Brought to you by tj13 contributor James Parker of GrandPrixMerchandise
Welcome everyone to the final instalment of the TheJudge13’s mini-series discussing the Formula 1’s turbocharger era. In the first two episodes we covered both the drivers and the tyres, exploring the differences between the turbocharger era in the eighties and the one that is about to grace us starting in 2014.
So, on to the final episode then. Today we will be talking about the brutal, fire-spitting beasts themselves – the fearsome turbocharged monsters that created an iconic generation in the sport’s history – so, let’s begin.
Turbochargers in Formula 1 took some time to really catch on. But when it did, it was a gargantuan explosion leading to the point where a separate championship was needed for normally aspirated cars on the grid – the Jim Clark Trophy in 1987. So, where did it all start?
In 1977, there was a clause in the FIA regulations which stated that engines, for normally aspirated cars, must have a 3L capacity, or 1.5L of forced induction in the form of a turbocharger or even a supercharger (much like the BRM V16 of the fifties).
At the time, Renault had just entered Formula 1 under a Renault subsidiary, and with their first car – the RS01 – decided to be the first manufacturer to flirt with turbocharged engines. Relying on their lead designer André de Cortanze to build the RS01 as a “test car”, and lead driver Jean-Pierre Jabouille for developing it, they were hoping for great things.
The engine was made from cast iron, in order to withstand the increased forces in a turbocharged unit. This, however, made the car very heavy and cumbersome, which in turn made it difficult to drive, but with 580bhp on tap from the twin turbo layout, the potential was there.
The team rapidly develop the idea all through 1978 however initial reliability problems led to a running joke in the paddock. The cars were nicknamed “yellow teapots” by rival teams, due to the car’s tendency during a race to erupt in a cloud of smoke, little success was expected.
This all changed in 1979, when Renault released their new car, the RS10, part way through the season and won in Dijon in quite dominant fashion. Combined with a potent ground-effect chassis, the big power gained by turbochargers allowed Renault to show the world just what it was capable of, and left the likes of Brabham, Ferrari, and McLaren scrambling to develop their own turbocharger programmes. The Cosworth DFV was close to being obsolete.
By 1984, the inevitable happened and the technology race for more power led to incredible results. After Renault and Brabham had dominated the championship in 1983 with their turbocharged cars, the path was clear – F1 had uncovered a new evil.
Porsche, racing under the TAG name, Ferrari, and Honda all stayed true to the philosophy that Renault had pioneered in 1977, sticking with 1.5L V6 twin turbo engines, and by 1984/1985 outputs varied from 800bhp to 900bhp in race trim. In qualifying trim, when boost pressure in the turbo could be turned up to eleven the power could reach up to 1100bhp!
Boost pressures differed from engine to engine, with most of them not going above 3.2 bar in race trim or 4.5 bar in qualifying trim. Fuel for these beasts was made up of a mixture of 86% toluene and 14% n-heptane in order to meet sporting regulation requirements.
However, one manufacturer was to go one step further to create an engine that has since grabbed the fans’ fascination with the period. Unlike other manufacturers, BMW opted to produce a 1.5L inline-4 engine. The iron block was based on a standard, production M10 unit, and each one was bought new and then left out exposed to the “elements” for a year, to become weathered and to naturally strengthen it to withstand the forces sustained during the combustion process.
Featuring a high compression ratio of 7.5:1, and with a hugely potent KKK Garret single turbocharger attached to it, the M12/13 Formula 1 unit was to become the most powerful Formula 1 engine in history. By 1986, strapped into the back of the Brabham BT55 at an 18-degree angle, BMW were pushing almost 5.5 bars in Qualifying trim, corresponding to around 1350-1400hp. Reliability issues and the Brabham’s relatively unsuccessful chassis restricted its success in Formula 1.
It was an engine that made Gerhard Berger, driver of the 1986 Benetton car that featured a variant of the BMW M12/13 unit state:
“Forget anything after, the 1986 Turbo cars really were rockets, and to handle them I really think you had to be a man”
By 1987, the FIA had banned Qualifying tyres, and had mandated the use of a pop-off valve that limited boost pressure to only four bar under any circumstances, thus limiting power to around 1000bhp. Coupled with a fuel limit of 195 liters during a race, introduced in 1986, meant boost pressure had to be very carefully managed.
At that point in time, the FIA did not perceive turbo Formula 1 cars as a particularly good thing, and proceeded in 1989 by banning them. Their reasoning was that the cars were getting far too fast.
It led to 1988 being a “last hurrah” for turbocharged cars, with boost pressure severely limited to 2.5 bar, or around 680-700hp. It was a season dominated by the iconic McLaren MP4/4, the only true, fully integrated turbocharged car on the grid, winning 15 of the 16 races it competed in.
Even at 2.5 bar it was significantly more powerful than any normally aspirated engine.
So, here we are, only eight months away from being reunited with our old friend the turbocharger, and a brand new era in Formula 1. How exactly will the new 2014 turbo engine cars stack up against the monsters from the eighties?
The new 1.6 litre V6 single-turbo units, limited to 15,000rpm, will not only have 3000 revs less than the V8 engines this season, but the exhaust note will be distinctly deeper. Although the wail of the V10 era and Ferrari’s V12s have passed, and are somewhat missed by many purist fans, these new turbo beasts, will not let us down in the noise department.
Advancements to turbo technology during the past ten years will see many new features that will be applied once the regulations have been changed, next season.
For the first time in Formula 1, the engines will all feature direct injection, which will be capped to around 500 bar. This will allow engines to become more fuel efficient through the rate at which the fuel is used within the engine itself. This could see engines becoming as much as 35% more efficient.
Maximum power will be still capped at around 750bhp. The way this will be achieved is by using a fuel flow controller on every engine, which is supplied to each team and will directly interact with McLaren’s standard-issue ECU system.
This will limit the fuel-to-air ratio when combustion is achieved, and therefore the amount of power available to drivers. In fact, the fuel flow becomes linear once 10,500 rpm has been achieved. This will give all engineers a major headache as to how they can unlock a higher peak power between 10,500 rpm and 15,000 rpm when the fuel flow becomes linear.
This differs from the previous turbo cars, where power was completely controlled by the boost pressure available from the turbo (ranging from 3.4 bar to 5.5 bar).
The KERS system used on the 2013 season spec cars will become much more important once the regulations’ change takes effect.
The energy recovery systems will be set to double in effectiveness, providing up to 120kW of additional power to the rear wheels. Not only will hybrid technology be used to produce extra power for the drivers to utilise, as seen this season, but a motor generator will be also attached to the turbo shaft within the engine.
This in turn will spool up the compressor connected to the turbo, and therefore eradicate the famous turbo lag that has long been associated with turbocharged engines. Excess energy from the turbo can then also be used in conjunction with the KERS device, which gives us the ERS (Energy Recovery System), which means that in 2014 a total of 33 seconds of boost is available to drivers over the course of a lap.
I expect the biggest headache for engine manufacturers during the initial six to twelve months, once the new units come into service in 2014, to be the fuel flow above 10,500rpm.
The FIA has stated that they do not plan to “freeze” engine development on the V6 turbo units until 2018, leaving a fairly large scope for manufacturers to develop the engines.
If one of the “big three” in the sport can unlock extra potential from the engine from the point above 10,500 rpm, where the fuel flow becomes linear and thus create more peak power, the gains are there for the taking. Therefore, we may see one manufacturer dominate the sport during the first year or two until the others can catch-up.
Those playing catch-up will face a challenge to get their units up to the required power prior to the engine development freeze in 2018 or face being known as the least powerful engine in Formula 1.
We simply cannot compare the two turbo eras in Formula 1. During the first one, regulations were open to interpretation to a much greater extent than today. Teams pushed each other to the limit, especially in 1986, which eventually led to the decline of turbocharger technology in Formula 1.
In 2014, the sport will enter a totally new, alien era where advancements in turbocharger technology mean that we can take almost nothing from the 1980’s. This, however, does not mean that, when looking back to the first time Formula 1 flirted with turbo units, the same basic principles do not apply. Especially with respect to the tyres (see episode 2), turbo engines will always have the same underlying characteristics.
This final article concludes our miniseries, which was set to explore the history of turbocharger technology in Formula 1. I hope you enjoyed the journey as much as I did.
The 2014 season is certainly set to make its own unique mark in the history of the sport – I am very excited … are you!?