The need for speed – Is it the end for combustion engine race cars?

December 31, 2017

- Grant Whittington

The human mind is notoriously resistant to change and is automatically programmed to treat new ideas with a sense of prejudice. This is why so many of history’s greatest innovations have been derided upon their launch, only for time and evolution to eventually let them prevail.

Nowhere is this trend more evident than in the automotive sector, which has undergone a truly incredible rate of change during the last 120 years. It was back in 1893 that the French newspaper Le Petit Journal bemoaned the fact that “human inventiveness…has still not found a mechanical process to replace horses as the propulsion for vehicles”, only to be derided by those who had no time for such fanciful ambitions.

Still, Le Petit Journal was not to be denied, as it responded to naysayers by organising the Paris-Rouen race for horseless carriages in 1894. Vehicles powered by steam, petrol and compressed air all entered the ground-breaking race, before a clear and comprehensive winner emerged in the form of the internal combustion engine.

The rest is history, with the traditional combustion engine having driven the automotive industry for more than a century since. Its future is now in serious doubt however, with new innovations seemingly ushering in the age of the electric vehicles.

How has the Tesla Roadster changed everything?

While the concept of electric cars has been around for years, its development has been met with significant opposition from drivers. It has also been restricted by some key design flaws, which have centred on the longevity of battery power and the performance metrics of electric cars.

The landscape has changed significantly recently, thanks the innovative brand that is Telsa. A key disruptor within the automotive space, Telsa recently hosted an exhibition where it was set to launch its brand new Semi truck onto the consumer market.

It surprised the gathered crowds by also unveiling the Tesla Roadster 2.0. The revelation managed to generate an incredible buzz around what was deemed one of the most exciting automotive innovation for years.

As you would expect, the Roadster 2.0 follows a succession of previous electric models in this space, by replicating the look and feel of a sports car. Unlike previous iterations, however, it boasts the specification to match. In many ways, it has the capacity to outperform an entire generation of sports cars powered by combustion engines.

According to Tesla, the car will debut in 2020, at which time it will have the capacity to achieve 0-60mph is a time of just 1.9 seconds. This would instantly afford the Roadster 2.0 top place among the pantheon of sports cars, establishing it as the fastest vehicle in the world (in terms of acceleration).

The top speed of 270mph is also extremely impressive, while Tesla have also tackled the issue of longevity by enhancing the battery technology and the range of the car. More specifically, it will feature a 200kWh battery pack that is capable of covering 620 miles on a single charge.

The evolution of electric vehicles and the future for racing cars

While the Tesla Roadster 2.0 may have changed the game in terms of performance, it might also have expedited the decline of internal combustion engines across the globe. After all, even conservative estimates suggest that traditional engines and petrol vehicles will be obsolete on the continent by the year 2040, but innovations such as the Roadster 2.0 mean that this day could come sooner rather than later.

With enhanced battery performance (and the cost of this technology having fallen dramatically from around $1,000 in 2010 to an average of $165 today), it’s little wonder that automotive brands such as Volvo have pledged to switch fully to electric and hybrid cars by the year 2019.

This evolution is clearly unstoppable, but what does it mean for racing cars? After all, sports such as Formula One seem to thrive at least partially on the noise, speed and excitement provided by internal combustion engines, which have been integral to competitive racing for generations.

In short, we fully expect that the next generation of race cars will become increasingly reliant on electric power rather than traditional combustion engines in the future. Not only must we consider the impressive performance of modern electric sports cars, but there are also a couple of additional factors that will influence this evolution.

First, it’s important to note that the Fédération Internationale de Automobile (FIA) has already made significant changes to the composition of its engines. In Formula One, 2014 saw the FIA switch from 2.4-litre, V8 engines to 1.6 litre, V6 alternatives. This immediately limited the output and emissions delivered by internal combustion engines, capping them at a maximum of 15,000 rpm.

In fact, modern F1 cars rarely exceed 12,000rpm, in line with modern fuel-flow regulations and emission caps.

Secondly, we must recognise that actual racing accounts for just 0.3% of the sports’ carbon emissions, with the construction and testing of internal combustion engines particularly troublesome. The switch to electric cars would negate this issue to a large degree, although even this would need to be regulated to restrict energy consumption.

The last word – Why the switch to electric cars is inevitable

Given these points, and the fact that F1 cars have already made concessions to the traditional combustion engine, there’s little doubt that electric race cars represent the future. The launch of the new Tesla only seems to reaffirm this, as the ever-improving technology behind electric vehicles allows for superior performance and increased speed.

Fans would need to adapt to this course, as silent engines powering across the track are sure to create an almost surreal experience.

With the potential for electric cars to reach even higher speeds than Roadster 2.0 and achieve incredible levels of acceleration, drivers, constructors and teams alike are sure to enjoy the relentless speed and power of future F1 vehicles.



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