The Power of F1 Engines Explained

Formula 1 cars on display

The roaring of Formula 1 cars gliding across the tarmac at great speeds is one of the most iconic sounds in all sport. These instantly recognisable machines are famous for setting the standard in motorsport for that thing all racing fans love – pure, breakneck speed. However, what sets them apart is the meticulous detail that goes into every part of the vehicle’s creation, with teams pitting their best minds against each other to create the perfect machine.

While all teams have to adhere to strict rules concerning what they can and cannot do in the name of speed, the engines that are being created for these vehicles are incredible feats of modern engineering. Here, we take a look at just some of the details that go into making Formula 1 engines so powerful.

 

An engine inside an old Formula One vehicle

Eco-Friendly Regulations for F1 Engines

As mentioned previously, engine manufacturers have always had to build their perfect machines within specific confines set out by the governing body. The current engine ‘cycle’ begun in 2014 and saw considerable changes regarding fuel consumption, reliability and efficiency. Under increased pressure from commercial partners and certain sections of the public, especially regarding exhaust emissions being a major source of pollution, the engines were changed from 2.4 litre V8s down to 1.6 litre V6 turbos, while a string of other race-related measures were brought in which, at first, limited the potential power that could be achieved.

 

The Combustion of F1 Engines

While the basic idea of a 1.6 litre V6 turbo is not particularly remarkable, the exact nature of the engines used in Formula 1 cars is the pinnacle of the form. The smart use of heat in motorsports in always essential, which is why many racing units use additions such as exhaust tape to help retain it. As with any combustion engine, though, much of this machine’s quality lies in how it burns the fuel to produce power. The technology behind internal combustion engines (ICE) is nothing new – the technology was invented before the 1860s – however, every care is taken to make sure the combustion in modern F1 engines is as efficient and powerful as possible.

The critical component in ICE is, obviously, the quality and quantity of air that can interact with the fuel. Formula 1 has set the standard for this, creating a more complete fuel-air mixture that produces a cleaner, more powerful combustion while using less fuel than previous F1 engine models. This is supported by a state-of-the-art combustion method, where the ignition happens in a dedicated chamber as opposed to directly inside the engine. By lighting a small percentage of the fuel source first, F1 units create a 'flame jet' that allows the rest of the fuel to ignite much quicker than in conventional road engines.

While the revs-per-minute (rpm) that can be achieved by these engines is capped at 15,000, less than previously allowed, additional technologies are now being produced which are seeing F1 engines return to their pre-regulation bests.

 

The side of a Formula One car

Supporting Units in F1 Cars

For F1 vehicles to reach their top speeds, however, further units in the vehicle work in harmony with the engine. The most important of these is the kinetic energy recovery system, otherwise known as MGU-K or KERS. Put simply, KERS is a motor-generator than stores power that would be lost under certain motions, such as braking, in a battery before turning it back out as power.

Another unit, known as MGU-H, performs a very similar function to MGU-K but instead focuses on the heat energy created by the engine, working in unison with the central power unit to both help it deliver performance and aid it with a boost of its own.

These two added units, combined with the technical expertise of the core engine, combine to create around 900bhp in modern F1 cars, and that number continues to increase. Many people are now expecting to see the first F1 hybrid car to achieve over 1,000bhp before the next engine cycle, anticipated to begin in 2021.

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