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Formula One Racing Headed to Hybrids

Last week, Max Moseley, the head of the FIA (the organization that governs world Formula One racing) described in a press conference the organization’s intention to head toward hybrid technology for future years.

Chris Ellis, the UK motor racing correspondent for EV World, analyzes the announcement and finds the technology implications extremely encouraging for the auto industry as a whole:

The central message is that the most technically advanced and heavily-funded form of motor sport will now be obliged to focus on fuel economy, one of the key issues that concern ordinary drivers. Consequently, Formula One will become relevant and useful again, rather than just an advanced form of horse racing.

What Moseley described in his press conference was energy recovery and storage technologies that could provide a burst of energy for overtaking.

What we have in mind is this: that every car can be fitted with equipment, which must weigh no more than 20 kilos and will store energy when the car brakes and enable the energy to be used when the car accelerates again. The technology we would like in that 20-kilo piece of equipment will be completely free, so that people can choose whether they want a hydraulic, inertia or electrical system, or some other technology or branch of those technologies.

This is quite clearly something that is and will be developed for the road and all the major manufacturers are working on different systems at this time. By allowing it in F1 we will be accelerating its introduction. We’d like to do that for 2009 but must sort out the detail of the regulation with the teams and manufacturers. This will be a technology that everyone can understand, the public can understand and it will be directly relevant to road cars and a technology for the future of road cars.

—Max Mosley

Standing further back, consider this. Almost any mechanical engineer (and most others!) on the planet would jump at the chance of joining a Formula One team. It’s the most competitive and prestigious engineering activity of all, beating aerospace and computing hands down. Now the FIA has told these engineers to stop playing around and to concentrate on doing something useful, which is precisely what most engineers prefer doing. The Directors of R&D in the major auto companies are going to realize, once they’ve recovered from the shock, that they now have the awesome talents of their racing divisions aimed at one of their key corporate objectives. The clever ones will insist that Racing is still paid for by Marketing, but will also make sure that technology transfer is pursued aggressively. The pace of hybrid development will then accelerate as only a race car can.

—Chris Ellis



Mark A

Yes yes yes yes thanks thanks thanks Max!!! I have been advocation this for a while now, although I still want to see battery powered cars at some point. This is an interim step. There is nothing like racing to bring and develop new technologies and improvements to fruition. I sent emails to the open wheel racing series in the USA, in hoping they would do this sort of thing. I also encouraged them to do it before nascar.

Formula One, in making this announcement, may be renewing my faith in racing. I have been getting jaded, especially with nascar, in their policies and politics. Racing should always relate to and improve all our road going vehicles. This is great news for all.

Joseph Willemssen

The central message is that the most technically advanced and heavily-funded form of motor sport will now be obliged to focus on fuel economy, one of the key issues that concern ordinary drivers. Consequently, Formula One will become relevant and useful again, rather than just an advanced form of horse racing.

That's kind of a silly thing to say.

One, whether race cars get better mileage or not is not going to make any meaningul impact on overall petroleum consumption.

Two, the sport has always been attuned to fuel economy since it has an effect on how often a car needs to stop.

Three, it's condescending and strange to call it "an advanced form of horse racing". It's a sport. It's frivolous entertainment. Big deal. It's not daily life.

Rafael Seidl

Note that F1 cars are currently limited to 550kg, of which about 40kg is a tungsten plate that may be mounted in various locations to fine-tune the axle loading for a given race course. The 20kg mentioned above is presumably additional weight. It would make sense to design the energy recuperation system such that it can doubles as ballast instead of the tungsten slab.

Note that pneumatic recuperation, e.g.;site=a4e/lng=en/do=show/alloc=3/id=932

stores the brake energy as compressed air. In the case of an F1 car, the air would be accumulated at elevated pressure and temperatures during braking manoeuvres. The accumulator plenum would be located immediately behind the airbox and above the engine.

Once the accumulator is full or the driver takes his foot off the brake pedal, the air box inlet would be closed quickly (butterfly valve) and the compressed air allowed to flood the air box volume, cooling down in the process. The pressure in the air box would be controlled to e.g. 2 bar absolute (depending on design) for as long as possible. Once the accumulator empties and the pressure in the air box drops below a speed-dependent threshold, the air box inlet is re-opened. The whole process of recuperation and recovery would be over in a matter of seconds, i.e. neither the accumulator nor the airbox would ever be exposed to elevated pressure or temperature for an extended period of time.

The hardest part would be designing intake and exhaust manifolds that permit pneumatic recuperation via suitable switchable valves without compromising available power in regular operation.

Other power-centric hybrid concepts (hydraulic or supercap, probably not battery) permit greater flexibiity but are very hard to implement with such a tight weight constraint.

Bud Johns

Joseph, lemme enlighten you a bit. What Max means is every car will be allowed an agreed upon amount of fuel for a race, and that's it. The car that gets the most bang per gallon is the fastest!! Formula 1 is advanced beyond most people's wildest dreams, when they start working on energy recovery from braking, Ultra Capacitors, and Lord knows what else, it will benefit us all.


Of course an increase in efficiency of a couple of dozen race cars will have no meaningful effect on global pollution. And of course auto racing is a spectator sport and merely a form of entertainment.

The point of the article, which was very explicit, was that by opening racing to hybrid technologies, more effort would be put into experimenting with and designing new hybrid solutions. This increase in effort would lead to innovative new solutions, which then make their way down to the commercial level. Since racing is very rule constrained, no effort will be expended by race-car teams on hybrid systems until they know that they will be allowed to use them in competition.

Personally, I don't know enough about the major automakers to guess at how important this "trickle-down-innovation" effect is likely to be. One other effect that people like to mention that incorporating hybrid technologies into high performance vehicles will increase the profile and presige of hybrids. Again, I'm no pollster, so I don't know enough to guess at how important that element will be.

All the same, I see little downside to this development, so good for them. I'm not convinced that this will divert critical engineering talent away from other, more important areas, to the extent that it will have an actual effect on the world at large.

Joseph Willemssen

Joseph, lemme enlighten you a bit. What Max means is every car will be allowed an agreed upon amount of fuel for a race, and that's it. The car that gets the most bang per gallon is the fastest!!

Is that tongue-in-cheek, or are you serious?


The point of the article, which was very explicit, was that by opening racing to hybrid technologies, more effort would be put into experimenting with and designing new hybrid solutions. This increase in effort would lead to innovative new solutions, which then make their way down to the commercial level.

I'm aware of that. I just found Mr. Ellis' specific comment to be absurd.

tom deplume

20 kg is less than 50 pounds. Are you sure an extra zero was left off? Any electric, hydraulic, or pneumatic motor of enough power to make a difference would weigh much more than 50 pounds.

Rafael Seidl

Tom -

I think 20 kg was correct. We're not talking PHEV here :-)

Btw, the beauty of pneumatic hybridization is that you don't need a second motor at all, since the ICE is already a glorified air pump. If transient supercharging can be made to work as I outlined above, the FIA might need to limit engine power yet further by reducing cylinder count from currently 8 to just 6 (the number used during the turbo era). Reducing total displacement is how you achieve weight savings and fuel economy.


Chris Ellis just happens to be the inventor of the Powerbeam (TM?) flywheel. I suspect Chris would like the Powerbeam to be one of the options in the FIA's 'surge power unit' (which is indeed limited to 20kg or 44lbs).

Mark A

What Joseph may be missing here is the automakers tie, to the teams whixh race in formula one. Unlike nascar, or the open wheel series in the US, the automakers have a direct tie to the teams. Toyota, to the toyota teams, Mercedes, BMW, Ferrari, Honda, Renault, etc. Ford used to be, is Jaguar still in?

The point is that what works in Formula racing has a better chance of trickling back to the automaker. That makes it more relevant than most other forms of racing. Nascar, IRL, nhra etc, in the US are pure spectator entertainment and have very little relevance in todays evolving automotive landscape.

I am throwing out all my nascar stuff and buying Formula One stuff!

Joseph Willemssen

What Joseph may be missing here is the automakers tie, to the teams whixh race in formula one.

Uh, no, once again, I'm not missing that.

Roger Pham

Rafael--Please kindly explain how does the poppet valve works in the presence of the working pressure stored from recuperative breaking. The poppet valve can only withstand high pressure from only one direction, that generated during compression and combustion within the cylinder. Pressure from the other direction as would from the airpressure compartment cannot be contained by the poppet valve. Therefore, another set of very fast-acting valve, for example, spool valve as used in steam engine, would be necessary to connect the airpressure chamber to the engine intake port. Steam engine turns at~600-1000rpm. Can this spool valve handle the 10,000 rpm of the F1 engine? Furthermore, as stated in the link you provided, a entirely novel set of electrical camless poppet valves must be provided in order to 1) double the frequency of the intake and exhaust valve, from opening-closing every other revolution in the four-stroke power cycle to opening-closing with every revolution in the air-compressing cycle when no combustion occur, 2) greatly shortening the opening duration of the exhaust valve during the air-compressing cycle in order to maintain high pressure of the compressed exhaust air 3) integrating the opening of airpressure chamber into the engine power-producing cycle (how? In a street car, you probably will use compressed air to accelerate the vehicle, and then, when compressed air is used up, then you inject the fuel to start the four-stroke cycle. But in a F1 car which must accelerate at full throttle every time, how do you use the stored air pressure? Do you close the engine air intake completely to create a vacuum in the intake stroke, hence no work expenditure in the compression stroke, and when the piston is near TDC, then you will inject both compressed air and fuel, and thus recovering more net power in the power stroke because no work was expended during the compression stroke? This will further mean direct cylinder fuel injection instead of engine port fuel injection, but we still have the problem of adequate air-fuel mixture when both air and fuel are combined at such short notice)
Therefore, although air pressure as storage is a fascinating concept, a lot of questions remained to be answered, and a lot of development work will be required. For example, at the 10,000-rpm speed of F1 engines, camless electric valve actuation would be no easy task, and would require a lot of electrical power, not to mention the weight of the electromagnet coils and cobalt-samatarium core.

Roger Pham

Continue from previous posting: Re. pneumatic hybrid
Furthermore, on the compressing stroke of the piston, the compressed air will exit the exhaust poppet valve and enter another valve leading into the compressed air storage chamber. However, the dead volume between the poppet exhaust valve and the spool valve of the compressed air storage will greatly limit the pressure achievable in the compressed air storage, meaning large volume will be required, the volume not availble in a tightly packed F1 car. If one will discard the poppet valves altogether and use spool valves instead, then one would run into the problem of heat damage and carbon sticking of the spool valve during engine combustion. Ceramic spool valves would be a possibility, and the high heat will burn off carbon deposit and ceramic is self-lubricating at high temp, but at 10,000+ engine rpm, can brittle ceramic withstand such repetitive accelerating stress?

Roger Pham

On the other hand, UltraCap Electric hybrid may not be as heavy as it seems. 20 kg means that you have 44lbs to play with. Add another 20 lbs from the engine fly wheel and turning it into an IMA (Honda's Integrated Motor Assist) and you now have 64 lbs to play with. Reduce the size of the entire braking system, now that you have regenerative braking by electric motors, and that may buy you another 20-30 lbs to play with. So now, you have 84-94 lbs to play with. Let's say that you'll put 40-50 lbs of that 84-94lbs total into the electric motors/ regenerator, and 20 lbs is already in the IMA, thus leaving you with ~30 lbs of motor weight to be distributed in each wheel hubs, thus only ~8lbs of additional spinning weight in each wheel, hardly enough rotational mass to create wheel gyroscopic instability. Let's say that you are super-duper motor-permanent magnets to get 3hp/lbs power-to-weight ratio, so 50lbs worth of motor will buy you ~150 hp of additional horsepower for acceleration. That's just great, because, now, you can downsize your engine a little bit to buy more hybrid power train weight to play with. Assuming you super-duper F1 engine has a power to weight ratio of about 4:1, and so, that 150 hp of additional electric power will get you another ~40lbs additional to play with.
THe braking system and engine downsizing weight saving is with the assumption that the F1 rule for hybrid shall be written such that a hybrid can only weigh 20 kg MORE than the 550 kg weight limit of a non-hybrid, WITHOUT specifying how much all hybrid components are allowed to weigh, because that would be like micro-management and that will inhibit creativity. Furthermore, some components will function with both the hybrid system and non-hybrid system. So, it would be an accounting and mechanical nightmare to have to take out all the car's components, deciding which belong to the hybrid system and what not, weigh all of the hybrid components...and reassemble each hybrid car before each race...what a nightmare. It would be a lot easier to just put the whole car on the scale, and allow 20kg more weight for the hybrid car.

Roger Pham

Oh, and I forgot, an engine downsizing will mean transmission downsizing also, since your electric motors will handle a lot of the torque previously from the transmission and the differential. So, you'll have even more hybrid powertrain wt. to play with. In a vehicle, the weight of one component will affect the weights of every other components. If the rule will be revised to instead of allowing 550kg empty weight limit, but to allow a fixed gross weight limit INCLUDING FUEL, as judged by the size of the fuel bladders, and since the hybrid will save a lot of fuel weight, then you will have even more weight to play with for the hybrid version, and that's only fair.

Roger Pham

Oh, and I was probably wrong about a F1 engine having a 4:1 power to wt ratio, more like a 2:1, or 2hp/lb of engine weight. If so, you'll have 75 lbs to play with instead of ~40 lbs to play with. Should be a very fun game.

Rafael Seidl

Roger -

(a) F1 engines rev up to 19,000 RPM. They use progressive pneumatic valve springs rather than metal coils, because at those ludicrous speeds there is no other way to ensure continous contact between cams and tappets. Note that F1 engines run at compression rations of 16 or so, because at high RPM, the fuel doesn't have time to knock anyhow. Besides, the engines only have to last for two races.

(b) Pneumatic recuperation implies that the pistons compress the cylinder charge with the exhaust valve open. A cam phaser is used to open the valves only once the in-cylinder pressure exceeds the pressure in the manifold. A one-way valve in the accumulator ensures a minimum pressure of several bar during the recuperation phase. The regular exhaust path is blocked during this time, e.g. using a suitably adapted wastegate-type valve (one of the harder component puzzles).

As you rightly point out, a key requirement during this time is that the exhaust valves of the other cylinders must stay closed despite the very high back pressure in the exhaust manifold. For example, at 16 bar back pressure, a valve with a diameter of 40mm and a valve stem of 8mm would be exposed to about 2000N force. Actual closing forces are anyhow higher and defined by the requirement to lift the valve quickly so the tappet maintains contact with the cam as that rolls away.

(c) Ceramic valves are a bad idea. Not only are they brittle but they are poor heat conductors. The high temperatures can cause premature ignition, but they will certainly reduce the mass of the fresh charge and hence, engine power. Racing valve stems are long and partially filled with sodium to act as heat pipes.

(d) During recuperation, the electronically controlled fuel injection would of course be cut, as would voltage to the spark plugs. In a four-stroke engine in recuperative braking, the second and third strokes of each cycle do no useful work - cp. cylinder deactivation. Even so, a 3.5L engine running at 15,000 RPM will still pump ~440L of air per second (neglecting dynamic boost in the airbox due to the high vehicle speed). Note that even today, the driver has to downshift during the brake process to maintain high engine RPM.

Compressed adiabatically to 16 bar, the required volume shrinks to ~14%, i.e. ~60L per second, with a temperature of ~360 deg C. The maximum air mass that can be pressurized is limited primarily by the available accumulator volume (a hot pressure vessel), which must be maximized by adapting the shape of the vehicle body. Additional brake power, if required, must be provided mechanically.

As soon as the accumulator is full or the driver takes his foot off the brake pedal, the valves in the exhaust re-open. F1 cars do not have catalysts, so the excess back pressure can simply be blow off. Fuel injection and voltage to the ignition are re-applied.

Note: for safety, the driver should de-activate recuperative braking before heading into the pits. In the event of a crash, an accelerometer should trigger a pop-off procedure to vent the excess pressure away from the driver.

(e) This reservoir of pre-compressed air is used to briefly supercharge the engine during the next acceleration phase. In a race car, this occurs almost immediately as the vehicle exits a bend. During the intake stroke, the piston performs a modest amount of positive shaft work. The increased air mass allows a greater fuel mass to be combusted, provided the engine is sturdy enough to briefly withstand the greater peak pressures.

In an F1 car, each cylinder has a simple straight intake pipe terminating in the air box. Therefore, boosting intake pressure means blocking that off and filling it with air from the accumulator such that the desired boost pressure is maintained. The adiabatic expansion into the large air box allows the compressed gas to cool down. If required, an air-to-air intercooler may be placed between the vent throttle on the accumulator and the air box, e.g. leveraging the air stream that would otherwise have to flow around the blocked air box inlet.

Naturally, supercharging can only be maintained for a period shorter than the brake period, since the mass flow is now higher. Once the pressure differential across the block-off valve across the regular air box inlet becomes positive, it opens back up and normal operation is resumed.

Rafael Seidl

Roger -

(a) FIA micromanages the design of F1 vehicles down to the location of the crankshaft in the vehicle. In the past, the creative freedom you demand has often been sacrificed at the altar of maintaining the illusion of a sport between the drivers.

(b) F1 engine and gear box components differ greatly from regular cars in both materials and dimesions (not to mention cost and longevity). For example, the engine and gear box are load-bearing component connecting the rear axle assembly to the front of the car. Also, there is NO starter motor or alternator at all, the rear wheels are lifted and the engine started externally in the pits. Flywheel mass and polar moment of inertia is kept to an absolute minimum etc.

Shaving weight off their vehicle is a high art form among F1 race car designers. A stock Honda IMA will definitely not make the cut.

(c) a supercap hybrid could bring an advantage iff two lightweight electric motors doubled as suspension components and powered the front wheels. The computer control would have to distribute torque such that there is no net effect on steering behavior. Key to the concept would be high voltage cells, as energy density is proportional to the the square of the voltage. For more details, see


What about in wheel motors? What team has affiliation with Mitsubishi? This is a progressive change. Diesels and hybrids on the track...together perhaps? Trickle down engineering will hopefully work better than the economic kind.


The coolest electric cars in the world today are home-converted racers. Check out:

and the links to some of Mr. Wayland's other electric racers. The Blue Meanie is very streetable except for its lead-acid range.

But my favorite is the subject of the website. Thanks to lithium polymer batteries donated by a farsighted Asian manufacturer, the Imp races against piston-engined cars at SCCA races. Remember, this car is also driven on the street, since smog controls are not an issue.

Granted that it takes advanced technology companies to improve the batteries, right now it's the hobbyists who are improving the rest of the electric car. These are far from optimal electric vehicles, but when people see them at races they start to change their perceptions about what is possible. And these guys are doing it for free, not even asking for your tax dollars for their part of this very large task.

While electrics may never run at the 500-mile events preferred by Americans, Audi's Le Mans diesels may have shocked FIA into open-mindedness. My dream for 2008: Chrysler-Mercedes (as a US manufacturer) enters NASCAR with a Eurodiesel and stomps the field while the Bush War for Cheap Gas crowd watches in stunned silence. (Assuming Ford and GM will still be around to lend their silhouettes to NASCAR machines.)

Roger Pham

Thanks, Rafael for the wealth of information on the actual working of a F1 racing engine. Everything is so foreign in comparison to that of an everyday auto engine. NASCAR racing, however, is so backward that the engine technology is still in the past, with large-bore V8 pushrod engines. A wise racing governing body should see to it that racing technology should remain relevant to the popular automotive technology at large. The call for hybrid technology in F1 is a welcoming change.

Bud Johns

Nascar sticks to what it's got because they are wildly succesful. They are about to take over the number one spot from the NFL. Toyota is entering the sport next year, with Camrys. (Or "Camrys", I should say) They had to create thier own pushrod engine, I do believe this to be the first one they have ever made!! Anyway, I am very excited about the formula 1 deal, but forget about changing nascar anytime soon. If it ain't broke, don't fix it is thier motto. At least they will be running unleaded gasoline soon.........


What i find retarded is they have regulations against things like this. And 20 pounds of braking storage.. 3 years from now? Sounds weak.. why not just remove the rules?

That is a lot of the problem right now is the obsession with regulating things to death.


It is difficult to keep things competitive and with a modicum of safety if there are no rules and regulations. Go find out just how powerful the turbocharged F1 engines of the mid 80s were getting before they regulated it.

World Rally Championship vehicles are much closer to reality and receive a much greater trickle down from the race cars to the manufactured cars. A Subaru WRX Sti (outside of the USA where they use the proper J20 engine and not that 2.5L lump) and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution are so similar between the race cars and the street cars that most people race the street versions in the amateur and semi professional rallies.

Rafael Seidl

aa2 -

no-one is forcing you to pay any attention to F1. It purports to be a motor sport, a competition between drivers more so than one between engineers. Over they years, there have been many rule changes, in response to deadly crashes and in response to patented innovations that yielded an unfair advantage to certain teams.

Btw, turbos were limited to 1.5L displacement but managed 1500hp @ 12500 RPM. They completely dominated NA engines until they were disallowed because of the risks inherent in driving engines with that much power. What is perhaps less well known is that these engines actually got far better fuel economy (per kWh, not per mile) than any (non-hybrid) street-legal engine ever has.

At the moment, F1 is still popular but its claim to deliver trickle-down technology has been reduced to shift paddles on the steering wheel. This new idea of recuperative braking will surely be opposed by racing purists but the money and the quality of engineers involved in F1 could well spur a few surprising innovations.

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