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It’s time F1 coverage showed electrical energy usage

If we can have those awful tyre graphics, then focus needs to place on energy recovery systems

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If you watched some of the post-race interviews in Bahrain, you might have heard Lando Norris talking about his battery usage when discussing his battle with Charles Leclerc.

“I made him [Leclerc] use quite a bit of his battery,” the McLaren driver told Sky Sports F1. “I think I did quite a good job of regenning mine.”

The intense battle for the win between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen also saw energy deployment become a key factor.

The Brit was regularly harvesting electrical energy (charging the battery) on the corners before Bahrain’s long straights – as indicated by the red flashing light on the back of his car – to keep him ahead of the Red Bull.

F1 made the move 1.6-litre V6 engines back in 2014, and complex heat and kinetic energy recovery systems became standard throughout the grid.

Like KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System), which proceeded these power units, cars can store typically wasted thermal and kinetic energy, and store this as electrical energy – increasing the horsepower output of the engines.

This stored electrical energy can be deployed at the drivers’ choosing around the lap, with drivers often choosing to harvest the energy during a braking phase to attack or defend along the following straight – hence why you see the red-light flashing going into certain corners on race day.

It’s far more complicated and tedious than this very simplified explanation, but if you really care, here’s a useful video by Mercedes explaining the fundamentals.

Energy recovery systems have become a fundamental part of modern-day F1, but it’s something that fans get little information about.

In recent years, F1 graphics have improved momentously – almost becoming too insightful. They emphasise several pieces of relevant data during an on-track battle including gears, steering, speed, throttle and brake traces and DRS usage.

Newer graphics even predict how likely an overtake will be, and when it may happen – as well as the very unpopular tyre graphics.

But despite all this telemetry, there is no display of electrical energy.

During a battle, the harvested energy can play a crucial role in the likelihoods of an overtake. Drivers often speak about how they attempt to save their own electrical power, while forcing others to use theirs – it’s a fascinating aspect of the strategical and psychological warfare that unfolds on track.

Yet fans are robbed of this. Knowledge of how much battery power is available to a driver adds a whole new dynamic to the viewing experience, and provides the audience with a deeper understanding of what is happening during the heat of battle.

KERS deployment was helpfully displayed when it was in the sport, with a useful battery graphic – so it’s difficult to see why F1 couldn’t reintroduce this for the modern energy recovery systems.

The argument against this is that too much information could be given away to fans. If this happens, then the unpredictability of the sport is lost, with computer-generated data showing what will occur before it eventually takes place.

Explaining the new tyre performance graphics seen on TV | Formula 1®
F1 graphics – particularly the tyre performance displays – have come under heavy criticism in recent seasons, for providing too much information

There’s also the issue of accuracy. With the teams using differing power units, and no two engines being the exact same, it could be difficult to concisely portray the state of a driver’s energy recovery system– especially if suppliers wish to keep key information surrounding their products concealed.

But compared to recent graphics, including the overtaking predictions and pitstop battles, showing electrical deployment is far from intrusive on the viewing experience. It adds a new dimension for the viewer, creating understanding and insight.

In an era where television coverage is becoming dominated by data, surely the next step is to show fans how drivers are using their batteries, to enhance the viewing experience.

 

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