Red Mist: Will we see 2-stroke Formula 1 engines in the future?

Formula 1 may well be locked and loaded in anticipation of its all-new rules package next year, but the sport is already also well advanced on the stunning project of grand prix cars powered by sensational new eco-fuelled two-stroke engines in its next step towards a far cleaner carbon-neutral future.

A bold and thrilling proposal, the new plan plots to see F1 out-green Formula E, while still using internal combustion engines that will scream sweeter than even those incredible V10s of a decade or so ago.

Completely contrary to old wive’s tales of rattly, smoky old two-stroke being dirty, earth devouring savages confined to outboard boat engines, chainsaws, go-karts, small motorcycles and lawnmowers, it now appears that even MotoGP is eyeing a return to tomorrow’s eco-friendlier two-strokes as motorsport, in general, seeks to make an equitable way forward amid all that fear-of-death carbon lies and hysteria.

Tomorrow’s Formula 1 Screamers

“I’m very keen to see us going two-stroke,” Formula 1 chief technical officer Pat Symonds revealed while speaking to the recent Motorsport Industry Association’s energy-efficient conference. “Two strokes are far more efficient and they even make a great noise from the exhaust. “A lot of the problems previously associated with old school two-strokes are also simply no longer relevant either.”

Speculation suggests that these new engines will remain hybridised and will also be synthetically-fuelled with longer-term ideas to even combine hydrogen with carbon captured from the air to create surplus green energy. The concept goes further to suggest that e-fuelled aircraft may one day even transport F1 cars and equipment to faraway grands prix, to significantly slash the sport’s carbon footprint.

“Our commitment to continue with the current engines until 2025 gives us ample time to be sure that the next step is a really good one,” Symonds pointed out.

“The next F1 power unit may well be the last one we do with liquid hydrocarbons, but there’s a fair chance that there may still be an internal combustion engine beyond that — plausibly even running on hydrogen. “

“The internal combustion engine has far longer future than the politicians realise because they are hanging everything on electric vehicles, but there are many good reasons why electric vehicles are not the solution for everyone.

“There is a huge amount of research going into two-stroke engines, which are better-known for their smoky and noisy performance in lawnmowers, rather than their potential at the pinnacle of motorsport. It is however reasonably obvious that if you are going to pump that piston up and down, you might as well get work out of it every time the piston comes down rather than every other time the piston comes down.

“The opposed piston (two-stroke) engine is very much coming back and already delivers significantly superior 50 per cent efficiency in road car form. Add modern direct injection, pressure charging and new ignition systems, and new forms of two-stroke engines will be very efficient and very emission-friendly — I think there’s a good future for them,” Symonds added.

Symonds now plans to set up a working group to develop the next generation Formula 1 engine specification in a similar manner to which the forthcoming 2021 chassis rules were drawn up in collaboration with the teams and engine builders in an effort to contain costs.

This will happen in tandem with the development of a synthetic fuel tailored to deliver an optimum blend of hydrocarbons to allow for a higher compression ratio and much improved thermal efficiency to ensure ultimate efficiency, performance and particulate emissions, already commencing with the current engine.

Fuelling a Cleaner Future

Delving a little deeper into the background of this development, it is clear that Formula 1 has Formula E in its crosshairs. Highly controversial, the pioneering electric formula fails to meet many of its goals at several levels, not least of all the need to move a full grid of cars, generators and the rest around the world, never mind all those battery shortcomings and more.

Did I say Formula E generators? Indeed I did. They use two monster Cummins internal combustion generators to charge up all those gargantuan Scalextric race cars, but there’s a twist — and a most interesting one at that.

Those generators are fuelled by apparently far more carbon-efficient glycerine to allegedly make them burn squeaky clean and this is where that gets interesting enough to ask why not just fire internal combustion-engined cars with such a clean fuel, rather than batteries and all their foibles, and just get on with it?

First the facts — glycerine is a by-product of diesel production that must be worked pretty hard to power an adapted diesel engine. They say glycerine burns far cleaner, but how much cleaner remains a moot point.

It is a challenge to readily find research that effectively quantifies those lower emissions claims, let alone how much carbon a litre of the stuff produces per kilometre or per hour the engine runs versus diesel or petrol. Misguided Formula E stories even claim those generators to be emissions-free, that they certainly are not, they merely emit less and still nobody can tell us how much less

All of which makes for interesting reading in the light of Formula 1’s newfound commitment to much greener synthetic fuels — they may not prove to be glycerine in the end, but like that refinery by-product, these newfangled manmade fuels will hopefully deliver far significantly improved emissions as Formula 1 hopefully leads the world into a brand new internal combustion era…

The Future Two-Stroke Story

Moving on, the tenet of a two-stroke as a future engine is nothing new and as Pat Symonds suggests, there exist myriad bench tests, theories and ideas to this end, but there is one in particular two-stroke I have been following for years now and lo and behold, it is and engine being developed by a former Formula 1 driver…

Former multiple South African saloon car champion Basil van Rooyen also raced a few seasons in the local Formula 1 championship in the likes of a Cooper T79 Climax and a McLaren M7A Cosworth back in the day, when he also raced the 1968 and ’69 South African Grands Prix, alas retiring from both.

I have known Basil for my entire life — my Dad was his teammate in his 1960s factory Superformance Alfa Romeo production race team and we have remained in contact even since he emigrated to Australia in the early 1980s.

Basil remains a dreamer — his ideas allegedly made his McLaren faster than Bruce drove it before he took it over and he was instrumental in the development of many an incredible race car the likes of the ‘Little Chev’ Firenza V8 — a re-badged Vauxhall he developed as a limited-run homologation special for the road before destroying all-comers in the little monster on track and also the incredible turbo Ferrari Dino V6-powered Fiat 131-inspired SA Manufacturer’s Challenge ‘silhouette’ racer.

Nothing has changed and Basil has since released his creative spirit on his future two-stroke dream. In short, Basil’s patented and proven Crankcase-Independent Two-Stroke (CITS)engine provides the basis for a superior future petrol, LPG or synthetic fuel engine that can produce anything from under 50 to in excess of 1500 kilowatts, at a substantially lighter, smaller, smoother, and lower cost per kilowatt.

CITS also eliminates the traditional need to burn two-stroke oil, never mind the exhaust emissions drawbacks around the smoke that made.

Instead, CITS uses recirculated sump-lubrication like a four-stroke, but then surprisingly adds a raft of significant technical advances, each of which adds to that well-acknowledged superior two-stroke efficiency.

The CITS concept has long been independently and successfully tested and proven in both single and more sophisticated water-cooled V-twin cylinder indirect fuel-injected prototype formats, earning van Rooyen nomination for Society of Automotive Engineering excellence awards.

The most efficient CITS two-stroke packs in the likes of a three times the regular primary or de-compression-ratio, thermally sound pistons in a 60% closer bore-axis for a reduced imbalanced-force rocking-moment and smoother-running; upper-cylinder lubrication, a By-Pass valve to efficiently eliminate throttle and pumping-losses for improved cylinder deactivation and a self–driven inlet valve to eliminate conventional reed valve airflow-resistance.

Van Rooyen sees the CITS as a far stronger candidate for future mobility than an electric vehicle for many good reasons including e-car range-anxiety, battery weight and the complications brought by battery manufacture and disposal, but he also sees CITS as an ideal solution as an electric car’s range-extender petrol engine.

Basil makes no bones that the direct fuel-injected two-stroke has long dominated the outboard motor market due to its superior economy, power-to-weight ratio and lower cost per kilowatt, not to mention low maintenance and that his CITS now eliminates total-loss-lubrication among many additional unique attributes that are set to thrust the two-stroke back to its former glory to satisfy every vehicular power need.

Basil’s take on 2-stroke Formula 1

Basil did not realise that F1 is considering two-stroke power as a future prospect at the time I contacted him to pick his brain on the subject and he was quite taken aback by it: “Wow — I can’t believe what you are telling me!” he admitted.

“I only read this news when you referred me to it and I am delighted by it — it is so important that Formula 1 cars should always reflect the engineering of the cars we drive…

“This is to me the big moment for my engine and I am amazed that Formula 1 has been so courageous to suggest it — even with no knowledge of my clean two-stroke engine!

“I have already approached Pat Symonds and sent him the synopsis on my engine and await a reply on tenterhooks — please take the time to read it all — like me, I hope that it might help you understand this Formula 1 move, as well as CITS, but please remember to say it KITS, not SITS!”

The discussion then moved on to electric motor racing, where Basil concurred with my abject lack of excitement for such prospects as he made no bones about the shortcomings of battery-powered cars: “Electric racing and road cars make no sense right now — as long as global electricity is over 50% fossil-fuelled, the carbon footprint will show little gain over current internal combustion vehicles.

Discussing the prospect of alternate fuels, Basil sees glycerine’s scant commercial availability and high cost as major hurdles. “As an effort to show the public its green interest, I think it would be feeble at best as the 22 races a year for 20 cars are simply not an issue,” he reckons.

“As Pat Symonds suggests, there are several interesting breakthroughs in synthetic fuels that would prove far better alternatives for a greener F1, but that is also some years in the future.

“Hydrogen used with cells on board for EV’s would also be too quiet for Formula 1 and it would lose its appeal as I am sure we shall soon see with Formula E. “Hydrogen takes masses of electricity to separate and then to compress at every level of distribution, even in the vehicle, which will need expensive pressurised tanks, so it is not even an ICE contender in the foreseeable future.”

Bring it on!

So the you have it — Formula 1 planning to lead the automotive world down a clean, fresh new composite-fuelled lean-burning two-stroke internal combustion path and that is probably the best motoring news I have heard in a decade.

Not only does that pardon us the grim sentence of that a future that allegedly only promises soulless, silent everyday motoring, but it also promises Formula 1’s stunning return to its screaming halcyon glory with who knows, 25,000rpm V12s chanting a mechanical symphony you would dare ever forget, all while at the same time slashing those evil particulate emissions to the absolute minimum and contributing to truly global harmonious future — bring it on!