For a major automotive manufacturer to
sign off an engine project for Formula 1’s
latest regulations, requiring a spend of
around $200 million per year for the early
seasons, a serious return on investment is
required. Marketing plays a big part in
justifying this expenditure, but technology
transfer is another way that it can pay its
way, even if the engine isn’t winning.
A major motivation for F1 abandoning the
normally-aspirated 2.4-liter V8s used from
2006-’ 13 was to make it more road-car
relevant. Without the potential for the transfer
of technology, the fear was it would be
increasingly difficult for those already in grand
prix racing to continue to spend money on it.
As for enticing new manufacturers? Forget it.
Only one engine supplier gets to power the
champion, so there has to be more to it than
“just” winning. But technology transfer and
road relevance are vague phrases. You aren’t
going to be driving a street car powered by
an engine taken out of the back of Lewis
Hamilton’s Mercedes any time soon. But
THE RELEVANCY QUESTION
thinking as much as hardware. There’s
no way to know the specific benefits an F1
project will have for an auto maker’s road cars
in the future, but there will be some, given
the technology now being developed in F1.
“The heat recovery technology used in
F1 can be transferred into street cars, for
example,” explains Honda F1 boss Yasuhisa
Arai. “It’s a technology that fascinates us
and we want to challenge ourselves with.”
This potential for technology transfer
certainly played a key role in persuading
Honda to return, and Mercedes and Renault
to stay on. But the bigger picture can’t be
ignored. F1 had to be seen to be more road
relevant simply because road cars are
becoming more environmentally conscious.
Don’t underestimate the totemic value of
these energy-efficient power units. They
won’t change the world in and of themselves,
but they have dragged F1 into the present,
which is where it must be if it is to remain
cutting-edge technologically and a
worthwhile investment for auto makers.
The new breed of hybrid power units allow Formula 1 to be a vehicle for technology transfer once again.
tech transfer isn’t really about that.
Yes, design concepts and engineering
solutions can be ported over, but much of it is
about sharing information, ideas, approaches,
materials. Motorsport is a hothouse for new
ideas with potential applications, and that
applies to working practices and ways of
Unlike the ageing
introduced into F1 can
have real relevance
to the street cars
manufacturers such as
Tech transfer is a two-way street. Mercedes
applies the same Nanoslide low-friction
coatings to its F1 engine (ABOVE) that it
first developed for road cars, for example.