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More rows over electric in F1 as Toyota go for record

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More rows over electric in F1 as Toyota go for record
Aug 5, 2011, 10:52 AM

The battles over the greening of F1 continue, with Bernie Ecclestone again casting himself in the role of the roadblock.

The battles over the greening of F1 continue, with Bernie Ecclestone again casting himself in the role of the roadblock. This time he has said that the concept of F1 cars running on electric only in the pit lane - one of the new regulations for 2014 approved by the World Motor Sport Council - is not right for the sport and he will personally see to it that it doesn't happen.

“Formula One is absolutely not the right place to have electric engines. It’s like having ballet dancers with sneakers. More comfortable, but it doesn’t work,” F1's 80 year old CEO told the Express.

“There’s no way that it will be electric in the pit lane. People could be killed because they won’t hear the cars coming.”

At the same time we have Toyota announcing that they are going to have a crack at the lap record of the Nurburgring in an Electric Vehicle. Currently it stands at 9min 1.338secs and Toyota say that they have comfortably beaten that already in informal testing.

The 100% electric car is a two seater with a top speed of 260km/h and a 0-100km/h figure of 3.9 seconds. It comes out of the Toyota Motorsport Headquarters in Cologne, Germany, where the F1 team was based until its withdrawal from the sport at the end of 2009.

This goes back to an interview I did in April with FIA president Jean Todt, where he discussed launching an EV racing series with backing from the EU.

It's an indication of the interest in promoting EVs among Europe’s politicians, that they want to spread the word about the technology and project a fun image for it. And so they’ve approached the FIA to get them to organise an EV racing series. The idea would be to leverage F1’s powerful media platform globally. Toyota say they want to prove that 'green thinking motorsport', as they put it, can get fans excited and generate emotions, as racing has done for a century. And as racing has been the test bed for motoring innovations throughout history, so it is today with this project.

My hunch is that this exercise has nothing to do with Toyota wanting to come back to F1, but instead is a prelude to them offering to supply that FIA series. This will be quite a breakthrough for the profile of EVs. There are other manufacturers interested in supplying this series, I'm learning and seeing Toyota make this move could encourage more. It feels to me like the start of something.

So how to square this circle? Will we end up with a compromise whereby F1 eschews electric gimmickry in return for the FIA's EV series getting to leverage F1's global platform and bask in the media glow?

At the heart of this is the battle between Eccestone and Todt which has escalated since the Frenchman replaced Max Mosley as FIA president. He was Ecclestone and Mosley's favoured candidate, but he's had his own agenda in office and it's led to some serious friction.

Todt is determined to use his time at the FIA not only to modernise F1 and move it in a greener direction, but also to get more media value for FIA projects from F1's global platform. His recent use of prominent banners around the F1 paddock advertising the FIA's "Make Roads Safe" campaign is a case in point. All the F1 cars carry the message now too.

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Series Formula 1
Tags innovation