Posts Tagged ‘Formula 1’

Racers, Start Your Engines

January 29th, 2011 Comments off

Flying Lizard Porsche/Riley Daytona Prototype

The racing season officially starts today!  The Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series is running its 49th annual 24-hour endurance race at Daytona as I type this.  And while the France family dumbed down the series back in 2003 with the introduction of the low-tech tube-framed Daytona Prototypes, the racing is exciting at least.  Endurance racing is supposed to be about patience and strategy, but this running is already off to a sprint-race-like start.  It’ll be interesting to see if the pace can be maintained while the little hand travels twice around the clock…

Audi R15 TDI Le Mans Prototype

The more relevant sports car series, the American Le Mans Series, has their winter test at Sebring early next month, with the racing commencing in mid-March.  Meanwhile, Formula 1 starts its season in Bahrain about the same time.  NASCAR also begins its long and boring season next month … but does anybody really care?  (Though it’s the most popular series in the U.S. – much like McDonalds is the most popular restaurant – it’s essentially a spec-series using outdated technology, and its huge fan-base has been in decline of late.)

Sebastian Vettel's 2010 Renault-powered Red Bull F1

But more importantly, Cub Scout Pack 350 held their Pinewood Derby this morning, and your author’s 7-year-old son took first place in his den!  Sure, the construction of the car was very much a father-son project (emphasis on the father).  After all, it’s unwise to hand over saws and power tools to a 1st-grader.  But the boy designed the profile, and repeatedly rationalized his design decisions based on the fact that we wanted to optimize the aerodynamics.

…And if that doesn’t solidify my credentials to bring you this blog, then I don’t know what does!

2011 Pinewood Derby "Blue Pirate"

Somebody KERS!

February 14th, 2010 Comments off

Last August, I posed the question, “Who KERS?” in regards to the limited success of the Kinetic Energy Recovery System employed in the 2009 Formula 1 season, and the elimination of the system for 2010.  Well, it turns out that at least one of the systems developed by an F1 team will in fact live on.

As recently described by AutoBlogGreen, Porsche is utilizing the Williams-developed flywheel-based energy storage system in its 911 GT3 R Hybrid.  The 911 GT3 R is the race version of Porsche’s bread-and-butter 911.  The hybrid system leaves the conventional 480-hp flat-6 powering the rear wheels untouched, while adding a pair of 80-hp electric motors to each of the front wheels.

Porsche 911 GT3 R Hybrid

Porsche has always done things a little differently than other automakers, at least with respect to the 911.  Instead of competing in the horsepower wars using 8-, 10- and 12-cylinder engines with massive displacement, they’ve continually developed their horizontally opposed 6-cylinder combined with lightweight (and often exotic) materials to maintain their competitive edge.  Until just over a decade ago, this engine was still air-cooled, in contrast to literally every other automaker’s water-cooled powerplants.  And even now, in a triumph of engineering over physics, Porsche still hangs the motor way out back behind the rear axle.  So it comes as no surprise that they’ve taken the less-traveled path of using a flywheel (instead of a battery) to recovery the energy from braking.

In the simplest terms, the system works by the front-axle motors acting as generators to convert the kinetic energy of the spinning wheels to electrical energy under braking.  The electrical energy is then converted back to kinetic energy at the flywheel (which is essentially another electric motor), as it spins at speeds up to 40,000 rpm.  Under acceleration, the flywheel then acts as a generator, converting the kinetic energy of its spinning mass to electricity, which is routed to the front-wheel motors, where it is converted back to kinetic energy to help power the wheels. (One thing I’ve often wondered in systems like this is – why all the conversions? You want kinetic energy to move the car, and with a flywheel you’ve got a kinetic energy storage system.  Seems like there’d be fewer conversion losses if you could skip the electro-part of the electro-mechanical system, and just connect the flywheel to the drive system by an intelligently activated clutch or viscous coupling.  I’m sure the hybrid system designers out there could give me countless reasons why this wouldn’t work, however.)

And finally, am I a hypocrite because I like this car so much more than the BMW X6 ActiveHybrid, which I criticized here?  Of course not.  BMW has taken a conventional fuel-efficient technology and applied it to a mass-market car solely for performance purposes, with almost no efficiency benefit.  (Plus, the X6 is ugly.)  Porsche, on the other hand, has taken an unproven fuel-efficient technology, and applied it to a limited production race-car as sort of a rolling laboratory to spear-head the development of this new technology, before potentially applying it to its road-going cars.

And although I (like many others) question the feasibility of flywheels as the energy storage solution for mass-market hybrid vehicles, people also once criticized the throwing-a-dart-backwards handling characteristics of the rear-engined 911.  And by most measures, Porsche has been successful with that effort…


August 25th, 2009 Comments off

Unfortunately, I haven’t had much time to keep up with the goings-on in Formula 1 for the past season and a half.  But this weekend, I found myself with a few hours to spare, so I sat down to enjoy the European Grand Prix from Valencia, Spain.  This was the first race that I’ve watched since the season opener in Australia.

One thing that struck me during this weekend’s broadcast was the lack of talk about KERS – the Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems that were allowed this year, effectively making F1 cars hybrids.  At the beginning of the season, KERS was a hot topic, with about half the field attempting to take advantage of the technology.  Unfortunately, given the effort of developing the systems (and the artificial limits placed upon them by the FIA), KERS didn’t immediately prove successful, and most teams decided to drop the technology.  McLaren and Ferrari were the only teams that decided to stick with it.

Louis Hamilton's McLaren

Louis Hamilton's McLaren

At this weekend’s European Grand Prix, McLaren swept the front row in qualifying, and McLaren driver Louis Hamilton finished the race second (and would have arguably won it if not for a botched pit-stop).  Kimi Raikkonen‘s KERS-equipped Ferrari rounded out the podium, with the other McLaren finishing fourth.  So, KERS-equipped cars grabbed 3 of the top 4 spots – and the top two spots at the previous race in Hungary (Hamilton’s McLaren followed by Raikkonen’s Ferrari).  It seems to me KERS development has finally paid off!  Yet the only mention of it (that I recall) during the broadcast was over the fact that KERS will likely be abandoned for the 2010 season, due to its ineffectiveness and added cost.  How frustrating. …I still maintain that if the FIA had not set such low limits for its use (max of 60 kW boost allowed for 6.6 seconds per lap), it would have been more successful.

As an aside, I recently found out that the KERS system used in the McLaren uses A123’s Li-ion cells for energy storage.  Ferrari also uses a battery system (though I’m not sure from whom).  The other option some teams employed was a flywheel system.  …In any case, I’d sure like to see KERS remain for 2010, though reining in costs is a high priority in racing – even F1 – these days, so I’m afraid this season may be the end for it.  Of course, if McLaren and Ferrari continue to enjoy their recent success, KERS may again gain favor with the teams just as quickly as it lost it!

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