It occurred to me that the piece I wrote about Chairman of Ferrari and Fiat Luca di Montezemolo being the starter at this years Le Mans 24 hour race, although interesting, might have missed addressing a very specific question: so Ferrari might drop F1 and head for Le Mans, why is that such a big deal?
OK, here’s why…
Two words: Ferrari hybrid.
There have been rumors floating around for months now that Ferrari is on the verge of showing a hybrid car. To some, this might be sacrilege, to others (and I’m one of them) it sounds like a bright idea.
For starters, cars will either become more green, or they will become things we’ll have to go to a museum to see. Ferrari realizes this, and they realize they will have to adapt and change or perish.
Secondly, and this is the real reason why I like the whole Ferrari hybrid idea, there are serious performance gains to be made. Looks at the KERS system some teams are currently running in F1. KERS, for Kinetic Energy Recovery System, is a performance oriented hybrid package that takes braking energy, stores it in batteries, and then, at the touch of a steering wheel mounted button, delivers that energy back into the driven wheels. It puts that energy to the ground to the tune of 80+ horsepower. It seems to be great for starts and powering out of corners.
Now imagine having something like that in a road car. Feel like getting away from that stoplight real quick? Just hit that little green button.
Thirdly, Ferrari patent drawings indicate that the hybrid they are considering would put the power to the ground via separate electric motors located in the front wheels, meaning that they overall hybrid drivetrain package would be all wheel drive. AWD offers a whole host of performance benefits, especially in bad weather, so if Ferrari does this, it will be almost a gimme.
So why jump to Le Mans racing? Isn’t Ferrari getting good R & D from running KERS in their F1 program?
Yes and no. Sure, they’re getting lots of data about how a KERS system works in general, but the direct, off the shelf level of technology transfer is more limited via F1. Essentially this all comes down to packaging. In an F1 car, there are HUGE packaging constraints – as in there is little to no room for anything, so adding KERS is a real pain.
In a sports prototype car, the kind of car that’s run at Le Mans, this is not an issue. There is PLENTY of room in a sports prototype. For starters, they are nominally two-seaters. Also, with all that full bodywork, there lots of large volume spaces you can locate stuff like controllers and computers and battery arrays and the like. Meaning that what is designed, tested and implemented successfully on a Le Mans car is more easily transferred into a road car.
And if Ferrari doesn’t want to go the sports prototype route, there’s also the GT class of cars, and they are already dominating in that class with the racing version of their F430. If, and this is a big if, they wanted to run a hybrid version of a GT class car, transferring that technology into the street Ferrari you could buy would be much, much easier.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons