Another week in Formula One, and faster than Usain Bolt sprinting for his next 'Sports Person of the Decade Award', we have the FIA considering new engine types, and the manufacturers once more banging on about "Road Relevance".
At a typical circuit the cars will pit for fresh tyres somewhere around twenty laps from the start. That will be, depending on the circuit, a distance of around 100Km (that's 62.5 miles in old money). Any Pitpass readers fancy road tyres that do that? I'd be up for three to four sets per week if my tyres lasted that sort of distance.
The manufacturer claims my car can pull over 0.9g laterally on a skid pad. Do any of us need to be pulling 4.0g plus on the inside lane of a major roundabout in rush hour? The Latte splash alone would require emergency clean-up!
And carbon ceramic brakes at F1 level? Again these beasts are built for around 300 Km of peak performance and not a centimetre more! So when I go for that third tyre change before the weekend, I need to throw in new brake disks and pads. No cost impact there then!
Let's face it, as Colin Chapman so flawlessly focussed, a race car that does not fall apart as it crosses the finish line is over-weight and over-engineered. A road car that does not give around ten years of reasonably trouble free motoring is a dud. Two hours compared to ten years. Sounds like very different engineering solutions for different outcomes to me.
One area I would love to see carried over to road cars is the safety cell. One only has to look at Alonso walking away, shaken, but otherwise unhurt, from his massive 2016 Melbourne shunt to be all for that level of survival cell in road cars. Many people would be alive today if our roads cars offered that level of protection.
Track design is remarkable for keeping nasty hard stuff away from the 300kph missiles. If only our road engineers that keep placing light poles, junction boxes, and "Middlethorpe Welcomes Careful Drivers" signs at the outside apex of corners such that when Miss Physics catches us not paying due respect we slide directly into said immovable object, sometimes with tragic outcomes. We could learn from track design here for safer roads.
Then driver behaviour. When Alfonso-the-not-so-great elects to pull through a stop sign 25cm in front of on rushing traffic, or change lanes in the wet using the handbrake (or whatever madness it is that day) it is a driver issue, not a road rule issue. Everyone realising sharing public roads is a team game would be most beneficial. One need look no further than the clean over takes between Verstappen, Ricciardo, Lewis, and Nico, that cause the drivers to then wax lyrical about respect for one another to see how respect for other drivers should play out... one then need look no further than the worst moments between Lewis and Nico to see what happens when it all breaks down. So there is a transfer to the road by the race drivers leading by example. I love the current Heineken advert showing Sir Jackie Stewart respectfully declining an offered cold beer because "...I'm still driving". Respect all around for a masterful ad concept.
And then, to finally focus on our flavour of the moment, once more. Power units.
I'll get right to it. Hybrids are a marketing dead-end dreamt up by sales executives desperate to prove their green credentials to a needy public. We demanded we start saving the planet right now! So the marketing people asked engineering what they could provide, not in a decade, but right now!
And hello Toyota Prius. The laughing stopped at the other manufacturers when they saw the halo effect Toyota got for slapping "Hybrid" stickers on their range and ringing up the cash registers. Fill your cars with smaller (cheaper) engines, plus a pile of rare metals that are a massive environmental impact to mine, refine, deliver, and then reuse/dispose, market accordingly and pocket the profits.
Fully electric is being hustled into the main stream mainly by Elon Musk. A man that owes Big Oil nothing. As the public educate themselves on generating real environmental benefits the demand for long life, deep cycle, fast charging fully electric vehicles will rocket.
Like the Zeppelin, fuel cell and hydrogen, or similar awkward to handle fuels, are a fascinating dead end too. Complex to handle, dangerous in the wrong conditions, in need of refinement and storage. They only benefit Big Oil who will shift to selling us the new black gold.
Do not underestimate the global size of this battle. If fully electric vehicles, with their horizontal surfaces covered in super-performing flexible solar cells providing on the go, and parked, automatic charging win the day the oil companies, and those nations dependant on their massive incomes, will cease to be relevant in the blink of an eye. We are not talking a 5% drop in market share. We are talking the wipe out of a major industrial sector the like of which the globe has not seen since the English War Horse vanished in a generation.
Electric cars of an affordable, pleasure to drive, easy to run nature with self-charging capabilities that effectively deliver "unlimited" range for the twenty year life of their solar cells are going to be life changing across the world within very few years. At the top of the market they already exist, and during 2018 most main stream manufacturers intend to release mass market all electric vehicles.
Let's take one example. Jaguar has just confirmed it will release the iPace late in 2018. This is a pleasant looking mid-size car with more in common with the F-Pace SUV than the F-Type sports coupe. Yet it promises this electric beast will deliver 700Nm of torque, 294 Kw of power, and a 0-100 kph time around 4.0 seconds.
Electric motors differ from internal combustion engines not just in their make-up and physics of operation but their power delivery too. A traditional engine will deliver peak power around maximum rpm, and be combined with a gearbox such that changing gear will drop you from peak power into the middle of peak torque delivery, thus ensuring maximal continued acceleration.
By contrast an electric motor delivers maximum torque when stalled, that is when the vehicle is about to launch. So while drivability might be an issue, igniting toward the horizon for a stand still is a major party trick for electric motors.
So, comparing internal combustion beasts to the Jaguar five seater that Soccer Mum can drive. A 2016 Ferrari 488 can manage to launch you, one friend, plus two tooth brushes and one credit card 0-100kph in 3.0 seconds while costing around six times the likely cost of the Jaguar. A 2016 Ferrari FF, which can just about take four adults, performs 0-100Kph in around 4.0 seconds. That would be the same as the Jaguar.
If we cast our minds all the way back to the last century, a 1998 Ferrari F355 takes a snooze worthy 5.0 seconds to crawl to 100 kph.
Wander further back down Super Car memory lane, and we find a 1994 Porsche 911 Carrera C2 with a factory claimed time around 5.5 seconds for 100 kph. And remember in their day these were considered crushingly fast cars!
Send our iPace driving soccer mum back 25 years and she is going to comfortably blitz super cars at the lights, while getting Tarquin to kick-off on time!
I'm not saying that an electric SUV is about to offer more delights than a Lotus Elise or Mazda MX-5 on a sweeping, deserted back road, but the general public want impressive figures, for running costs, fuel, and acceleration, which takes minimal skill to employ, and trumpets your awesomeness to all those left behind next time the lights go green.
Hybrids are a brief marketing distraction on the relentless path to an ever improving understanding and partnership with the more and more complex facets of Miss Physics. She loves to power the human body with the most modest of electrical charges. She loves the fizz and bang of the most massive electro magnetic pulses when stars die. She binds the very fabric of the universe together with atomic bonds dependant on the aptly named electron.
Just as driverless cars will eventually arrive in the name of safety, so fully electric cars will arrive because it is what Miss Physics politely recommends as the optimal solution, and it is what the public wants. And as The Jam told us many years ago, what the public wants the public gets, so the oil is going to stay underground.
Learn more about Max and check out his previous features, here