Electric Power In The Formula1 Pit Lane From 2014 – Will The Cars Sound Right?

After back-to-back Formula1 GPs, we are now in the middle of the mandatory August shut down in Formula1. The next race is only on the last weekend of August, but to keep us busy till then, the Indian Racing League and its ambitious ‘i1 Super Series’ were announced in Mumbai last week. You could read my blog post: Welcome the Indian Racing League, i1 Super Series is launched to know more.

I have always maintained that one of the biggest threats that the sport will face will be shedding its non-environmental friendly image. Infact, I think that is one of the biggest threats to Formula1 going into the future.

It is also one of the bigger reasons why we have seen engine and various other regulations change ever so often. Of course, while it is for the betterment of the sport, it is the F1 fan that has to suffer with constantly changing rules.

Major rule changes have been planned for the 2014 season and one of the key changes are to the engine regulations. I have also written in the past the primary reason to make these changes. You can read my blog post: Is Formula1 Dying To Have More Car Manufacturers In The Sport?

The other change expected is to use electric power in the pit lane starting the 2014 season. This would mean that once the driver would enter the pit lane, his combustion engine (all current engines are combustion engines) would need to be cut off from any fuel supply, effectively meaning that the engine would need to be off. The driver would need to use electrical power to drive down the pit lane, box in his pit garage, change his tyres and then head back out using electrical power. The combustion engine would be permitted a restart only after crossing the pit lane exit line.

Electrical power could be drawn from two recovery systems on the car. First, the KERS system which is being used this season and for the first time, F1 will also introduce a system capable of recovering energy from the heat of the exhaust. F1 technology to be at its best!

This change would mean two things, the first one more anticipated, that Formula1 cars will now need a self starter mechanism. Modern day cars don’t carry a starter to simply reduce overall car weight. The second would be the sound of the F1 engine, with electrical power on, will the F1 engines sound as ferocious?

Funny as it may read, the sound of the engine is a big concern to all concerned stake holders, whether it is the GP organizers, team owners or even Bernie Ecclestone for that matter. The sound of the exhaust of an F1 engine is something that all fans love and that is something that cannot be denied. I have been in the F1 pit lane and the Paddock Club, where all the sponsor guests watch the race from, and the sound echoes through every wall and corner. Imagine the start of the race when the sounds of 24 engines are fighting to be heard. As ‘loud’ and ‘noisy’ as it may sound, guests love it and somehow it is the sound of the exhaust that gives F1 is ‘larger than life’ and ‘daring’ feel.

With electrical power being enforced in the pit lane, what about the engine sounds that the fans would be accustomed to? I understand that bringing electrical power is to save that extra bit of fuel and bring in more efficiency in the sport and I totally support this objective. However, this step will surely reduce the fan experience at the GP.

How do you fix this? Certainly not by playing a pre-recorded engine sound from the car! I am sure that Formula1 and the teams will find a way to work around this. But one thing is clear; some hard decisions will need to be made while deciding the future of the sport. A few changes will impact the overall positioning of the sport and at the same time also impact the consumer experience. Are Formula1 fans ready for the changes?

And just by the way, news have poured in that Bernie Ecclestone has refused to let electrical power be used in the pit lane. A ‘sound’ decision after all?

Kunal Shah is an FIA-accredited Formula 1 journalist who has been reporting on Formula 1 for nearly two decades. He worked with the Force India Formula 1 Team for 6 seasons in Marketing, Sponsorship and Commercial roles. As a former single-seater racer, he was responsible for Force India's grassroots talent program, One from a Billion Hunt. Presently, he co-writes a regular Formula 1 column for Firstpost, speaks on Inside Line F1 Podcast & Pits to Podium and produces broadcast/OTT content for NENT Group (Viasport & Viaplay).

3 comments On Electric Power In The Formula1 Pit Lane From 2014 – Will The Cars Sound Right?

  • Well, you’ll rarely see all the 24 cars in the Pit-lane all at the same time; so it’s not like your going to have sound off along the entire track at any point of time; plus the 24 cars firing up at the start of the grid will not be affected by it.
    Also, I think we are in an era where every small measure to help protect the environment counts and I think F1 too has to play its part.
    The one minute silence (21s per pitstop*avg 3 pitstops) is then apt, isnt it? And don’t forget, only a few months ago we were talking of 4 cylinder engines. SO i think F1 should welcome this suggestion and lead the way in any and evry way possible to reduce its huge carbon footprint before it really finds a disconnect with the real issues challenging us on a global level.

  • I presume matters are on the discussion table at the moment so perhaps some sort of compromise will be arrived at eventually I suspect.
    Come to think of it, F1 switching to electrical power would make a massive statement to motorheads worldwide — especially if they went with hybrid technology. As with all major innovation, competition rather than necessity is the mother of invention and I wouldn’t be surprised if this format developed technology that could subsequently become widely used in commercial automobile engineering.

    • Thanks Gunjan and Sandeep.
      I agree that there’s a trade-off needed in the sport. But after having been in the pit lane for so many races, I can assure you that the sound of the F1 engines will be missed. All cars might not pit at the same time during the race, but practice / qualifying is when the noise is absolutely necessary. A Paddock Club guest pays somewhere around $3.5k for a three day pass and you can’t have him not listen to an F1 engine when he does his pit walk or stands in the hospitality suite about the pit garages.
      My point here is that the sound of an F1 engine is extremely critical to the sport. Whether the car is in the pit lane or on the race track. The sound is what makes you want to have the engine in your road car! (Speed and Power notwithstanding!)
      This regulation change is being discussed, however, I don’t think electrical power in the pit lane is the right way forward.

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