Bob McMurray: Electric with excitement
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The fickle finger of Formula 1 fate is slowly but surely turning its attention to the philosophy of power units.
And his time the finger may also determine the future, possibly even the survival, of Formula 1.
The major car manufacturers are edging determinedly towards ecologically friendly power units. And, inevitably, that direction seems to be heading down the road of electric powered vehicles.
No matter that the process of supplying that electricity in most countries is ecologically damaging with oil- and coal-fired power stations belching nitrogen oxide compounds into the atmosphere in the quest to produce ‘clean’ electricity.
New Zealand, with its abundant supply of renewable energy sources, is one of the few countries where electric vehicles make some sense from a pollution point of view.
So, does Formula 1 follow this trend and continue to try to be at the forefront of new power unit technology? Or does the sport have to accept that, by doing that, it will become too costly, too complicated, far too complex and inevitably operate at the behest of the few manufacturers who think the vast sums of money needed to compete are worth it?
The power units in the Formula 1 of today seemed a good idea at the time when the rules were agreed in 2011. They were the culmination of the FIA’s wish to attract more car makers to the sport.
But, with the exception of Honda with all its woes and failures, that has not happened.
What happened was a major move to the all-electric Formula E by manufacturers that Formula 1 had expected to rush in.
Audi, Jaguar, Mahindra, BMW and Renault are on the entry for 2018 with the Andretti and Penske organisations involved and Mercedes still considering its future with the Formula.
As much as I can see the future of Formula E being rosy and pushing all the boundaries of technological battery development with lithium-air (not ion), photosynthesis charging, nanowire batteries, fuel cells and a hundred other developments, I revert to being a dinosaur, or perhaps more relevantly here, a fossil, when I say that electric or autonomous cars are not, to me, racing cars as I determine them to be.
Exciting in a futuristic sense with some talented drivers but certainly not my vision of Formula 1.
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz turbocharged 1.6-litre V6 hybrid power unit dominated the Formula 1 season, winning 16 of 19 races. Photo / Mercedes F1
It is time for Formula 1 to concede that following the rapidly changing horizon of power unit development is now such a moving target as to be beyond its capabilities and, it will ultimately do harm to what the Formula essentially stands for.
Simply “racing” at the very top level. Otherwise where does the sport go? Follow the trend to autonomous, driverless cars with lane-changing sensors and powered by electric motors getting their energy from under-road wires? Sounds like a good idea except I think a company named ‘Scalextric’ got there first.
With the cost of the current power units crippling the smaller F1 teams, there is a desperate need to revert to a simpler approach for introduction in 2021, after the expiry in 2020 of the current power unit agreement.
There will always be those who insist that the Formula is being wasteful and damaging to the environment by burning fuel.
There must be, however, a balance between the survival of the sport at the top level and an understanding that it must also be seen as making some effort to add to the international consciousness of efficiency of power use.