It has been a five-year journey since F1 started its energy efficiency campaign with the introduction of KERS in 2009 and has stepped up to a completely new level with the reintroduction of turbocharging and the use of other energy recovery systems this year. Is this the end of it? Apparently not.
First of all, it has to be discussed whether talking about efficiency at such a highly energy-consuming and dependent sport is a viable stance. I think it is, because it is the message that matters. Yes, some people use private jets to get to the arenas, yes, some races are run under the lights, but nevertheless the new F1 cars do a very decent job in harnessing all the otherwise waste energy and are more efficient than ever before. It is the marketing department that has to do its job getting said point across to the general audience - and apparently failing at it.
However, the machinery has not stopped marching down the path they started on, as this short piece from autosport.com would suggest:
Formula 1 teams considering lifting ban on active suspension
By Dieter Rencken and Jonathan NobleTuesday, April 15th 2014, 12:32 GMT
F1's use of gizmos was pegged back after reaching its wildest heights in 1993. Formula 1 teams are considering lifting the ban on active suspension as part of a move to control costs, AUTOSPORT has learned.
With F1's Strategy Group having decided against a cost cap, it is instead looking at alternative ways to keep spending under control.
And one of the proposals being evaluated is to allow active suspension back in F1 for the first time since 1993 (pictured).
The belief is that the electronic technology would actually be more cost effective for teams in terms of achieving the optimum car set-up than the current complicated mechanical-only systems.
The move is being considered for 2017, and could come in at the same time as a switch to 18-inch tyre rims.
AUTOSPORT understands that a number of other short and long-term proposals are being evaluated by the Strategy Group for implementation over the next few years.
They include efforts to simplify parts of the car where there is currently vast expense, including in the fuel system, crash structures, the front wing design, inter-connected front and rear suspension, and brake ducts.
There could also be tweaks to the GP weekend curfew hours and further reductions on staff numbers allowed at races.
Now, the argument of the article is harnessing budget, however - with a bit of thinking -, it can easily be translated into an efficiency matter:
- 18-inch wheels, so the power these engines generate do not translate into smoke, but rather speed
- Active suspension, because mechanical ones are more difficult to set up at this level and are not quite as good getting the power down to the track
Having said that - when talking about churning out the most you can of a moving car - one might consider: "Why do they have those wings that serve as massive air brakes on straights?"
"Moveable aerodynamic devices" are banned in F1 - just as active suspension systems - except one single feature, the DRS. The Drag Reduction System was born partly out of a poll the FIA made among F1 fans upon asking whether they wanted to see more passes. They did, so they deprived the cars from a significant amount of downforce to minimise turbulent air behind them and made the rear flaps moveable later on - fitted with some debatable rules about their use. The other reason they were introduced was because McLaren was quick enough to come up with the F-duct, a simple rubber duct through the length of the car, channelling air to stall the rear wing at will. In other words, it was made to stop teams making cars that would be like cheese on wheels. McLaren's solution was upped by Mercedes creating the double-DRS, a very similar solution to McLaren's, only the air was directed from the rear to the front of the car, stalling the front wing as a consequence, and was activated by opening the rear wing in a DRS-OK situation.
Wings are there on the car to generate more downforce - hence drag by nature - in corners for higher speeds, but it also slows the car down on straights, making it burning even more fuel to retain its intended speed. And this might not be the message F1 wants to get through in the future.
Setting up a car for a track is a compromise. Especially with aerodynamics. Too much downforce - fast through slow corners, but limping through straights. Too little of it, blasting when the steering wheel is not turned, but then heavy braking into corners, hopping carefully around them. The solution is somewhere between the two 99% of the time - depending on the driver's style and the needs of the track. The sorcery is finding the best compromise that generates the best lap times. And that is not all, because you need qualifying and race setups independently. You can either go out to qualify with less downforce, tossing the car around, but for over more than 5 laps it becomes tiring, and kills the tyres. Thus a racing setup is not aimed to make the best out of one lap, but of e.g. 20-40-50 of them.
Using a sensible active aerodynamic system would result in much less compromise in setting up a car. It would not be about the ideal package for one lap, or several laps, but one section of the track at a time.
Finding the right balance for the car would be much more controlled by the driver and best of all it could be adapted constantly to the actual track, tyre and race conditions at the moment being. At the same time, it would be more efficient on fuel consumption, i.e. achieving higher speeds for the same amount of fuel or getting to the same speed for less fuel - it is again the job of marketing people to sell the idea, same as with turbos with the outbreak of the downsize craze. In the 80s turbos meant "rampaging power", not it translates to "green power".
Same story here. The trend in F1 has been going through an engine-revision about each decade and when teams are able to get the most out of the engines, there is a chassis-revamp during the in-between periods.
Now that the new engines are still being work-in-progress, a freeze in development could be expected in a couple of years' time. Once the FIA claims to have gotten to the point of not being able to make the current engines any more economical and freeze-frames it for years to come, it has to come up with other solutions to continue the "greener" and "cheaper" campaign.
Active suspension and larger tyres definitely fit the concept and the FIA would miss a touchdown by skipping the idea of active aerodynamics as the know-how is there and being more or less already present in F1 and would be quite cheap to pull off.
How would you make F1 faster, but more economical and cheaper?
All images are of Creative Commons licence