The Future's Bright, the Future's Electric. Apparently.
Originally written 28th July 2017
Photo credit: Lou Johnson
The motorsport world woke up this morning to the (not unexpected) news that Porsche is pulling out of the FIA World Endurance Championship at the end of this season in favour of Formula E.
Following the news that the UK is joining France in the ‘banning the sale of all new vehicles powered by internal combustion engines’ it’s hardly surprising that manufacturers are jumping ship to join the e-movement. Electric vehicles are clearly where we’re headed but are they the answer?
Currently, Formula E is the destination for manufacturers wanting to develop their zero-emission technology (and the green reputation that goes along with it.) The Electric GT season kicks off in November of this year, supposedly to inspire society as we enter the 'Age of Light’. But much like Formula E, the inaugural season has no outside manufacturer development - everyone will be using a modified Tesla P100DL.
Meanwhile back in hydrocarbon country, FIA WEC are on their way towards a massive regulations overhaul which focuses on 5 key areas, including adapting technology for road-going vehicles, technological diversity and, you guessed it, zero emission tech. The regs certainly make for an interesting read, but some of my highlights include:
Zero emissions and rapid recharging: a new road-going technology will be applied to racing, the plug-in hybrid. The cars will be given a rapid recharge at the same time as they are being refuelled.
Thanks to this, they must:
Cover the first kilometre after each refuelling stop in full electric mode at a level of performance hitherto unequalled in motor racing and cross the finishing line in total electric autonomy (the details are being defined).
Integration of biofuels: increase the integration of other types of more evolved fuels in close collaboration with the suppliers’ strategy.
Introduction of new energies: in parallel, research work on new energies like hydrogen is continuing with the aim of introducing them at a later date.
Notice that the focus isn’t all electric, don’t put all your eggs in one basket and all that. But seriously, what about hydrogen? Or whatever zero emission tech we come up with now that the petrol-powered internal combustion engine is doomed? Electric power might be the 'in’ technology right now, but there’s still a lot to work out. Batteries, range, speeds, not to mention manufacturing, infrastructure and disposal of spent technology. Perhaps that’s where motorsport comes back in.
Top level motorsport is already notoriously expensive, but maybe that doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. Why not have an event whose main purpose is to research and test the solutions for our future? Think the Shell Eco-Marathon but on a larger scale. We all know that research is going on to find alternatives to petrol and diesel. Whether it’s developing hydrogen fuel cells, highly efficient solar cells or creating catalysts to split water or produce hydrogen in situ, huge amounts of money are being spent on zero emission research. So why not bring it into the limelight? Make these scientific breakthroughs sexy or cool or whatever it is that draws you into your favourite sport.
Motorsport and the automotive industry in general is in a state of flux and as a society need to be invested in whatever technology is going to be our future. While Formula E is improving each year, it’s still got a long way to go before it reaches say 'Formula One Status.’ Bringing in the big manufacturers will certainly make waves, but I can’t help but wonder if focussing solely on electricity is just a little short-sighted. Perhaps it’s time we stopped being quite so ‘all or nothing’ in our thinking.
In the meantime, thank you Porsche, your return to endurance racing was short but sweet. I wish you all the luck in your new e-ventures.