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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



Roger Pham

I agree with your last sentence. One surprising new innovation could be the adaptation of your pneumatic braking recuperation idea into regular street car. In the UCLA link that you provided, they suggest to use camless electrical valve train, but that would be too radical and too expensive for consumer-level street car. A stiff pneumatic valve-return spring mechanism (or adjustable stiffness), if can be made cheap enough for consumer use, would allow your pneumatic hybrid concept to compete with electric hybrid but may be at less cost and weight addition. With a large enough compressed air tank, accessories such as power steering, and AC can also run on compressed air, thus allowing the engine to be shut down at traffic light. The supercharging effect is pretty good at boosting accelerating power thus allowing significant engine downsizing without the cost of turbocharger or supercharger. Atkinson-cycle engine should also be used with pneumatic hybrid, with geometric compression ratio ~16.
Any idea how much more costly pneumatic valve-returning spring would compare to mechanical steel spring? And how about estimated cost of the whole hybrid set up, if mass-produced for consumer use?

Rafael Seidl

Roger -

I'm not sure exactly why UCLA decided to pursue a camless valve train for their pneumatic hybrid concept. As long as the pressure in the exhaust manifold can be overcompensated by the valve springs, I see no fundamental reason why a mechanically variable valvetrain on the exhaust side, paired with a master wastegate, would not be sufficient.

In a passenger car, of course, the compression ratio (and hence the accumulator pressure in bar) is limited to ~11.5 for gasoline. Monovalent CNG engines can go as high as 14. The trend in diesel engines is to go down to 15-17 to meet tighter NOx emissions and reduce engine weight. However, diesel engines are turbocharged, which complicates the pneumatic recuperation, so I'd like to see it applied to NA gasoline engines first.

Pneumatic valve springs are extremely expensive systems because they are only required at extremely high RPM (>15,000). Passenger car engines will stick with regular metal valve springs.

Since passenger cars have no air box, the space constraints for the accumulator would require even more ingenuity. You'd also want to intercool the compressed air prior to entering the accumulator. The high pressures would suggest a plate heat exchange integrated with the engine coolant circuit. This increases the air mass capacity of the accumulator and allows it to remain at high pressure for a much longer time.

One option to create space under the hood would be to substantially tilt the inline engine and install a dry sump for the oil. Those are normally used only in opposed-piston layouts by Porsche and Subaru and, in race cars.

Another option would be to create, in effect, a false bottom underneath the passenger compartment. The regular chassis bedplate would be replaced by a hollow sandwich construction and a thick thermal insulation layer that doubles as acoustic insulation.

For reference, let's say you wanted to bring a passenger car weighing 1500kg traveling at 54kph to a complete stop using only pneumatic recuperation (neglecting mechanical losses). Assume the rotating machinery adds 4% apparent mass, let the compression ratio be 10, in-cylinder temperature prior to compression 350K and the allowable temperature in the accumulator 450K.

As a first approximation, you'd need to compress 540 liters of fresh charge, which a 4-cylinder 4-stroke engine with 2 liters displacement running at an average 4000 RPM can pump in 8.1 seconds (i.e. this implies a slow braking manoeuver). The total air mass pumped is ~0.7 kg.

During compression, the gas reaches 675K (neglecting in-cylinder heat transfer to engine coolant). The required intercooler power is ~20 kW, a thermal load the radiator can handle quite easily. The required volume of the accumulator (at 10 bar when full) is ~70 liters, i.e. about the size of the vehicle's gas tank. The accumulated air will suffice for 3-4 seconds of supercharging at 4000 RPM.


Unless, the number of gallons per race is severely reduced, that is to force a mandatory increase in the minimum average of miles per gallon, an electric hybrid system will not be implememted in many years to come. Here is why:
If the weight limit is 550 Kg and the power limit is 750 Hp, the power to weight ratio is 1.36 hp/Kg. Take for example a 133 hp (peak), 73 hp (continuous) electric motor made by UQM with a weight of 86 Kg, the 133 hp electric controller is 15.9 Kg, and assume the most promising Lithium-ion battery in the market (Toshiba fast charging Li-ion), capable of delivering 133 hp (peak)/73 hp (continuous). At 4 hp/kg, this battery would weight 18.25 kg. That is 120 Kg total weight. The power to weight ratio for the electric drive is 1.1083 hp/kg (peak), 0.6096 hp/kg (continuous).


If anyone here follows the American Le Mans Series, they may remember the Panoz GTR-1 hybrid, called "Sparky", which coupled an electric motor with regenerative braking to a Robert Yates-built Ford V8 race motor. It was entered in the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta back in '98, I think. It spent a lot of the race in the garage for repairs, but was running at the end and IIRC placed 3rd in its category. For whatever reason, they abandoned it, and I've never heard it mentioned again. It did exist though-- I have pictures of it.

Roger Pham

I guess metal valve spring may work if there are four small valves per cylinder and large, stiff springs. Since the engine is not of high performance variety, the valves can be of small size and can better withstand the high pressure of 10-16 bars. (the 16 bars is for Atkinson-cycle engine with geometric compression of 16:1) There is a concern, though, of high wear rates of the cam lobes and the whole valve actuating mechanism now subjected to higher opening force when not running in air-compressing mode. With pneumatic valve spring, the stiffness is adjustable for low stiffness at low rpm combustion mode, and high stiffness at high rpm and air-compressing mode. With pneumatic recuperation, perhaps some of the component of pneumatic valve spring is already shared with the recuperation mechanism which may reduce cost. Also, for F1 engine running at very high speed, everything associated is expensive, but for a lower rpm mid-performance engine, perhaps every components can be made a lot cheaper.
Yeah, making enough space for an accumulator of sufficient size can be a challenge. But, then, there will be no need for space for a hybrid battery nor for power electrical control box. With real good insulation of the accumulator, less air volume will needed to be compressed to store the same amount of energy, and perhaps can be done faster than in the 8.1 sec that you've mentioned as required to bring a 1500kg car to a stop from 54kph, although the high-temp associated can be a problem and may require more expensive materials. Fascinating idea, though!


over at

the question came up, why the regular fuel is needed after all

( after having seen the performance of an electric race car at ) ?

i guess it is just a huge step from fuell to all-electric and it either needs time or some kind of motivation to get the switching attractive.

and i further speculate that there is some kind of irrational love towards combustion, fire and noise
loud, dangerous and fast

which awaits its transformation into a kind of

warp-speed antigravition space ship aesthetic feeling
quiet, smooth and fast

anyone interested in this topic ?


There will be a Formula EV... one day.

In the meantime, the 20kg limit is tiny BUT do-able. The electric motor is no problem - a 10 kg Rasertech motor could easily manage 75 hp output - probably double that if F1 tuned. Indeed, Rasertech recently showed off a 500 hp race-car EV.

Energy storage wouldn't be such a problem, capturing 100 kW from a 1 second braking zone only amounts to 30 Watt-hours (30 Wh) which could be stored in as little as 300 grammes of A123 lithium-ion batteries.

Power density would need to be in the order of 10 kW per kg, however, and while lithium CAN manage this when tweaked, most teams will probably still go for ultracacitors for reliability.

Roger Pham

Yeah, clett, 20kg is no doubt doable as far as EV hybrid, as I've posted earlier. It's just that not all energy will be capturable with such minimal equipment. To really capture as much energy as possible and to provide as much accelerative boost as possible, the engine, transmission and braking system must be downsized in order to yield weight saving to expand the size and hence capability of the electric hybrid system. F1 governing body should really consider eventually moving the rule to allowing 20kg of weight increase to hybrids, without specifying the exact weight of the hybrid components. This would allow more creativity and ease the job of the officials who otherwise must which decide which components belong to the hybrid system, and which is not. A potential nightmare, since a part may have dual functions and may be subjected to a lot of argument.


Teams like Toyota will have an advantage with hybrid know-how and experience.


I know I'm a couple years behind on this conversation but I'd like to put my $0.10 worth in.

The FIA rules limit the system to the rear axle only. This in fact will turn into the systems weakness IMHO.

Maximum brake effort and therefore maximum possible regenerated energy is available on the front axle not the rear. The engineers will be limited by the amount of rear braking effort possible without causing rear brake bias overload problems. The balance between mechanical brakes on all 4 wheels and an energy recovery systems on the rear only will be a huge overhead in this area of development and is totally useless research for road cars.

Why have the FIA banned the use of wheel motors on the front and/or all four wheels? There is no such rule in real life automobile design!

BTW it looks like Toyota will enter LeMans aiming to win with a Hybrid. They have already used a modified JGTC Supra with 4 wheel energy recovery to win a 24 hour race in Japan, winning by 19 laps!

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