Formula One to race eco-friendly hybrid engines in 2013

Formula One cars will be powered by smaller, more fuel-efficient hybrid engines from 2013, as part of the sport's ongoing effort to be seen as less of an ecological catastrophe.

Rory Reid
3 min read

Formula One cars will be powered by smaller, more fuel-efficient hybrid engines from 2013, under an agreement reached by F1 bigwigs.

The 2.4-litre, eight-cylinder engines that power existing cars will be replaced by much smaller 1.6-litre, four-cylinder turbo-charged engines with kinetic energy recovery systems (KERS), designed to reduce fuel consumption by as much as 50 per cent.

Fuel consumption will be decreased by limiting the amount of fuel that flows into the engine, by reducing engine revs from 18,000rpm to 10,000rpm and by restricting fuel capacity.

The mini-engines will still deliver the same amount of power, however, as those used in today's F1 cars. Around 600bhp will eked out of the single-turbo engine itself, with a further 160bhp from the KERS power boost.

KERS, which had a mixed spell in F1 in the 2009 season, works in a similar fashion to the hybrid powertrain on vehicles such as the Toyota Prius. An electric motor inside the cars acts as a generator, capturing energy under braking and storing it as electrical energy in a battery pack. Under acceleration, the battery drives the electric motor, which supplements the engine power with an additional burst of performance.

The total power of 2013 KERS systems will be increased from the 60kW seen on the 2009 system to 120kW, and can be used at the driver's discretion via a button on the steering wheel. However, as before, this power can only be deployed for 6.7 seconds in total per lap, meaning drivers must choose whether to unleash the added performance all in one go, or in bursts at different stages of the lap.

The move to more fuel-efficient F1 cars should make the sport more sustainable and -- in the long run -- less expensive to take part in, but the changes should eventually benefit consumers too.

F1 is seen as the car industry's experimental workshop, with its technology often trickling down to ordinary road cars. If the engineers at the pinnacle of motorsport can concoct ways of extracting ludicrous amounts of power from engines that use very little fuel, it's only a matter of time before we see similar systems in everyday vehicles.

Indeed, earlier this year Ferrari announced a hybrid version of its 599 supercar known as the 599 HY-KERS, while Porsche said it would begin building its 918 Spyder hybrid, which does 198mph and manages a whopping 72mpg.

As excited as we are about these greener F1 engines, we do have our concerns. Revving to a mere 10,000rpm means they'll be considerably quieter than existing F1 cars, potentially diminishing the spectacle.

We're also concerned that the increased efficiency in cars won't make any real difference, as F1 cars are responsible for only a tiny fraction of the sport's total pollution and fuel use. The vast majority of CO2 emissions and fuel usage comes from transporting the cars, staff and equipment around the world every fortnight, not to mention fans travelling to and from the various circuits.

Still, good or bad, these changes are imminent and will certainly make the sport more of a talking point in the years to come. Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Image credit: Darren Heath