MARCH 31, 2006

A hybrid Formula 1?

The negotiations over the rules for 2008 continue with the plans to restrict engine performance being greeted with considerable disquiet in the car companies around the world.

The negotiations over the rules for 2008 continue with the plans to restrict engine performance being greeted with considerable disquiet in the car companies around the world. We hear from Japan that the latest plans to freeze engine development have not gone down well with Honda and Toyota and in Europe we have heard similar noises from BMW and even whispers of the same thing at Ferrari. The talk now, in the new era of positive thinking brought on by the disaster last year at Indianapolis, is that a compromise will be found but it is hard to see how one can combine the FIA's cost-cutting desires with the ambition of companies like Honda and BMW which look to F1 for technology and development.

"I think there is a reasonable compromise to be found," said Honda's Nick Fry. "We do believe in a more liberal approach on development because it is very much an engineering project for Honda. Its developing the engineers and the technology that feeds into the road cars and that is important, but at the end of the day we don't want to end up competing with ourselves. So, I think there is some common ground that can be found and that is all around what I call useable technology that can be used in a road car environment or in other fields. So I think what we've got to do between us is to sort out the wheat from the chaff - for example, some of the material development is very applicable and some of it is less so. And we are quite happy to be part of that process."

Sam Michael of Williams says that left to the engineers there will be a compromise.

"Most of the things go to the Technical Working Group which is where a lot of these things will go now, we find a solution because we have to. I think when you get 11 technical people in a room with Charlie you'll come up with a good solution that is sensible for everyone. It won't be favourable for everyone, but it'll be a good solution."

Norbert Haug of Mercedes-Benz says he believes that the FIA is trying to do the right thing for the right reasons but that more negotiation is needed.

"Competent opinions brought together in a respectful way normally lead in the right direction," he says. "I think that there is a better atmosphere than there has been before which does not necessarily mean that we are under the control of everything, but the basis is a very good one."

Renault's Pat Symonds also agrees.

"Given the time we have got to develop the regulations for 2008, I think we will come up with some pretty sensible solutions."

One area where there is hope for new technology is in relation to hybrid ideas, such as regenerative braking systems but the technical men are warning that this could be even more expensive than the current F1.

"I think Formula 1 has to move with the times," says Fry, "and it has to be applicable to road cars and I think as road cars move ever more environmentally friendly and efficient I think Formula 1 needs to move in the same direction and that is something that needs to be done gradually because the cost of that kind of technology is enormous. Honda are quite adept at hybrid technology so we might be at quite an advantageous position, but I don't think we'd advocate doing it quickly because the costs are so enormous, but I can certainly see an environment in five years time where that type of technology is employed on Formula 1 cars."

Symonds says that Renault is already looking at ideas.

"It's quite a fascinating subject when you consider how it might be used strategically in a race and probably answer some of the questions about how we are going to overtake and things like that," he says. "It is very interesting and as an engineer I love it, of course. But as to trying to look after the business interests, yeah, it is going to be expensive. But I think that if it were totally uncontrolled, it would be ridiculously expensive and we would be trying to reinvent the wheel."

Haug said Mercedes-Benz supports the concept.

"It might be an idea for the next engine formula but it is a kind of hybrid as well and not at all an expensive one," he says. "Basically we are open but first sport, then show and entertainment and then comes whatever helps to make that happen in a better way and I think that is the right order."

Michael too is worried about the costs.

"You can spend anywhere from say 50,000 pounds to probably five million pounds on a capacitor system and you don't want a race between who can spend the most on capacitors and that is what is happening in the road car industry at the moment. Max is sensible enough to know that and he knows all those details already and that sort of thing will be sorted out early on and it is not a short-term project."