The 2014 Formula 1 season is about to begin, and brings with it some of the most radical rule changes in years. This is how the cars have developed innovative design changes to comply with the new regulations.

Formula 1 has always been about speed. But over the past few years, there has been pressure building for the sport to move away from being just a spectacle and instead serve as a testing ground for automotive innovations which can make their way into mainstream cars as well. This is the argument put forward by car manufacturers like Honda, Audi, BMW, Ford and Toyota, who have dropped out of the competition for that reason.

So Formula 1 has changed its technical regulations for the upcoming 2014 to bring it more in line with regulations on climate change and manufacturers’ desires. There are a whole set of regulatory changes which Formula 1 has imposed on its teams (the full list can be found summarised here), but I want to focus on what I believe is the driver for the most interesting technical change:

Cars are now limited to using 100kg of fuel per race, down from an estimated average of 160kg per race in 2013. That’s more than 1/3 less fuel.

In the video below, new Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo describes in detail what innovations have made such a staggering drop in fuel consumption possible, while still producing the power to thrill audiences.

As you can see, to keep power high while decreasing fuel consumption, you need to be doing two things:

  1. Decrease fuel consumption: This is achieved through the redesigned engine, which is now a turbocharged 1.6L V6 instead of last year’s 2.4L V8. The turbocharger ensures that more of the fuel is burned, producing more power per unit of fuel with less exhaust. However, these smaller engines produce much less power (approx 600bhp), compared to the 750bhp of last year’s models. This would result in a slower car, although to compensate that, additional power is derived from the new…
  2. Improved energy recovery systems: the cars now have an additional electric power drive which works in conjunction with the motor to deliver up to 161bhp of additional power for up to 30 seconds. It works as both a motor when used to power the car, and a generator to charge an onboard lithium-ion battery pack, and called the Motor-Generator Unit (MGU). This season, it recovers energy both through kinectic energy from the brakes (MGU-Kinectic or MGU-K) and also excess rotational heat energy from the turbocharger (MGU-Heat or MGU-H). This MGU systems works with the petrol engine to power the cars around the track, and actually deliver more torque than last year’s cars, which is useful for short acceleration maneuvers like overtaking.

I have written previously about advances in electric drivertrains for supercars and how only recently it looked like an impossible innovation. The technology developed in these Formula 1 cars will ultimately feed back into mainstream cars as well, bringing innovations from the high-end back to the consumer.

New Scientist recently published a great article with a bit more detail about how the MGU works to improve fuel efficiency. I’ve included their graphic overview here, but if you’re interested in the science behind it, then it’s a good read.

New Scientist gives a great summary of the technical changes powering the efficient new cars for the 2014 season. Click for the full article

New Scientist gives a great summary of the technical changes powering the efficient new cars for the 2014 season. Click for the full article

Are you looking forward to the new Formula 1 season? Do you think that the rule changes will lead to a better or worse experience for the drivers and spectators? Let me know in the comments below, and don’t forget to sign up for our weekly innovations insights newsletter using the form below to get great articles every week.