The Formula One race season begins at 5pm today and it’s unlike any other that has gone before it.
The cars and regulations have been overhauled in a way that the regulatory body, the FIA, says will showcase the sport as a green energy leader. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s likely to create a more level playing field in a sport that’s in danger of becoming a billion-dollar yawnfest.
There’s a couple of notable restrictions in place in 2014 – fuel loads have come down to 100kg from 150kg for the entire race and the rev limit has been reduced from 18,000rpm to 15,000rpm.
But the biggest change is in the engine, starting with the fact they are now known as “power units”. The naturally aspirated 2.4 litre V8s have been trimmed back to 1.6 litre V6 turbos – and they’re hybrids.
Twenty per cent of the car’s power comes from two electric motor generators powered by a battery pack. The battery is charged by Energy Recovery Systems (ERS) – one, the MGU-K,recovers kinetic energy under braking. The other, the MGU-H, recovers heat energy from the exhaust.
The ERS can be activated for about 30 seconds each lap, adding an extra 161 brake horsepower to the engine’s 600 horsepower.
In theory, that should make for more exciting racing as drivers and teams strategise over the most effective use of the turbo button.
Together with the limited fuel load, the new setup is going take a lot of getting used to. Formula 1 success has never been more in the hands of technicians and race strategies as it is in 2014.
Here’s an excellent example of what the teams have to contend with on race day, starting today.
Our hosts, Truphone, kindly handed us the Caterham F1 press pack which included among the driver bios, tech specs and sponsor media, the track notes from Renault’s track support leader, Cedrik Staudoher.
Main challenges for the power units
The high number of low speed turns which will put the focus on low speed driveability through correct turbo response. Heavy braking will also need effective engine braking from the iCE to support the new brake by wire system. Short bursts of acceleration between the turns compound the challenge while massively increasing fuel consumption.
Main energy recovery points
Heavy braking will give opportunity for the MGU-K to cover energy, particularly in turns three and four and the last complex through turns 14, 15 and 16 coming back onto the straight and recovering as much energy as possible here is crucial to minimizing lap time. Short straights don’t give huge chances for the MGU-H to recover from the exhaust, but there are several of them so it should be sufficient to keep the battery charged.
One of the tougher races. Fuel consumption is the second highest of the year and the mechanical challenges add to the difficulty. Melbourne is in the upper half of the table.
What to watch out for
We’ve achieved a complete race simulation and qualifying runs so we are hopeful for the weekend, but the main challenge is adapting all our information for a new track, particularly one that’s mechanically tough. The slippery track surface will also require good driveability – effectively getting every system to work as a whole.
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