Formula 1 is the fastest, most advanced motorsport in the world, where teams with hundreds of millions of dollars to spend each year on designing and manufacturing the ultimate race car – within the rules, that is.
The engine inside an F1 is like nothing you’d find on the road. Even the latest hypercar is basic in comparison to the extremely strict tolerances, the rarity of materials, and the complexity of engineering processes needed to craft such an incredible engine.
It is incredibly expensive and complex it is to produce an F1 engine that meets the requirements of the FIA’s technical regulations is reflected in the lack of engine suppliers.
There’s much more to the engine race than what appears at surface level; for instance, Formula 1 claims the current-gen F1 engine is the ‘world’s most efficient engine’ – but will you believe that when it’s used to power one of the fastest race cars on the planet?
Powering 2022’s F1 Cars
Current F1 cars are powered by hybrid-turbocharged 1.6l V6 engines, churning out well over 1,000 horsepower with internal combustion and electric power combined.
Today’s F1 cars produce their power in a variety of ways, with six areas that make up the performance package: Internal Combustion Engine (ICE), Turbocharger (TC), Motor Generator Unit-Kinetic (MGU-K), Motor Generator Unit-Heat (MGU-H), Energy Store (ES) and Control Electronics (CE).
By collecting energy that would otherwise be lost, it can be used for another purpose with the intention of keeping the kinetic energy that would otherwise be lost and reusing it for another purpose.
A telltale sign that a driver is harvesting energy is the presence of red blinking light on the rear of the car. Whenever the light is absent, the driver deploys the 160hp of electric power, either to attack or defend against other drivers.
Formula 1 Engine Suppliers
As of 2022, there are four engine suppliers – Ferrari, Mercedes, Renault, and Honda. Each engine is quite different in design and possesses unique power and torque characteristics, as well as how they fuse the hybrid power elements into the performance package.
Teams have ongoing deals with engine suppliers that might last for a period of time, allowing teams the opportunity to change engine suppliers when the contract is over. In the past, we’ve seen Red Bull switch from Renault engines to Honda engines, and Williams switches from Renault to Mercedes power.
Factors including budget and other relationships may allow a team to secure a deal with an engine supplier that is preferred over the current engine. For example, Ferrari starts a new season with a batch of their newest engines, whereas a team that shares Ferrari engines would most likely be using last year’s Ferrari engines in their new car.
Technical Rules and Regulations
Formula 1 is a highly technical sport, with strict rules and regulations that govern every aspect of the competition, from sporting rules to technical specifications; each detail is explained in the documents published by the official governing body for F1, the FIA.
As you can imagine, the rules and regulations for a sport like F1 are multi-faceted, occupying hundreds of pages that make for a tedious read.
The teams rigorously study these rules and regulations to not only understand the parameters in which they can create a car but also to identify potential loopholes and grey areas that might gift their drivers with a fraction of a section per lap off their usual time.
Since the switch to hybrid engines in 2014, F1 teams have been limited to using just three engines per car for the whole season. With a total of 22 races on the 2022 race calendar, each engine has to last for roughly seven races – meaning drivers have to consider the longevity of the engine from one race to the next.
When F1 made the leap from 2.4l naturally-aspirated V8 engines to 1.6l hybrid-turbocharged V6 engines in 2014, the rules no longer recognized the engine as 1 part of the car. The new changes specified each system related to power generation or energy recovery was to be treated separately, all with their own restrictions on usage for the duration of the season.
F1 Car Efficiency
The thermal efficiency of fuel is often how the efficiency of a car is measured, relating to the percentage of energy in the fuel that is used to create power and that which is lost as thermal energy.
F1 cars seem to have been hit harder than roadgoing cars by the global outcry to lower greenhouse gases and save the planet by ‘going electric.’ The odd part is the average road car internal-combustion car today is only about 20% efficient, with hybrid cars around 40% efficient.
In comparison, F1 cars were already rated 29% efficient at the end of the 2.4l V8-era back in 2013. As it stands, Formula 1 claims the efficiency of 2022’s cars is rated at slightly higher than 50%, rising from 40% just six years ago.
To make Formula 1 cars more efficient (ideally making road cars more efficient further down the line), a loosening of the rules and regulations surrounding engine design must take place. Considering the use of new fuel sources could also help find cleaner, more efficient ways to power vehicles.
After exploring the various ways F1 engines have changed over the last decade alone, it seems the arrival of hybrid power will most likely be here to stay.
With several auto manufacturers across the world already in agreement to cease the production of internal combustion-powered vehicles from 2030, it could only be a matter of time until another dramatic rule change swoops in to level the playing field once more.
Let’s hope that whether the future of F1 lies in electric or hydrogen power, the thrilling presence of such beautiful internal combustion engines will always remain, and the hair-raising sound of Formula 1 won’t be reduced to an airy whoosh instead.
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