It’s coming, and very soon: the arrival of hybrid drive systems in entry-level single-seaters.
The FIA’s Motorsport Games – modelled on the success of X-games and other cross-discipline events – may have passed with little more than a curious eyebrow-raise from mainstream sports media, but one under-the-skin development should have had motoring media standing up to get a better look: the new hybrid F4 car used in the games is an absolute disruptor.
There was a wicked rumour mid-year that there might be a ‘nations cup’ of Formula 4. The idea faded, however, buried in the realisation that the plethora of national specifications meant there were too many different configurations of F4 car, different chassis, tyre suppliers and OEM engine suppliers.
From country to country, the minimum weight of an F4 car can differ by 60 kg – the equivalent of having another driver along for the ride!
A ‘gathering of the clans’ would thus have proved to be near impossible.
But with F4 spreading across the globe, the idea has continued to crop up, and it has immediate appeal to countries climbing aboard the F4 bandwagon.
Talk to the Kiwi drivers who have sampled F4 and they will say the category is interesting but the cars slightly dull, with reduced aero and mechanical grip and less power that the ‘outlier’ categories have on offer.
Now that regional F3 is also taking hold drivers are faced with the awkward situation of coming out of cars with 275 bhp, with aero and tyre grip to match and into cars that some say feel like a fairground attraction. The same driver/s would say the F4 fairground metaphor is amplified by the number of ‘clown’ drivers at midfield.
But the new hybrids may be a different story. The cars are powered by an F4-spec 131 kW Abarth 1.4 litre turbo-charged engine assisted by a 12kW Magnetti Marelli hybrid system giving about ten per cent more power. The hybrid system harvests power under heavy braking, stores it in a superconductor mounted underneath the fuel tank and deploys its boost under acceleration.
The difference equates to 3-4 kph additional speed per deployment. All of the major powertrain elements are OEM products, including the hybrid components which are used in industrial as well as automotive applications.
That means that the cost base is relatively low, and while the weight penalty of the hybrid drive is relatively high in motorsport terms, as a one-make formula there is no disadvantage for any individual driver.
Dubbed the KCMG KC MG-01 (catchy name that) these are the first F4 cars to run hybrid power, the first hybrid single-seaters outside of F1 and the first F4-spec car with the Halo device, something which will become mandatory in the formula from 2021.
The hybrids, 20 of them, are run as a single-make category by Hi-Tech and have run in Europe as a national demonstration event while any issues are ironed out.
Then, with the emergence of the FIA’s Motorsport Games concept, a plan came together very quickly. Hong Kong-based KCMG won the contract to supply 20 cars for three years of exclusive use by the event.
KCMG founder Paul Ip says the creation of the finished car was a six month project with surprisingly few hitches. It was designed by his company, working with its nominated technical supplier Ycom. All composites were produced in Taiwan by KCMG Composites.
Outwardly, the car differs little from a current F4 racer. Using current F4 power units and off the shelf F4 and Energy recovery System (ERS) components was key to keeping build time and unit cost down.
At the FIA Motorsport Games each car was presented to the teams in a lottery to decide which car would be allocated to which entry, and the body panels then added accordingly.
It’s the hybrid powertrain that is attracting most attention and with this month’s confirmation of a hybrid project in the British F4 Championship there is the certainty that other single-spec formula car categories will very soon follow suit.
- Engine: 1.4 litre turbo charged Abarth internal combustion hybrid engine with Magneti Marelli ERS system which can store 53W
- Power: 131 kW (176 bhp) with a further 12kW from the ERS
- Suspension: Front and rear double wishbones with pushrods, adjustable anti-roll bars and twin non-adjustable Sachs dampers
- Monocoque and bodywork: Carbon fibre
- Aerodynamics: Front wing with non-adjustable mainplane, rear wing with two aero profiles and adjustable mainplane
- Brakes: AP Racing two-piston radial mount callipers, Brembo iron cast ventilated discs and AP Racing calliper and brake pads
- Transmission: Sequential Sadev six-speed gearbox with Magneti Marelli EGA and paddle shift
- Fuel system: Premier FIA FT3, 41-litre volume tank
- Wheels: OZ Racing alloy, front 8×13”, rear 10×13”
- Dimensions: Length 4,510mm. Height 980mm. Wheelbase 2,753mm
- Weight: 635kg
- Safety features: FIA F4 homologated carbon fibre composite front and rear crashboxes, FIA homologated Halo system, anti-intrusion front and side panels, FIA homologated rear central and rear wing endplate lights, OMP six-point safety harness, electrically-activated OMP ultralight extinguishing system with control box, FIA homologated ADR system, FIA F4 homologated steering column, FIA F3 homologated roll hoop, FIA homologated Cortex wheel tethers, removable head protection, removable seat according to FIA standards
Notes: written with information from a range of sources including:
- Global Sportscar Magazine
- and the car constructors, KCMG.