Recent news articles (like this one) have touted the announcement that some Formula One teams are working on hybrid gasoline/electric cars for the 2009 season. Indeed this is true. The rulebook has been modified to allow electric motors to be added to F1 cars. Some have hailed this as "fuel-saving" technology for these extreme vehicles.
Everybody Wants to Be Green
The key is that hybrid technology will not be used to increase fuel efficiency but to boost power temporarily, for example for passing. The additional weight of motors and batteries can be absorbed because F1 cars typically weigh less than the rule minimum, and carry ballast meet the required weight. This change may make F1 more interesting. In effect it gives cars a "turbo" or "nitro" button for bursts of speed, but not higher horsepower for the whole race. This will introduce a new element of race tactics. But it is unlikely to create technological breakthroughs that will benefit the rest of us. The real challenge for hybrid vehicles is to reduce battery weight and cost, and increase battery lifetimes. This is not likely to be an issue in a sport where cars get three miles to the gallon and go through dozens of tires in every race.
Will NASCAR Be Next?
We can only hope. Maybe then hybrids would gain broader appeal and get Detroit's attention.