The long-term economic, political and sporting success of Formula One is dependent upon finding a joint solution to the following conundrum:
Develop a set of technical and sporting regulations which both enables the sport to be environmentally friendly, and enables cars of similar performance levels to overtake each other in dry conditions.
The current proposal on the table is to re-introduce Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS), thereby enabling the manufacturers to claim that Formula One is assisting the development of their hybrid road-car technology, and also providing drivers with a power-boost of 100bhp or so, deployable for a limited period each lap, to facilitate overtaking.
Unfortunately, if the entire field possess KERS, it is difficult to see how its deployment could be controlled to permit overtaking. Even with an extra 100bhp on tap, it is unlikely that most circuits would acquire additional overtaking spots, and the car in front would therefore simply push the KERS button in the same places as the car behind.
Perhaps, however, there's another solution, and one which goes to the root of the problem: aerodynamics. Whilst downforce is often blamed for the lack of overtaking in Formula One, it is not downforce itself which is the problem, but the turbulent wake created by the downforce-producing devices on a car. Such turbulence severely reduces the downforce created by a following car, thereby precluding the possibility of overtaking in dry conditions. If it proves impossible to legislate against downforce-producing devices, the solution is surely to smooth out the turbulent wake created by such appendages. And, crucially, the energy removed from a turbulent wake can be converted into electrical energy.
For example, a research group from City College of New York demonstrated last year that energy could be removed from both a turbulent wake and a turbulent boundary layer, and converted by piezoelectrics into a voltage. "These devices open the possibility to continuously scavenge otherwise wasted energy from the environment," claimed Yiannis Andreopoulos.
One presumes that the amount of recycled energy would be less than that recovered by KERS, but from the viewpoint of improving the quality of the racing in Formula One, the harvesting of turbulent energy is potentially the most important development to date.