There have been discussions going on all year behind the scenes to frame new rules for the 2013 season and it is beginning to look as though F1 is going to grasp the nettle and make some really exciting changes.
2013 has been a key date on the horizon for some time as it offers the sport a massive opportunity, one it cannot really afford to squander. It amounts to a chance to reshape F1 to be exactly what it needs to be to set itself up for a bright future as both thrilling to watch and relevant to the road car industry and to society in general.
The current Concorde Agreement expires at the end of 2012 and at the same time the engine formula is due for renewal, away from high powered 2.4 litre V8s towards something more sustainable.
Although a current F1 engine’s ratio of power produced for amount of fuel is allegedly better than a Toyota Prius, to continue down the path of burning up 150 kilos of fuel per car per Grand Prix race, let alone what is used in practice and qualifying, is clearly not sustainable. Of course the real environmental impact of F1 is in the air travel and logistics sending people and freight around the world to 19 Grands Prix and in spectators driving to circuits. But that is broadly the same for any world class event.
F1 can send out the right signals from 2013 onwards by changing the formula. The name of the game now is making the engines more fuel efficient, by harvesting waste energies and changing the aerodynamics accordingly. The key to the 2013 changes is to control the engines by means of regulating how much fuel they can use and regulate the fuel flow.
The moment you do that you are obliged to reduce the drag from the car and that means smaller wings and different floor. At the same time this should make them more exciting to watch as the overtaking opportunities will improve. Overtaking should also be helped by the significant power boost which will come from the energy regeneration systems. We are talking about a boost worth something like 20% of additional power for 20 seconds or more.
Working groups from teams, engine makers and the FIA have been looking at this. On the FIA’s side Gilles Simon, formerly with Peugeot and Ferrari, has been brought in by Jean Todt to oversee this important transition. And the plans are beginning to take shape. The engine will be smaller capacity, 1.6 litre turbos, with plenty of energy regeneration, far more than in F1’s rather half hearted first attempt at KERS last year.
The changes to the engine will mean that the aerodynamics will have to change because if you are regulating the fuel flow, you have to reduce the drag of the cars. There has been talk of going back to a ground effect, in other words deriving more of the downforce from the floor of the car, rather than the wings,
“Any freedom to make the cars have a shaped underside will make them less set-up sensitive so easier to engineer and drive,” says Frank Dernie, a veteran of the ground effect days of the early 1980s. “I would personally be grateful for any freedom to make the underside of the cars less awful and think it can only be an improvement to do so. If we get more ground effect and smaller wings the engine will need to be a fair bit less powerful…”
I’m quite excited about the prospects for these changes and once we get some more clarification I’ll look at organising a fan discussion on 2013, with some engineers to help decode how it will work.
In the meantime, I’ve posted a video at the bottom of this post, of an interview I did a while back with Cosworth CEO Tim Routsis. It was primarily about how Cosworth has diversified as a business into new fields like military applications, clean air technology, but the second part of it, (starting at 2m 22s) is a very interesting take on the 2013 rules and what kind of engine and chassis F1 is heading for.