Lotus’s solar-powered simulator and a look into the future
Posted By: James Allen  |  04 Jul 2012   |  9:57 pm GMT  |  24 comments

Formula 1 will move into a more environmentally-friendly era when the next generation engine formula is introduced in two years’ time and amid on-going attempts by teams to improve their own sustainability and efficiency Lotus has unveiled its new solar-powered simulator building.

The construction of the new state-of-the-art race facility adjacent to the main building at its Enstone base, which has been fully operational for the past few months and was revealed to the media this week, has been used as a platform to further reduce the team’s dependency on traditional energy sources, which has been ongoing since the Genii Capital-owned team joined forces with China-based Trina Solar in 2010.

Lotus had already become the first F1 outfit to introduce solar panels onto its team trucks and European race paddock motorhome prior to the construction of the simulator. The new building’s roof features 128 solar panels which can generate 33,000 kWh of electricity over the course of a year, enough to supply 75% of the power the new facility requires.

Speaking during this week’s media event, Lotus F1 Team CEO Patrick Louis said of the team’s desire to be more environmentally conscious: “Formula 1 as a sport will never be a green sport – just forget it. It’s petrol driven engines in the next future. But rules are changing, we can reduce the consumption. On the other hand we should not make it all black or white. Each flight leaving Heathrow for New York is creating more emissions than all the F1 cars in one season. So we thought about a couple of years ago, how can we react? And the only controlling method we have is the factory, is the paddock area, so that’s where we started then to be more intelligent than others might be.”

Intriguingly, while Trina Solar’s innovations with Lotus have so far been confined to use of traditional large flat solar panels, the firm has taken a look into the future to see what might theoretically be achievable as technology in the sector develops over the years ahead.

Although still in its relative infancy on a mass consumer scale, large reductions in the cost of solar installations over recent years and improvements in battery capabilities have come on stream and research is ongoing to see how silicon and its solar properties can be blended into laminate and composite materials. With that work in mind, one of the F1 concepts put forward by Trina is a silicon-coated race helmet that could generate enough power to work, for example, the in-car radio system.

Marketing director Jerome Mazet also told JA on F1 that the firm is scheduled to unveil a concept F1 car with solar-powered elements at Monza, while one more easily achievable innovation for the sport in the more immediate future could be solar-powered pit wall gantries.

F1’s own sense of innovation has given rise to increasingly advanced and accurate race simulators in recent years and Lotus chief Louis believes his team’s new one compares favourably to those used by rivals such as McLaren and Ferrari. JA on F1 were among the invited guests given a unique chance to see the driver-in-the-loop simulator and its impressive high definition graphics in action during a live session with Lotus’s test driver Jerome d’Ambrosio, with the Belgian completing laps around a virtual Silverstone ahead of this weekend’s British Grand Prix.

The engineers working on the simulator said that in an average day in the build-up to a GP weekend a driver would be able to complete 100 laps of a circuit like Silverstone, with breaks factored in for drivers to take account of the demands placed on them by the very different work environment.

The team is also able to run a physical standard ECU unit in the computer servers, meaning young drivers in particular can get to grips with such processes as anti-stall, while the cockpit contains the latest steering wheel used in the real E20.


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“The new building’s roof features 128 solar panels which can generate 33,000 kWh of electricity over the course of a year, enough to supply 75% of the power the new facility requires.”

33000kWh/year * 0.2€/kWh = 6600€/year savings. This is almost absurd. Or the numbers are just wrong? The whole facility would require 10000€/year worth of electricety and the panels help to save 6600€/year…


Does the driver have to start pedalling when the sun goes in?


Green tech in F1 is green by its indirect marketing effects as it advertises and multiplies usage of green technologies in “real life”.


This story reminds me of something I read on BBC’s live feed during FP1 in Valencia:

“Kimi Raikkonen, meanwhile, had work to do. I’m told that the 2007 world champion, who is known to detest sponsor engagements, rocked up two hours early to a solar energy tradeshow in Munich just so he would have time to talk solar panels with the techies before getting on with his sponsor commitments. Shocked? I certainly am. It turns out he has an interest in the renewable energy so maybe we’ll see him putting a set of panels on his Swiss pad.”


Very cool.

I like the idea of the blended composites pulling double duty.

Wasn’t there a LMP car at Le Mans that was running a rear wing that was actually it’s KERS battery, blended and shaped with the carbon fiber?

F1 could only really be ‘green’ if it just stayed a Silverstone and held all of it’s 20 races there. It’s the transportation that’s the issue.

That said, I’m very excited to see what F1 engineers can do with new energy recovery and battery tech. (But I am still waiting for KERS button to install on my car!)


While I agree that it’s a little optimistic, it’s not as far out of the ball park as you suggest (24/7 Death Valley).

A few quick calculations show that each panel would need to produce just over 706W per day to reach the 33MW claim. Having a look at Trina’s website suggests that the panels being used are the model TSM-PC05.08/PA05.08 (13.7%-15% efficiency – much more realistic than 35%) with a peak power output of between 225-245W for your Death Valley radiance (1000W/m2) or more likely (for Enstone at least) 164-178W at 800W/m2 (the range depending on the sub-model).

So, a few more quick calculations and we can see that for the worst case scenario of 164W to get to 706W we need about 4hours 20mins per day of 800W radiance hitting the panel. For the best case of 245W it’s about 2hours 50mis.

So, yes a little optimistic (I don’t know the average radiance at Enstone) but not entirely outlandish.


In UK you could get around 1100 kWh of solar radiation per year per m2 of area. Around 188 m2 of PV panels which work at 17% efficiency will give you the 33MWh that the article talks about. I am sure the factory roof has more than 180 m2 available area.

The issue of getting meanigfull amounts of power from solar cells on an F1 car is much more difficult to determine.


Very positive move, ach well we must do something to apease the greens …


This is a great story and should be what F1 is about: cutting-edge technology.

I know there’ll be plenty of anti-environmentalist, bone-headed Clarkson worshippers who’ll love sticking the knife in anything at all ‘green’, but the true technology enthusiast will glory in clean, super-efficient, non-polluting technology. Get used to it — this is the future.

I await the responses with interest.


Totally agree. Green isn’t bad and it does not equals to old people that can’t race. It’s about efficiency = if you can make that, let’s say, computer, run on clean energy – give me one good reason why not. Just because it’s new and you can’t embrace it? Honestly, I don’t care about Clarkson’s comments in the very same fashion that he probably wouldn’t care for mine, but that’s his way of make living. Fortunately, I don’t have to be a clown.

Excellent article, my request as a reader is, if possible, to post larger pictures. Thanks.


I agree. A car with a majority of “green” technologies may not be able to directly compete with petrol based engines at the moment, but it is cutting edge technology that may do so sooner than most might think.

Skeptics need to remember how quickly F1 engineers can improve the cars. Every year new rules are introduced to slow the cars down and yet by mid-season they routinely have clawed back an incredible second or two a lap.

Were they to focus all their efforts on improving batteries, KERS etc we would see an exponential improvement in those systems practically overnight.


On the subject of the future of F1:

The Times today runs an article suggesting Horner is being groomed as Ecclestone’s successor. It mentions they are often seen together, girlfriends in tow.

In fact I saw them both last year, on a non GP weekend, girlfriends in tow, in an auction house in London.They were both bidding for items of furniture, and chatting and enjoying themselves. Interestingly, whilst Horner was successful, Ecclestone stopped bidding for his lot, obviously deciding it wasn’t worth over a certain amount. And this wasn’t a particularly pricey lot, just a sofa.

Hopefully an interesting snippet for you.


Bernie knows the value of things


I was at the InterSolar trade fair in Munich recently and Trina Solar had a fairly big display about their project with Lotus. So far it is just a conventional PV roof installation. Thery also had a basic race simulator with a mockup Lotus F1 car.

There is plenty of scope indeed to integrating high efficiency solar cells on the F1 cars but teams will need some “green” incentives by the FIA to kick start the development.


‘Marketing Director’ Says it all really. You can also guarantee that 33MWh figure is based on 24/7 sunshine at Death Valley equivalents.

Solar panels on the car is interesting though, but since 1m² of sun provides 1kW (1.35bhp) and solar panels are at best 35% efficient you can see how little gain it will offer for a substantial cost.

Were F1 can really shine is the recylcing of energy like KERS. Except you need to remove the limit on it and you’ll soon see teams coming up with fantastically efficient systems that can store immense amounts of energy for rapid deployment.


Actually the 33,000kwh figure is not that crazy to achieve with 128 modules. My company installs modules which are 230w or more. One hour at full irradiance is then roughly .23kwh. Times 128 panels is 29.44 kwh generated for every hour that the whole array is at full irradiance. That translates into 1120 hours at full irradiance…which is 3.07 hours per day.

Now there will be other factors like inverter efficiency and temperature, tilt (not sure why they didn’t install racking to tilt the mods up), etc. But lets just double that figure to account for all this….still talking 6 hours of full irradiance every single day. Or some sum of partial irradiance that adds up.

Not too far off for some rough math.

If this system was in death valley it would absolutely hit 33,000kwh no problem.


Would not the same evolution of solar panels occur if the teams were allowed to exploit them in some way that could work in a competitive way? Say the RRA puts a limit on total energy use, but solar power and other renewable resources don’t count?


Damned good idea, Justin.


Yes, even high efficiency cells would not give amounts of power comparable to that of an f1 engine. But think if you were Lewis Hamilton in Barcelona and could not afford to use what fuel was left in your tank. How much you would love to crawl back to the pits using the power from the solar cells integrated in your car



Can I have a go now please? 😉

When I read stories like this, it puts me back to a younger me, waiting impatiently for my friend to do “just one more lap” on the original PlayStation F1 game.

But unlike younger me, who did eventually get a couple of minutes in 1996 (around Monaco in the wet as I remember), older me probably won’t get to play on such a cool toy as this. This makes older me sad.


For the older people like myself we moved from video games to simracing, check out http://www.insidesimracing.tv/ to find out just how far things have moved on from the original Playstation F1 game.


“Formula 1 as a sport will never be a green sport”



Now with these steps Lotus are taking, seems like the team are in this thing for the long haul.

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