Audi set up a discussion at Le Mans on the future of motorsport between Head of Audi Motorsport Dr Wolfgang Ullrich (left), Head of Design Wolfgang Egger (right) and Michael Splett of Audi Strategic Corporate Planning (centre).
The wide-ranging discussion took in electric car racing, whether quiet race cars are a good or bad thing, the styling opportunities available on F1 cars and how much technology is transferred from racing to the road. It's an interesting discussion, reproduced here in full.
Will there be alternatives to petrol and diesel engines in the future in motorsport? Could you imagine races with electric vehicles?
Dr Ullrich: There are already races for electric vehicles. This will become increasingly pertinent in the future. I am, however, convinced that the combustion engine will at least be present at the pinnacle of motorsport in forthcoming years - probably in association with intelligent recovery systems. For example, in the form of reusing stored braking energy. In motorsport everybody is developing such systems at the moment.
When are these systems ready for use?
Dr Ullrich: Such systems add additional weight to the car - and weight is one of the greatest handicap factors in motorsport. The goal must be to work on systems that do not make the car overweight. I'm convinced that we'll see systems in a few years that are more efficient as a whole than pure drive through a combustion engine.
When will this be the case?
Dr Ullrich: Motorsport is brutal: only the best system prevails. As long as the overall efficiency of new systems is inferior then the pure combustion engine will be better placed - unless the regulations are used to steer specifically in another direction. The question is whether this is objective and if the new systems should be given and individual touch to start, that they need support to be competitive.
Splett: We've generated scenarios of how the automobile landscape could look in 2020. With regards to technology we see two developments that are relevant for motorsport: the diversification of energy sources and electrification.
Will new materials also be used in years to come?
Dr Ullrich: Obviously there is also continuous development in material technologies. I believe, however, that for lightweight construction in motorsport fibre-reinforced composite will remain the most important material as it is now. In general, motorsport is often a driver for materials with future potential, although we must be careful that these materials don't make the price per component too extreme - otherwise they would not be relevant for future use in production. This has always been a very important factor for Audi.
Will carbon fibre make the production line?
Dr Ullrich: In production car manu facturing we use an optimized amount of the correct material in the right place. This is the basic principle of intelligent hybrid design and a requirement for Audi's ultra-lightweight design and construction. We will also introduce fiber-reinforced plastics into high-volume production in compliance with this procedure.
Can the experience gained in motorsport help?
Dr Ullrich: To a certain extent, yes. In motorsport the material only interests us if we can exploit it to 100 per cent. For this reason there is currently a broad range of development directions in the processing of fiber-reinforced plastics for production relevant applications and motorsport use. Obviously there is cross-pollination between these two. A great deal of work is being invested in an industrialized version of fiber-reinforced plastics since it could be a very important material for the automobile industry of the future. Weight is becoming increasingly important. It is one of the most crucial factors for consumption, emissions and performance. A light car with high stiffness, exceptional handling dynamics and quite obviously passive safety exceeding legal requirements are the goals towards which we work irrespective of whether it is for motorsport or production.
Splett: We assume that the subject "driving experience," as Dr Ullrich mentioned, will always play a role through the subject lightweight design and construction/driving dynamics. Fun and leisure time concepts will be just as in demand as user aligned urban transport concepts.
What would designers like from future regulations or racing formulas?
Egger: A racing car's design is determined by function and technology. It is mainly defined by the aerodynamicists. Our philosophy is that the design is not defining, but must try to represent the character of our brand in the areas where we have influence. In design we rather adopt and adapt ideas from the race cars for road cars. Some of the most beautiful cars of all time emerged when an authentic style element from motorsport was rendered into the design - logically and plausibly without becoming a caricature. It's also possible to learn an enormous amount from handling materials and to develop stylistic elements from this.
Where does the transfer actually occur?
Egger: We adopt details like small additional winglets for example. With racing cars they are aerodynamic applications; with production cars they are not necessarily functional, but they create the connection between racing and production. I still see a lot of scope in the future in lightweight design and construction and with functional parts. In the past a great many innovations came from motorsport into production and this transfer will also continue to gear fruit in the future.
What impetus can you give to racing cars?
Egger: Quite honestly with a prototype like the R18 TDI we can only look to the motorsport technicians with respect.
Dr Ullrich: For designers it's a very difficult task to produce something on an existing form. We always start by trying to create a good aerodynamic basis. Even so the design shapes the overall pictures - for example through the headlights and rear light clusters.
Egger: That's a good catchword. Lights can be used to communicate a specific brand. A Le Mans prototype also allows more scope than a Formula 1 car for example.
Splett: This raises the general question for what purpose are we involved in motorsport. Do we want to highlight efficiency? If this is the case then a sport prototype is certainly more suitable than Formula 1, which has more show character. Record attempts could also be revived again through new technologies. With jumps in technology we always saw record attempts at the beginning followed by competition. Efficiency is an outstanding feature of our products. We should steer racing competition more actively in this direction.
Racing series like Formula 1 or the DTM are extremely strictly regulated. Could it be a way with sport prototypes, which already allow plenty of scope, to go liberally to work with few guidelines?
Dr Ullrich: This is under discussion. One way of course would be to say that you are provided with a certain amount of energy with which you must complete the 24 hours as quickly as possible. The more open and liberal it is the greater, however, are the resources that must be used. The danger then exists that nobody participates because it quite simply costs too much money. This serves no purpose whatsoever.
What would Audi like then for the future?
Dr Ullrich: We are currently at a very difficult decision-making stage. Problems could arise at large motorsport events if you run cars with very different alternative energy sources. We already see how difficult it is to reconcile diesel, premium and E85 gasoline at Le Mans. It won't be any easier when new fuels like hydrogen or gas are added - whereby our parent company already demonstrates that you can race competitively with gas. Obviously you can say: you are provided with this or that much energy. But you have to be able to compare the amounts of energy - and also the storage capacity.
Egger: It can get very interesting for design with the different drive systems and requirements arising. It would be a challenge for us to help shape and develop this. New forms and details would certainly arise, which will in turn help us to develop new forms.
Dr Ullrich: For example, if I come to the point of using the vehicle surface to produce electricity. I could imagine the combination: combustion engine exploiting exhaust gas energy, electric through surface and brake energy - something like this will come. The big challenge is to package it in a car that is still efficient.
Splett: The trend is inevitable. The new forms of energy are on their way, but slowly. The complexity will continue to increase, also in racing. The choice of drive system is of great strategic significance. Although you must of course keep an eye on the costs.
Egger: The vehicle surface is a good example of how technology can change design. Up to now an autonomous electric vehicle had solar panels on the roof, which you had to integrate in the surface. Paints have already been developed that produce electricity, which means they can be applied to any shape. Technology moves ahead. Frequently our task is to provoke technology, to drive engineering through our visions - concept cars for example.
How would a concept car look for a pure electric powered race car?
Egger: It would certainly be interesting ...
Dr Ullrich: It depends very much on how the regulations look. Cars powered by an electric motor don't necessarily have to look different. We'll always try to build aerodynamically highly efficient bodywork. The type of motor that powers it is secondary to begin. Regardless of what the power source is, even with an electric component from a battery you just run for longer if the car is efficient.
Could you imagine a pure electric powered race car on a typical race track or would the sound be missed?
Dr Ullrich: Even today there are already many discussions about our efficient diesel engines not sounding like typical race cars because they are so quiet. At the moment it sets us apart. Just as long as there are others that are loud we make a lasting impression. Just as and when all are so quiet than maybe you'll have to think again. You can generate noise with relatively little energy input. A race car doesn't have to be loud, but must be present in some form or other; otherwise nobody will look at it anymore.
Egger: It's about emotion and noise is a part of emotion.
Dr Ullrich: What we currently do is being accepted: an efficient car is, as a whole, not loud, after all noise is energy. When something loud comes out the back it's a sign that I didn't use the energy correctly.
Splett: I also see opportunities here. Today, one or the other race track is not built because residents would complain continuously. We already have electric drives in motocross and in karting. This represents an opportunity to bring motorsport back to population centers. In the future it'll be even more important that motorsport is environmentally compatible and that fans are not frowned upon if they visit a motorsport event because resources are squandered there.
Will motorsport also help to open new markets in the future?
Splett: Currently the automobile industry is shifting very strongly towards Asia. But it will also swing back towards the USA and South America at some time. The automobile industry will encompass the entire world. For me this means that motorsport must also become more global. Being present in a European club is insufficient. Motorsport will also become more global through new media. You have to get out into the markets. This will also determine the form: more off-road for the emerging countries, race track or record attempts for countries pursuing efficiency.
How will Audi Sport look in the future? Will there be a central control room, which is networked with the race tracks?
Dr Ullrich: Something like this is already included in the new building that Audi Sport plans. The people from the most important areas sit in the control room on race weekends. They have access at any time to the development data. Being linked with the race track they can provide support. It must, however, be clear that everything has its limits somewhere. Even now the volume of data transmitted wirelessly at the race track is so enormous that problems occur. In principle it is under consideration and is relevant for the series.
What relevance does a racing driver have in the future?
Splett: That's a very good question. At Audi we are already in the process of developing autonomous driving. An Audi TT has already driven autonomously up the Pikes Peak in this way. However, how do spectators cope with this? The subject "connect" is also very intriguing: Will race cars communicate with one another in the future to avoid accidents? And, can the fan share the data streams? For a young spectator this is much more important because he knows this from everyday life. It'll be very intriguing to see just how we bring these worlds together in competition.
Egger: For me as a designer the human being is the focus of attention. Therefore it's sport. You also need heroes in the mix.
Dr Ullrich: In my opinion it'll be extremely difficult to continue describing something like this as sport if the human factor is non-existent.
Egger: The fascination will disappear, technology alone is not enough.
Splett: Motorsport is an element of the sport industry but also the automobile industry. We have to keep both in mind. In the next 15, 20 years great changes will occur in the automobile sector. Sport also evolves permanently. What will the public want in the future? In Germany we've already witnessed a great change in the sports which are of interest. Basketball was still unknown 30 years ago; today it's the top sport among kids.
The number of spectators attending motorsport events is decreasing slightly...
Dr Ullrich: There is now a much broader range of leisure activities. It's not growing just ten or 20 per cent annually, it's quite literally exploding. You have to take new routes otherwise things will decline. There are so many competitors being used and lived by young people.
Does motorsport compete with itself due to the large number of similar racing series'?
Dr Ullrich: In this respect we are positioned quite well at Audi. There are not so many sport prototype classes, apart from possibly GrandAm in America. The DTM has a certain unique selling point, but is nevertheless "only" one of many touring car series' - even though it is one of the best. Currently Formula racing is the most diluted. Over the last few years so many categories have sprung up everywhere that they rob each other of cars. It's really very sad when the Formula 3 Euro Series, from which almost half the Formula 1 grid originates, drives around with just 12 cars. There is simply just too much competition. Also, it won't take long before the first single-seater series arrives with electric power.
Will the trend swing more towards endurance racing or more to show, sprint races, maybe even electric cars in a stadium venue?
Dr Ullrich: I think both things will always exist because they are after all very different. Perhaps the more mediocre versions will eliminate themselves. For the youth of today there are so many things that exude fascination. You have to work purposely so that today's youth take motorsport to heart once again.
Isn't the same valid for the automobile as a whole?
Egger: The fascination automobile must be cultivated. This is where designers are also in demand. This is why sports cars are also of special importance for value of the brand, which is charged emotionally as a result. The joy of speed, at speed, on dominating technology will remain in the human being. We won't let this be taken off us. This is what we represent as brand.
Splett: Like motorsport there is also an increasing amount of competition in the automobile sector. The competition is now the better residential area in the city, the more frequent holidays, to meet friends, or the latest MacBook. The question is how we spend the euro. One trend is that youths would rather be online and occupied with the iPad than driving. The big challenge is to connect these two worlds. In this case I think about video games, PlayStation etc. It'll gain a completely different facet. In the future perhaps fans can race virtually in the competition on a video screen in the comfort of their own homes.