Could further hybrid development bring more manufacturers to F1?


Over the years we’ve seen many different car manufacturers come and go in Formula 1; Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Jaguar, Toyota and even Bugatti have made attempts to succeed at the pinnacle of motorsport, there are some that have fallen by wayside but there are plenty that have retreated and returned, such as Renault, Honda and most recently Mercedes.

In a time where the entire car market has shifted its focus to a much greener direction, motorsport has naturally led the way to develop the next generation of cars that we will no doubt be driving in the future, to some this is something that is quite hard to swallow because they claim that it should be all about going to as fast as possible.

To that I have to say that in Formula 1 outright lap records at some circuits have fallen from 2004 which is considered the fastest season in history. At the Austrian Grand Prix Lewis Hamilton smashed the outright lap record by nearly two seconds in qualifying; yet all of this despite having a 1.6 litre turbo hybrid power unit compared to a 3.0 litre V10 when the last lap record was set.

The power of economics

The World Endurance Championship has seen a lot of manufacturer involvement since its inception and this is helped by the mass development of hybrid power. With Mercedes making clear strides in leading the way for Formula 1, could we see more car companies taking the plunge? After departing the sport in 2008 at the height of the world financial crisis, Honda pulled out as a full factory team, but recently have made an attempt to return with McLaren as a power unit supplier.

Toyota and BMW have also not long left the sport, but with both companies on a massive green agenda, could we yet see them both return to the fields of Formula 1? I don’t think it could be ruled out even despite Toyota having put a massive amount of resources into their WEC program which so nearly saw them win the famous Le Mans 24 hour race with three former Formula 1 stars – Anthony Davidson, Sebastian Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima.

Being a factory team may not appeal to some manufacturers due to the costs involved which could be quite understandable for some companies, but supplying teams with a power unit shouldn’t be ruled out.

Being a global brand carries a lot of weight on the shoulders of those who make the decisions to go racing in any series especially for Formula 1 because of the budgets involved, where the cost of power units has increased to nearly three times as much since we moved the hybrid units has had a massive impact the teams already in the paddock and to anyone who looks at the sport could see this as a massive turn off.

On the flipside, Honda came in because of its push towards hybrid technology and while at the present time they may not have returned with the performance they would have liked to have had, it will only be a matter of time before Honda get that power unit in a place to compete with the rest, especially Mercedes.

The returns could be exponential for the road car division in terms of technology, this coupled with potential success as a supplier or even their own factory effort could outweigh being cautious and not doing so.

The current downside is with Honda’s battle to overcome their issues it could be putting off those potential manufacturers making a decision. The McLaren-Honda project was announced in 2013 but it has taken this long to get the project moving at a pace where it can really compete in Formula 1 even though it’s not directly at the front with Mercedes despite their best intentions.

The future

Hybrid power along with new engine combustion techniques such as the HCCI (Homogenous, Charge, Compression, Ignition) process have really pushed the boundaries with how the modern power unit works. The LMP1 Porsche in the World Endurance Championship runs a V4 engine for example and really pushes the boundaries with that development path.

Despite the amount of investment needed for an attempt in Formula 1, the returns could be exponential for the road car division in terms of technology, this coupled with potential success as a supplier or even their own factory effort could outweigh being cautious and not doing so.

Is it worth the risk? I feel it would be for the right company to take the leap like Honda have, it’ll just take long-term preparation and development for all involved to hit the ground running. Long gone are the days of suppliers or manufacturers jumping in at a moment’s notice.

Would the potential success outweigh the cost? Absolutely, to be winners in Formula 1 would establish a winning record that couldn’t be erased, succeeding at the highest level would echo in the sport’s history as well as create technologies that could well be passed on to the everyday road car user.

It’s possible, just who will do it?

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