why hybrids are here to stay

23/11/2016 09:09:37

Love them or hate them, hybrid powertrains at the pinnacle of motorsport are here to stay.

The hybrid era has not necessarily been the most popular in the history of Formula 1, having so far had to contend with the clear dominance of Mercedes-Benz in the power stakes and a perceived lack of audible oomph when hybrid designs first came into use in 2014.

However, the design of the current powertrain - it can't be referred to as simply an engine, because it's so much more - has played, and continues to play, a crucial role in the development of some of the most highly-efficient motoring technologies to have ever been devised. We can therefore today celebrate the current Formula 1 designs, as well as taking a look at what the future could hold for this amazing technology.

Change born of necessity

It's perhaps fitting to begin by taking a step back from the introduction of the hybrid powertrain when hoping to understand the significance of such a move for a sport that has for so many years epitomized the pinnacle of automotive design and performance.

At the end of the 2013 season, the FIA - the governing body responsible for Formula 1 - was keen to bolster the standing of the sport in terms of its mass market appeal and the creation of a new generation of engine designs that focused on enhanced efficiency and lessening the environmental impact of racing was viewed as a means to achieve this.

As a result, a new set of regulations were to be implemented for the 2014 season, with the scrapping of the old V8 engines that had powered the previous Red Bull-dominated era of F1 and the introduction of new smaller, V6 designs that would make engine manufacturers work harder to maximize efficiency and performance.

Smaller but no less powerful

The FIA therefore introduced a raft of changes for the 2014 Formula 1 season, with the most far-reaching being the change in engine design from 2.4-litre V8s with a limit of 18,000 rpm to 1.6-litre V6 designs (15,000 rpm max) with accompanied hybrid electric systems. While the smaller traditional petrol engine does mean a reduction in overall power from the past, this loss is more than made up for through cutting-edge electrical usage.

Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS) had been a factor of the previous formula, but this was further refined to a wider-encompassing Energy Recovery System (ERS) that provides a greater boost to overall performance, with dramatically increased torque for current F1 cars as a result. The immediacy of electrical power means the drivers are able to apply the throttle with split-second precision, giving greater drive out of corners and off the start, but requiring a much gentler touch to avoid wheel spin.

KERS operated through the harvesting of braking energy, which in turn charged an onboard battery that could be used to apply additional horsepower when defending or overtaking. And to an extent, today's ERS works in a similar fashion by recovering heat from the exhaust and energy when braking. However, the increased efficiency and battery capacity in new powertrain designs means the additional 80 bhp of KERS, which was available for just 6.7 seconds per lap, has been dwarfed by that of ERS. Indeed, the current ERS provides an extra 160 bhp for ten times the performance duration that KERS ever had.

A whole far greater than the sum of its parts

The engineering behind these latest F1 powertrains has been truly revolutionary and brings together the worlds of traditional engine design with cutting-edge energy recycling to deliver a whole that is both enormously sophisticated and increasingly efficient - using less fuel to deliver the same level of performance. The challenge presented to engine manufacturers at the start of the hybrid era was therefore immense and it's really no surprise that certain teams have benefited greatly from enhanced performance in relation to their rivals.

Indeed, Mercedes-Benz have been a step above the rest throughout the last three seasons, claiming both the manufacturers' and drivers' titles each year. Honda, on the other hand, having had a season's less of development time following their return to F1 with McLaren in 2015, have faced some well-documented struggles to catch up. Ferrari and Renault continue to lag behind in their pursuit of the Silver Arrows as well.

Developing a greener future for all

What must be remembered though, is the fact that the overriding driving force behind the current designs of the F1 powertrain has been to create high-performance racing cars that provide real-world benefits for all motorists. By focusing on enhanced efficiency, lower fuel consumption and the advantage of hybrid electric power, the brains trust of F1 have broken new ground in engine design that is being used in many of the latest road cars.

It is this real-world application that means the hybrid era should be remembered as one of great importance not only in the realm of F1, but for automotive design in general. It's also not over yet, as the current powertrain regulations are expected to be in place until 2020. Fans of the sport can therefore expect further refinement of these systems in the seasons ahead, while the technology created through Formula 1 innovation will be of benefit to all drivers for years to come.

Randstad has been the official partner of the Williams Martini Racing Team since 2006. Success in Formula One requires the commitment of a talented team performing at the best of their ability. The expertise, spirit of excellence and trust on which we base our relationships, are illustrated within the Williams Martini Racing team every day.

In both the racing world and the HR business, one has to be proactive as well as have quick reflexes to perform well. Like Randstad, the Williams Martini Racing team is an innovative team with a solid track record and a remarkable workforce.