Honda, Renault, Ferrari and Mercedes that they see gains being made on the internal combustion engine (ICE) and that is where the development race is happening. Sure, new turbo technology and the like but with all the talk of electric cars, government imposition for zero-emission by 2040 and Formula E—the one area of real road relevant development and performance and emission improvement is with the ICE and yet no one discusses that much.

Can we multitask?

No one wants to see the more linear and logical path to fossil fuel independence through synthetic fuel research which could be achieved at $95/barrel or applied technologies for making ICE design even more efficient. Or even a completely new fuel technology for on-demand performance that the world currently enjoys. To play the role of devil’s advocate with my thoughts here, it would be expensive to do. Sure, but so is electric and in more ways than one.

The concept of replacing 1.2 billion vehicles currently on roads today with electric cars is arguably not a very realistic vision any time soon and as these vehicles are mostly ICE-powered, wouldn’t it be tactically more advantageous to design a synthetic fuel that replaces fossil fuel feedstock and reduces emissions by 50%? I’m no engineer but reducing the emissions of 1.2 billion vehicles seems like a good thing—not without its own challenges and risks, of course, but neither is battery production, disposal and petroleum-based plastics needed to make them.

James and the Nostalgia peach

I was reading a piece by James Allen who questioned F1’s future in the world of government imposed restriction on ICE technology as well as Formula E and I was intrigued by his comments about nostalgia and the role that plays in generational differences in motorsport interest and the technology inherent in F1.

I like James a lot and have no axe to grind with his piece but if you look at the mad rush and trend toward electric cars in motorsport and the impact it has had on F1, WEC and all the other series that have experienced departures of major marques such as Mercedes leaving DTM, you would be forgiven for being concerned about its effect on motorsport in general.

For multiple reasons, the motorsport industry is responding to governments and regulators regarding sustainability and the imposition of technology through laws and bans.

Technology migration path anyone?

I’ve been in the technology business my entire life and the migration path of technology would typically suggest that products get faster, smaller, better and perform better than previous iterations. Take computers, hard drives, processors, mobile devices/phones, televisions (albeit not smaller because bigger images are always better), cameras, medical equipment and so on.

Let me try to make this very clear: Big gains do not come from technology innovation per se, they come from linking those innovations to the elements the customer values most.

Let that sink in for a moment and then consider if the teams and regulators of motorsport, and F1 in particular, have missed the boat completely on their technology innovation path and then consider if the EV industry and car makers understand what the customer values most.

Think about the elements you value most from a mobile device. Has Samsung, Apple or Microsoft innovated primarily focused on those particular elements with their Surface, iPad or Galaxy? Don’t get hung up about the lack of a USB port on an iPad, that’s not the point because Apple controls its ecosystem, think about the key elements you value in a mobile device.


Some days I feel like I am taking crazy pills because quite honestly, the EV industry—with the heavy hand of government laws—and the hybrid and electric motorsport industry seemed to have missed the elements we value most. It is the first time I can recall that a technology innovation, now imposed by law, has not simply been offered to a customer base but forced on a customer base and the technology requires humanity to go backwards in performance and functionality. It is the imposition of de-evolution and demands that we now achieve less, perform less and enjoy less than we currently have.

In the past, it would be left to the customer market to determine its success or failure and with sales still in single digits, I suggest we all know what the customer market would choose. They would logically choose to not acquire technology that provides less features and performance as they currently have. This would quickly become the Apple Newton.

You have to start somewhere, right?

In defense of electric, you do have to get engineers and innovation infused in the industry to evolve the technology to advance its performance and viability. I understand that point and with big car manufacturers all in on the concept, innovation is occurring, no doubt. McLaren is working on a battery for Formula E that will last the entire race. That’s terrific but a far cry from F1’s current deliverable.

F1, as James suggests, will most likely have to have a toe in each pool in order to keep everyone happy and if I had to guess, the future engine regulation could be a hybrid dual-turbo V6 with KERS and no MGU-H system but I could be wrong. Is that enough sustainable technology evolution to keep governments and the FIA happy and will it tick the boxes of what customers value most on both sides of the argument? 

Here’s the problem, we’re relatively good at creating energy, we’re just not very good at storing it and mitigating energy conversion loss. Battery technology is a massive limiter to technology advancement and yet that’s what governments want to rely on for complete transportation industries and commerce in mobility.

I’m a luddite I guess

I may be a luddite but I still go back to the thought that the technology we replace the ICE with needs to at least provide the performance we currently enjoy from ICE or be better. You cannot expect a customer to value a replacement that asks them to go backwards in technology evolution. Governments know this and that’s why they are passing laws to force customers to do it. They would be far better off spending their resources for new on-demand technologies instead of litigating against those who are not willing to accept de-evolution in performance.

As a person who works in technology, I tend to like technology innovation as a sort of free-range chicken farm where folks pick a focus and innovate to improve it. Make it better, faster, more performance and better customer experience. Want to stay in the chicken coop? Great. Want to run across the field and into the woods down by the creek and stir up the water? Even better.

I tend to shy away from technology that is stifled or saddled with a burden that asks too much of the current technology evolution path and then demands that not-ready-for-prime-time products must be used and bans on existing technology will force the use of it. Sure, we have 4k TV’s now but tomorrow, we all must use 420p resolution TV’s in 4×3 aspect ratios. No thanks.

Today I can drive 400 miles, stop for 5 minutes and drive another 400 miles. Tomorrow we will drive 280 miles, stop for a several hours and then drive another 280 miles. No thanks. Live in New York and need to get up town? Great, jump on your Rascal 255 and head out on the sidewalk. Live in St. Louis and need to get to Hays Kansas? That isn’t happening in a EV any time soon.

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tim wood

Agree completely, Todd. Some people are blind to the realities of what’s going on.

Negative Camber

Yeah, I’m not anti-electric by any means. My life depends on it. I’m just not sure forcing the racing series into the role of R&D lab makes for good racing or technology evolution strategy.

Formula E makes the most sense for that but as James points out, F1 doesn’t want to be left behind. I say the technology evolution strategy is just not ripe or ready for primetime yet and F1 shouldn’t be the lab where we fiddle around trying to make it right or ready for primetime.

Buddy Hardin

EV will work rather quickly, 2030, mostly because it will become way cheaper for majority of people. Why? The model of car ownership will shift to fleet ownership-90% of miles will be driven by 60% of cars. It will become 10 times cheaper to get somewhere after all expenses of car ownership are figured in the mix. When the Model T with 20HP became the same cost as 2 horses and a wagon, the horses were done. Full government approval for autonomous cars will be here by 2020. F1 doesn’t need to have any connection to future road cars as… Read more »

Negative Camber

See answer above. ;) I will say that this model may be missing a key ingredient which is the desire to have your own vehicle to your customization and the freedom to use it when and how you like. If the only way I could get anywhere in America was on rail or plane or a government vehicle or an autonomous Google car, I would not be happy and I think you’ll find that these are elements that potential customers do not value. They value their freedom of choice, ownership and travel without having some database tracking all their rides,… Read more »

Tom Firth

I agree with you that it’ll take more than 10 years. Given I live in a rural area myself, but don’t databases by tech companies and government surveillance pretty much track our destinations, duration of stay and return trips already in one way or another?

It’s creepy but it is already happening isn’t it?

Negative Camber

No doubt they could if I use a credit card to buy petrol. :)


Physical money is also going the way of the ICE soon enough as well. Maybe in my lifetime if I live another 40 years. It’ll probably take a breakthrough in quantum computing, but once that happens….

5g and IOT is around the corner. What will the 6g spec bring?

Your vision of a “creepy” world is fast approaching and probably worse.

I keep saying that I am glad I was born when I was.


Internationally more than 50% of people live in urban areas, and in the US, its over 80% of people. Attitudes to car ownership are changing pretty quickly, especially amongst the younger generation. I think different models for vehicle ownership will evolve quite rapidly when options other than owning and driving your own car become more common. For myself in NZ, my daily commute is a 60km round trip, the roads are speed restricted, its not an exciting trip. A second hand Leaf for commuting, and a hire car for long trips and holidays, plus the toy in the garage for… Read more »

Negative Camber

Not going to happen in 2030. In ten years, I will still drive my own car thank you. There are millions and millions of people who live in rural areas and while this may work fine for metropolitan areas like London or NY, the adoption curve for EV’s and autonomous cars will take longer than that to ramp up. we’re still in single digits for hybrids let alone autonomous EV’s. Ten years goes by pretty quickly and while I may be wrong, look at the iPhone as a breakthrough in mobile phone technology and how it has stalled in breaking… Read more »

Kevin Kelly

I agree! I drive a 2016 Miata with a pipe on it, 55 miles to work daily. I love the sound and when a V8 Mustang goes by, my damn spine melts. F1 has to bring back the 12s,10s & 8s. Reason my love for the sport started back in ’76 was the wrath of the Ferrari V12 soundtrack! Let the support races develop the silent elements of electric torque monsters. MotoGP sure the hell ain’t going electric! Rap that sucker out! Don’t starve the younger generations of new fans on what we thrived on! 2030 will be here tomorrow!

Tom Firth

Actually motorcycle racing has done more as a developmental platform for EV racing than Formula E has thus far. The TT Zero event on the Isle of Man has gone from an average lap speed in 2010 of 97mph to 118mph in 2017. That’s a huge amount of development, whilst reliability is also now much better. Motogp is launching an electric class either in 2018 or 2019, has lots of interest and will likely be successful as the bikes are now around the same pace as moto3. Can’t imagine it’ll be long till they bring it into the premier class… Read more »

Tom Firth

“It is the first time I can recall that a technology innovation, now imposed by law, has not simply been offered to a customer base but forced on a customer base and the technology requires humanity to go backwards in performance and functionality.”

Concorde? Wasn’t the retirement of it a step back in performance and functionality for aircraft and airline consumers, forced upon them for an albeit very small population? Is that what you mean here? I’m slightly confused.

Negative Camber

I can’t recall a technology evolution in the tech industry that has gone backwards in performance, forward in complexity and cost. Not saying it hasn’t happened, I just can’t recall an example of that in recent memory. To be fair, there might be a lot of this in the R&D lab of car makers but the finished product is usually moving tech forward and in this case, one could certainly argue that it is but while the tech and complexity is, I’m not sure the racing is or the entertainment value and this is where most customers place their value.… Read more »

Tom Firth

Besides the reasons @disqus_KRDawncUig:disqus wrote above. Very few airports could realistically use Concorde due to noise and the whole aviation world changing after 2001, also factored in Concorde’s end of service.

charlie white

The Concorde was retired because it became too expensive to operate by just 2 airlines, both which were state-supported at the time and flight tickets priced far beyond the trans-Atlantic crossing public. It had an impeccable safety record but the Roissy crash gave those airlines an excuse to cease its operation. The F-22, US Air Force’s front line air combat fighter, uses technology descended from the Concorde-supercruise engines that pushes aircraft’s speed beyond Mach 1 without fuel guzzling afterburner stages.

Salvu Borg

Technology advances cannot and will not be held back. F1 hybrid turbo engines (power units) by Mercedes, FERRARI, Renault and Honda are on the right path and contributing for the future, their future are assured for a long time to come, at least another 30-40 years. One government after the other are setting dates at around 2040 to not allow petrol and diesel powered cars on the road, a hybrid powered car is not considered by them as a petrol or diesel powered car. If F1 doesn’t adapt to the future it will die, because small time engine makers that… Read more »

Negative Camber

No…I’m not shocked. That was sarcasm. I know full well that’s where the development is being gained because there’s more room to move there. I agree with your point on F1 remaining in the hybrid equation and that’s most likely the road the new regulations will take in order to keep the manufacturers involved. Where I would diverge is your point about technology not being held back. It will be held back if it doesn’t link to the elements the customer market doesn’t value most. Curly lightbulbs were bad and the customer market didn’t like them and stopped buying them.… Read more »

Junipero Mariano

Funny, I wonder why I hadn’t realized this earlier, but in an ICE-less world, the MGU-H serves no purpose. It gives and takes energy from the turbo. So why is F1 spending money trying to integrate this system into the power unit?

Salvu Borg

Sorry for coming back late on here JUNIPIPRO, Because it is a source that captures and make use of an otherwise going to waste a hell of a lot of energy which is produced right inside the engine combustion chamber. Note that the energy going to waste is nothing less than the work product of fuel used.

Salvu Borg

“FI remaining in the hybrid equation and that’s most likely the road the new regulations will take in order to keep the manufacturers involved”.
I have no doubt that new regulations will continue on the hybrid path. so we should stop talking V8/ V10/ V12, NA/ turbocharged/ and noise/ independent small engine makers (they just don’t have neither the know-how nor the resources and neither the money), less this less that, one more of this and that and what not. lets instead support and enjoy our sports.

Tom Firth

“Technology advances cannot and will not be held back”

Tell that to NASCAR ;-)

Salvu Borg

why “tell that to nescar?” nescar/indycar and F1 cannot be compered, technically, F1 IS MUCH MUCH MORE technically advanced and refined, nescar and indycar are a car racing series, both there engines are not even Compatible with even a simple energy recovery system.
example, the specification of indycar series engine ticks all the right boxes for what RBR AND THE INDEPENDENT ENGINE MAKERS are pushing for, a low-budged backwards technology engine.

Tom Firth

It was a sarcastic joke, hence ;-)

Salvu Borg

I am getting used to “sarcasm jokes” on here.


Hi Salvu, Tom was making a joke ;-)


And Aussie Supercars! Some racing series are stuck in a time warp.
Even if Aussie supercars make a great noise (‘sound’ – sorry audiophiles) and the racing is spectacular……..


The guidelines that the FIA and teams put together, and the comments from Ross Brawn about where he see’s F1 going all reinforce that hybrids and efficiency are in F1 for the foreseeable future.

Salvu Borg

The FIA and the present four manufacturers will not abandon the hybrid system.

Salvu Borg

Removing the MGUH from the 2021 PU to make it more simple as is being suggested will not address the fact that everyone in the current formula (all present 4 manufacturers) will have a huge advantage regarding combustion to any new comers. Also a lot of talk is being pushed out about standardizing of parts, on the power unit standardizing the MGUH will only effect packaging and nothing else, but some /most of the other parts of the power unit cannot be standardized because they need to be adapted to a particular engine in question, you standardize one thing and… Read more »


Any idea where the suggestion that the MGU-H will be dropped has come from? It has been raised on this and other sites, so there is probably some credible source behind it.
On the p.u allocation, if the limit were raised, costvwould only be reduced if development were restricted. Otherwise, as you say, every new p.u would be another upgrade.
Getting that puzzle right, without handing Mercedes an advantage will be tough.

Salvu Borg

“It has been raised on this and other sites” yes that’s how some sites are used (as feeders) some without even knowing it and some Eager and waiting to serve. Those that wants to see the back of it but did never mention it is unwanted, are those that are not winning, those that when they say they will leave the sports unless they have this or that it is because they are not winning. they drink too muck cat piss from cans. They want a 2.2l twin turbo with standardized KERS, BATTERY, AND TURBO’S, they want to standardize all… Read more »


Tell it to Kodak, ICE’s days are numbered. Technology moves ever more swiftly.
The Rankine cycle for electricity will always be more efficient than internal combustion.

Local Eccentric

In reference to the Honda missive, “…“[We are focusing] mainly the combustion but also every area…” I was in the electronics industry in the 1980’s and early 90’s, the fun years. But every so often there would be a chip shortage, yield crisis, etc. and terror for the entire, as they called it, “distribution channel” ensued. There would be Big Damn Meetings, crisis meetings. At one meeting, a well positioned (at the corporate teat) idiot proclaimed, “Maybe the real opportunity here is to direct our focus to (pause) everything.” There were two camps, the one who was just about ready… Read more »

Junipero Mariano

I feel that a critical mass of people and governments have been sold on the idea of battery powered electrics despite well thought out arguments from car enthusiasts. Whatever flaws it might have, the Tesla Model S has been deemed desirable and “cool.” I mean, I’d buy it if I had the money and a house to charge it from. I think it’s similar to the crossover boom. Car enthusiasts and reporters would tell you that if you want cargo space and a good drive, buy a 5 door hatchback or a station wagon. But most people feel that hatchbacks… Read more »

Formula Future

There will be a time in a few years when F1 will necessarily have no choice but to leave fossil fuel combustion. Electric is just one of the many alternative forms of energy (for more info check the documentary “Before The Flood”). There is hydrogen available, cold fusion and much more. Petrol is just a thing of the “past” which is unfortunately still predominantly in the temporary present, as we all know how powerful lobbies are in that sector. But I believe it is just a matter of time before we move on, and if for a moment we want… Read more »


With the amount of electric energy allowed per lap limited in F1 by the rules, it is neither surprising nor indicative of anything that the biggest gains are currently made with the ICE. I understand that this strikes a nerve with you, Todd, but … cap KERS, allow dev of ICE, that only leaves one way. Even as a fan of the ICE, I still wouldn’t see any reason to celebrate such an inevitable result.


I think the point that is overlooked in the editorial is the reason that governments, and many consumers in many countries, are pushing to move away from fossil fueled vehicles. That’s climate change. So the element that many of us ‘value the most’ is the health of the planet. I’ve been a ‘petrol head’ since I was two, maybe longer, but I’ve long recognised that we’re going to have to move away from fossil fuels rapidly, including for personal transport. The call that other ways of reducing fuel usage or its effects on the environment, yes great idea, and guess… Read more »

Salvu Borg