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F1 considering gas turbines?

NEWS STORY
25/04/2010

Mat Coch writes:

Following Pitpass' exclusive revelation that Formula One could return to turbocharged engines in 2013, it's believed another engine technology has been submitted to the FIA which could spark an engine war.

Andreas Andrianos, CEO of Project 1221, has revealed exclusively to Pitpass that his company has approached Bernie Ecclestone with a gas turbine engine developed for Formula One. He also claims that a proposal is now with the FIA for evaluation and, if approved, Project 1221 could supply engines to teams as early as 2013.

Formed in 2001, Project 1221 has developed gas turbine technologies for a number of automotive, aeronautical and military applications. The company is best known for its seemingly aborted super car, the MF1, a mid-engined sports car which was said to be capable of over 400kph.

Andrianos claims a gas turbine engine would be a much cheaper solution than an internal combustion unit, together with other benefits which he believes make it an attractive proposition.

While fuel consumption is inferior to that of current spec Formula One engines, through the use of bio-diesel fuel the engines are more environmentally friendly. Coupled with greater 'green' credentials a single turbine engine is expected to be capable of racing almost an entire season without maintenance, meaning lower ongoing costs. Furthermore, as there is no traditional cooling system the engine can be more easily packaged into a modern Formula One car - stresses on the engine during competition are expected to be similar to that in helicopters and aircraft and could therefore easily handle the demands of Formula One.

There are potential problems in relation to the gearbox however. An electric motor would be needed to engage the reverse gear, while teams would have to address their fundamental design as turbine engines cannot be a structural member of the car. It would mean reverting to a space frame design to support the rear suspension, rather than bolting it to the engine block as has been the standard since the Lotus 49 in 1967.

Ironically the man who developed the Lotus 49, Colin Chapman, tinkered with turbine power in the early 1970's. Inspired by the performance of turbine cars in the US during the 1960's Chapman produced the Lotus 56B, a four-wheel-drive car powered by a Pratt & Whitney turbine engine. In three championship starts it achieved a best result of eighth at the 1971 Italian Grand Prix in the hands of Emerson Fittipaldi. Plagued by problems, most notably turbo lag, the 56B was abandoned in favour of the Lotus 72 and a traditional Cosworth power plant.

With developments in technology, Andrianos believes gas turbine engines are now more advanced and, if given the opportunity, could race alongside turbocharged or normally aspirated rivals. By limiting the air intake of the engine Andrianos believes the FIA could effectively equalise engine performance, creating an environment where multiple engine configurations could compete on equal footing.

Such a move could potentially open the way for unheralded engine innovation within the sport. Volkswagen, for example, has produced a 2.0-litre TSI engine powered by natural gas, which it claims reduces CO2 output by as much as 80%, and has already raced at the Nurburgring 24hr in a VW Scirocco, winning its class. The German company has been forever linked with Formula One, and giving more engineering freedom for 'green' technologies may provide the catalyst for its entry.

An engine development race may go against the cost cutting initiatives the FIA has been championing, but, within reasonable guidelines, it could be seen as a golden opportunity for the sport to become a leader in 'green' technology. It would also allow the FIA to fulfil its mandate of assisting the development of technology relevant to road cars, giving motor sport a chance to be seen as part of the cure, rather than part of the cause.

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