How Formula One innovation is shaping the world’s electric vehicle future  

6 min read

One of the most effective testbeds for collaboration in the design and engineering of future road cars, is on the racetracks and in the paddocks of Formula One. Dupont explains how its technical partnership with Renault DP World F1 Team is tapping into this dynamic

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on industries and manufacturers of all natures, but one of the worst affected has been the automotive sector. It has been reported by IHS that global light vehicle production has declined by approximately 18% in 2020, a drop of more than 15 million units since 2019. Global lockdowns have led to a period of disrupted supply chains, factory closures and reduced R&D budgets. This paired with a strong global focus on reducing carbon emissions has left automotive manufacturers facing real challenges.

Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) Renault F1 Team RS20 makes a pit stop.
Eifel Grand Prix, Sunday 11th October 2020. Nurbugring, Germany.

However, there is a beacon of hope in the form of electrification technology and the advancement of electric vehicles (EVs). Sales of EVs have been soaring in both the US and across Europe in recent months, despite headwinds facing the industry and consumers. In September, Tesla reported that it delivered a total of 139,300 electric cars in the third quarter of 2020 and the European market predicted that one in 10 new cars sold across Europe this year will be electric or hybrid powered (a combination of electric and internal combustion) - triple last year’s sales. The need to make EVs affordable has been a driving force in automakers innovations in this space. Manufacturers are investing in new technologies and vehicle architectures to lower the cost of the latest EV platforms. Road cars are being designed from the outset to be electric, rather than retrofitted, and lower cost models are becoming more affordable to the masses. There is also no denying that the demand for electric vehicles is on the rise, driven primarily by consumers concerned about their environmental footprint and the shift towards hybrid and electric in commercial fleets.

Another contributing factor to the surge in electric vehicle adoption comes in the form governmental pressure to meet stricter carbon emission regulations. Governments across the globe (on the whole) have been working to achieve a greener society and combat climate change. In June this year, the UK government pledged to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.Government support for electric vehicles has also been a conversation point in the ongoing US election, with both candidates suggesting the need for increased federal spending to support electric vehicle research and production. The message is clear: if we want to preserve our planet, developing cleaner modes of transport will play a pivotal role.

While many auto OEMs recognise the shift towards cleaner mobility needs to play a big part in their business strategies, they are running into their share of challenges when trying to meet increasing demand. The main reason for this? EVs require a transformed approach to design and engineering, requiring a different value chain and new levels of materials science and connectivity. OEMs have made strong progress, however, in delivering new EV models, with most major automakers now offering some form of electrified car model. But to truly succeed in the EV space, OEMs must collaborate and innovate at every level of the value chain to develop and produce the very best technologies and end products. So, how and where does this process start?

One of the most effective testbeds for collaboration in the design and engineering of future road cars, is on the racetracks and in the paddocks of Formula One. You’d be forgiven for assuming that the noise and power of F1 engines wouldn’t be entirely conducive to innovations in cleaner mobility, but the sport is actually home to the most powerful and efficient hybrid-electric drivetrains in the world. Take a Formula 1 car going 300km/h for example, this vehicle has a large store of potential energy that can be harvested by the powertrain and braking system; generating friction and heat but also electrical energy that can be used by the car’s electric motor. With a hybrid-electric powertrain, this energy is stored in the onboard battery and deployed once the vehicle is accelerating out of a turn, making the car extremely efficient and powerful. We like to describe Formula One as a true “laboratory on wheels” - a place to develop and test the next-generation of hybrid-electric technologies as part of our technical partnership with Renault DP World F1 Team.  We then take our learnings straight back into the engineering and development process for production vehicles on our roads. While this process may not always be visible, it provides an essential source of innovation and engineering expertise that advances development of technologies and materials, supporting auto manufacturers in producing EVs that meet the needs and requirements of current and future consumers.

Dupont's Nomex honeycomb structure helps provide protection from heat and flame, as well as lightweight strength, corrosion resistance and electrical resistance

A major focus area of our technical partnership with Renault DP World F1 Team is working to transfer hybrid technology innovations from the racetrack into future road cars. This partnership gives both our and Renault’s engineering teams the opportunity to co-engineer and fast track these technologies, working together to optimize the race car’s performance under race day pressures. Tested under such strain on the track, we can then be confident that these materials will stand up to the everyday wear and tear of the road. A prime example of this is our Nomex® solution - in Formula One, Nomex® paper insulation can be found incorporated into the car’s advanced motor generator units as an effective electrical insulator, enabling to the system to run hotter, faster and longer. This maximizes thermal efficiency, and crucially reduces the risk of potential electrical insulation problems on race day. With the MGU-K (Motor Generator Unit – Kinetic) providing 161 BHP, and spinning at a maximum 50,000 RPM, the heat and stress on the motor is intense. The Nomex® material can keep the motor safe and when put into a road car, will make sure you have the most dependable materials for a long life. We have taken Nomex® successes from the extreme environments of Formula One, as a market leader in e-motor slot liner insulation, and have made it the standard for passenger car electric motors, targeting ultra-high performance in the smallest, lightest and most reliable hybrid electric drivetrains.

While increasing the thermal efficiency of hybrid-electric motors is essential to improving sustainability, so too is the lowering the weight of the vehicle. Formula One teams will go to great lengths to shave grams of weight off the car, with the smallest gains all contributing to incremental improvements in lap times. Materials such as Kevlar® and Kapton® – both products developed by DuPont – provide strength and thermal or electrical insulation as needed, at significantly lighter weights than other material alternatives. While these materials may initially find use in F1 cars as we explore and push the boundaries of innovation, they then lay the foundation for OEM’s to use Lightweighting as a method to increase vehicle range and reduce consumer range anxiety.

Another example of how material sciences can massively benefit hybrid drivetrain development is KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System). Originally utilized in F1 from 2009-2013, the electric hybrid system would capture kinetic energy from the car during braking and store it in the battery for the driver to use later. Showcasing “green technology” in the sport, KERS gave F1 drivers a 10% increase in power. Even more efficient hybrid energy sources have now entered motorsport, such as the modern ERS (Energy Recovery System) found on current F1 cars, and this development platform continues to influence the next generation energy recovery systems. As such, we have since seen an influx of ERS technology in hybrid-electric passenger vehicles, converting kinetic energy to electric energy to help power electric motors and improve fuel economy. Such a system is deployed in the Renault E-Tech platform, such as the Clio E-Tech, along with the Captur and Megane E-Tech plug-in hybrid models which greatly reduce CO2 emissions and offer WLTP fuel economy ranges of up to 188.3mpg and 217.3mpg respectively.

The Renault Clio E-Tech hybrid

As manufacturers explore ways to use new materials and technologies, they often look at collaboration and partnership with industry peers and suppliers to streamline the innovation process. Bringing outside perspectives, expertise and resources is an essential step in making the breakthroughs necessary and making EV strategies a success. As strategic partners to all our customers, we are relied upon to catalyse innovation. With automotive electrification becoming a megatrend over the last decade, it’s only fitting that exploring materials and technologies in the EV space is a key focus of our broader automotive agenda. As well as working with Renault DP World F1 Team, we’re also working closely with our customers to help create advanced technology which will enable lighter vehicles, more efficient electric motors, long-lasting and reliable batteries all with improved driver safety – helping them ride a wave of consumer confidence and prepare for future needs.

Industry experts predict that the EV market will continue to grow at a fast pace over the next decade, with sales estimated to rise by 36% in 2021 alone. This demand will continue to shift the priorities of auto manufacturers. This shift in priorities will require newer, more advanced and more complex technologies and materials. Global auto makers have and will continue to look towards motorsport platforms such as Formula One to engage and accelerate the development of new technology.  The intense pressure of Formula One is creating the most efficient, clean and powerful hybrid electric drivetrains in the world. DuPont and Renault DP World F1 Team will continue to push to the front of this healthy competition.

To find out more about the technical partnership between these two leading organisations register now to view our free panel discussion. This event is taking place on 19th November 2020, but will also be available to view on demand.