The history of engines in F1 is fascinating, though requires an in-depth piece to do it justice. During the first 2 years of Formula 1, the regulations were incredibly simple. Capacity was set at a maximum of 1500 cc for engines with a compressor/supercharger/turbo or at 4500 cc for normally aspirated engines.
There was no weight limit and alcohol based fuels were allowed until 1958.
During 1952 and 1953 the drivers’ championship was run under F2 engine regulations (750 cc plus compression or 2000 cc for normally aspirated engines), but the Formula One regulations remained unchanged, and numerous non-championship Formula One races were held during this period.
1950 Tipo 275 Ferrari engine. 12 cylinders, 300 BHP 7500 RPM
Over time, the regulations drove engine development in a variety of directions however in recent times the objective of the regulators was to reduce the power and ever-increasing speed of F1 cars.
Those new to F1, will hear older fans at times ramble on about the puny modern F1 engines compared to the beasts of yesteryear. In terms of out and out horse power, the most powerful normally aspirated F1 race engine to be built was probably the BMW P83 for the 2003 season. It was a 3000 cc V10 and had an impressive 19,200 rpm, delivering more than 900 bhp whilst weighing less than 91 kg.
2006 saw the end of the V10 era and the birth of the current V8 F1 engines.
The engines had to be 90° V8 design of 2.4 litres maximum capacity and a minimum weight of 95kg. The idea was to reduce the power output by around 20% from the levels delivered by the previous V10 3 litre engines, though in actuality the cars’ performance appeared to improve fairly quickly.
Cost reduction was now on the agenda. During the years of Ferrari dominance, the budgets of certain F1 teams had been estimated to be spiraling towards $1,000,000,000 a year and engines were being disposed of after 200km of practice and qualifying.
The design of the new V8’s was restricted such that the crankcase and cylinder block must only consist of cast or wrought aluminium alloys. The crankshaft and camshafts had to be made from an iron alloy, the pistons from an aluminium alloy and the valves from alloys of iron, nickel, cobalt or titanium.
The engineers were further restricted as pre-cooling air before it enters the cylinders, injection of any substance other than air and fuel into the cylinders, variable-geometry intake and exhaust systems together with variable valve timing were all forbidden. Each cylinder could have only one fuel injector and and a single plug ignition system – all in the pursuit of simplification and cost reduction.
In 2007 engine design was frozen and were capped to at first to 19,000 rpm and then from 2009 onwards this was reduced to 18,000 rpm and the maximum engines per driver per season was set at 8. Reliability became far more important and by the end of 2009, there was a marked improvement in this area.
Following the design ‘freeze’, the FIA allowed engine manufacturers to request permission to modify their power trains to improve reliability. It is widely believed that certain manufacturers, such as Ferrari and Mercedes, exploited this opportunity to also deliver incremental power output.
By the end of 2008 there was a significant performance differential between certain F1 engines so the FIA ruled that Renault, which had been left behind, would be allowed to retune its engine to bring it up to the level of the others.
The same complaint was made in the autumn of 2009 and the FIA was petitioned again to allow ‘engine re-equalisation’. Christian Horner told Austosport in Monza, “The FIA has all the information they can see where the differences are on, I don’t think it is a coincidence that you have three Mercedes-powered teams that dominated six out of the top seven places in qualifying and looked dominant again here in the race today”.
This time the FIA responded by telling the teams to sort it out themselves, but it could only be on the basis of the best engine being detuned. Mercedes were very unhappy with this and there was some scepticism about the whether the Renault was actually down on power as Red Bull ended up with 6 race wins that year.
After extensive discussions ended up without agreement, the FIA ruled that the engines were to stay as they were with no re-tuning. Red Bull and Renault went on to win both titles the following year.
Over the next couple of seasons, Renault became the master of mapping their engines to deliver hot exhaust gases to exactly where and when Newey wanted them to improve the sealing of the diffuser which provided extra down force.
The Red Bull car design has profited from this for 3 seasons being able to run their cars with a higher ‘rake’ than the rest – in effect making the whole car a wing delivering efficient down force with an efficient drag co-efficient.
Interestingly, it has come to light today that since the ‘engine freeze’ in 2007, only 5% of the Renault engine components are as per that design – and it is likely similar substantive changes have been made to the Ferrari and Mercedes engines too.
There is a similar planned ‘freeze’ for the new V6 Turbo’s by the FIA.
So we are at the end of another engine era in F1. The V8’s will race for one more time in Brazil this weekend and then be pensioned off as coffee tables for the rich and famous.
Following their clean sweep of the podium in Austin, Remi Tafin of Renault Sport said, “Renault has now won the V8 era. That’s the 51st win for the RS27 and the 59th for the [Renault] V8 – a record we can be proud of and hope to extend as the season draws to a close next week in Interlagos.”
Despite their regular complaints about Ferrari and Mercedes, it is the French engine manufacturer who came top of the V8 engine manufacturers. 59 wins from 146 races – so far.