Monday 18 May 2015

As regular readers will know I have a great interest in space exploration but today I am writing about another passion that many people may think doesn’t fit with my commitment to energy efficiency and some may not approve of – Formula 1.


Formula 1 is fascinating for a number of reasons. First of all it is still a sporting competition in which you are reminded that you never know what is going to happen next in life. Despite predictions that the new rules in 2014 would remove excitement the opposite was true and the Lewis Hamilton versus Nico Rosberg story had it all, excitement, rivalry and skullduggery   Secondly F1 is based on cutting edge, innovative technology (more of which later) and demonstrates what we can do when we try hard. Like space exploration, it demands the highest standards and attention to detail in everything from design and construction through to the all important execution from the whole team, not just the driver. And of course as we were reminded of in October 2014 with the Jules Bianchi crash there is still, despite great improvements in safety, the ever-present element of danger. Anyway I am an avowed F1 fan and a big fan of the 2014 World Drivers’ Champion Lewis Hamilton who is an incredibly talented driver and exhibited great skill and fortitude in coming from behind many times during the 2014 season.


What are the links between Formula 1 and energy efficiency?


It may be surprising to some but there are some links between Formula 1 and energy efficiency. First of all in 2014 the sport, driven by the large car manufacturers, adopted strict fuel efficiency requirements – a reduction of fuel use of 35% over the previous V8 engines, a maximum fuel load of 100kg and a maximum fuel flow rate of 100 kg/hour. The resulting hybrid power units – they can no longer be called engines – combine 1.6 litre V6 turbo-charged internal combustion engines (ICE), two Energy Recovery Systems (ERS) and an Energy Storage (ES) unit i.e. a battery. The ERS consists of a Motor Generator Unit-Kinetic (MGU-K) which harvests energy that would normally be wasted in braking and a Motor Generator Unit-Heat (MGU-H) which collects energy from the exhaust. The ICE produces 600 hp (485 kW) and the ERS can produce an additional 150 hp (112 kW), giving a total output similar to the old V8 engines.  The integration of the ICE, the ERS and ES is a complex task that can affect strategy. Various other rule changes reduced the all important down force from the car’s aerodynamics and banned actively using the exhaust to improve aerodynamics, making the cars harder to drive.


The new power units brought with them a highly controversial change in the noise levels and tone of F1 cars at full throttle, instead of the piercing high pitch scream the new sound has been described as like a sewing machine (probably not the best description as the noise level is still 138 dB) – judge for yourself here. The positive view is that spectators can now hear other sounds. At the end of the day all noise, and heat, from any process represents energy being wasted.


The Mercedes team and the W05 Hybrid car (both the car and engine were designed and manufactured in the UK) dominated the Championship in 2014 and a major factor in their success seems to have been the use of integrated design principles. I have written before about the principles of integrated design and the significant advantages that true integrated design can bring in terms of energy and material efficiency. Examples abound – from the Empire State Building retrofit to the excellent work carried out in Ireland by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) in applying integrated design in industry.  We need to further promote integrated design in buildings and other areas such as vehicles and there are several examples of integrated design in the 2014 Mercedes F1 car and its 2015 successor.


The compressor and the turbo of the MGU-H are packaged at opposite ends of the internal combustion with the compressor at the cooler front, and the turbo at the hotter back. This meant having a shaft, spinning at c.120,000 rpm between the two passing through the V of the engine – it is a very demanding engineering task to design and build such a shaft without flexing and apparently it took two years to perfect. One consequence of the layout was that the compressor could be larger. The resulting reduction in pipework reduces turbo-lag. Another consequence was lower cooling requirements for the inter-cooler which meant smaller radiators and hence smaller side pods – less frontal area means less drag. Other teams had rear mounted compressors which had to be smaller to fit within the overall packaging of the car.


Another example of integrated design was that even the fuel and lubricants were developed by PETRONAS in conjunction with the development of the power unit. Never before have fuel and lubricants been developed in such close co-operation with the design of the power unit.


One of the regulation changes affecting down force was a reduction in the width of the front wings – which in 2014 could only reach half away across the tyre instead of right across as in previous years. Mercedes used an innovative solution, instead of a conventional V shape for the suspension lower wishbone they used a single arm with a forked arm. This acts as a wing and generates downforce which allowed a bigger gap between the nose and the wing, which allows more airflow through the underfloor and to the rear.  In order to do this, however, meant designing one arm that could do the work of two – a clear example of integrated design.


The rapid rate of technological development in Formula 1 is illustrated by the progress made on the KERS. In 2007 the first development system weighed 107 kg and achieved an energy efficiency of 39 per cent. By 2009 the weight had been brought down to 25.3 kg and the efficiency increased to 70 per cent. By 2012 the weight was less than 24 kg and the efficiency up to 80 per cent. The technological advances of Formula 1 do impact on ordinary vehicles and the MGU-H technology may yet appear in road cars, helping to further improve fuel efficiency.


Another link between Formula 1 and energy efficiency is the importance of large amounts of data, and real time data collection. Modern F1 cars have more than 150 sensors on-board that are feeding information back to the garage and the technical team at headquarters in real time. The telemetry is used to optimize strategy, run simulations and provide feedback to the driver. It is also used to help optimize the car’s on-going development programme. The increasing availability of real time data from buildings allows us to manage energy more effectively as well as model their performance and design better buildings.


The data collection feeds into an enormous effort to understand the interaction of numerous variables including; those which can be influenced by the design and the set-up of the car e.g. down force, brake balance etc; external physical factors such as track conditions – temperature and surface type – wind speed and direction, the effects of following other cars (which disrupts the air flow); and human factors – how the car is driven and how fast pit stops are for example. In building and industrial process energy use we are dealing with a similar interaction of design/set-up, external factors and human factors and just beginning to have the data and the computing power to create a better understanding of how to optimize energy use in real-time.


At the end of the day we are all utterly dependent on engineering and Formula 1 is an example of engineering at its best. We need to celebrate great engineering more.


I mentioned the high performance and quality standards of F1 at the beginning. The constant striving for improvement and the highest standards required from all team members is an example all organizations should learn from, whether they are involved in energy efficiency or not. All too often in many areas of life and business we put up with sloppy performance (I may return to this subject in future posts – the sloppy performance of banks is particularly driving me crazy at the moment). We need more absolute, “unreasonable” insistence on high standards in all areas of business from the board room down to the shop floor.


To sum up, Formula 1 – like it not – is an expression of much of what makes us human, our basic competitiveness which is a positive force (but of course can turn negative), our incredible technological ingenuity, the power of team-work and the importance of demanding high standards. The 2015 F1 season has started well for Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes, although Ferrari seem to have narrowed the performance gap and remain a real threat for the rest of the year, as does Lewis Hamilton’s team mate Nico Rosberg. I look forward to watching the rest of the season and particularly seeing my first-ever live Formula 1 race, the Monaco Grand Prix at the end of May.




There are 3 comments on “Learning from Formula 1”:

  • Kostas Nikolopoulos on May 19th, 2015 at 11:40 am said:

    One more awesome and super interesting article! Well done!
    Kind regards,

  • Remembering the Battle of Britain | Only Eleven Percent on August 18th, 2015 at 11:12 am said:

    […] 744 kg.  As a measure of technology improvement in the intervening years, and referring back to my Formula 1 blog, these numbers should be compared to the numbers for the Mercedes F1 W06 hybrid power unit which […]

  • Frederick R. Winn on September 22nd, 2018 at 1:22 pm said:

    Dear Dr. Fawkes, I have been a fan of racing (hard surface) since childhood. I didn’t have the money for cars, so i raced bicycles. Part of the re-birth of the sport in 69- 70 in the U.S. I was the designer who created the first successful high bottom bracket crit (short circuit road course) racing frame designs (built in England) in 1972. I was the designer who brought the 30 inch, and 32 inch wheel all terrain (mountain bike) bicycle into the scene in 1980-82 (not produced until 1992). These developments brought me to low power high efficiency machines in a few different areas. Formula 1 is high power high efficiency machine. I like low power, and a few of my associates also have accomplished work that demonstrates the resource conservation, and energy efficiency that is inherent in these vehicle developments. Not a formula 1 car, but self re-charging cars, and tricycles that come with a business plan for their introduction (in chosen markets).

Dr Steven Fawkes

Welcome to my blog on energy efficiency and energy efficiency financing. The first question people ask is why my blog is called 'only eleven percent' - the answer is here. I look forward to engaging with you!

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