Have you ever wondered how long an F1 engine can last? Thankfully, today they last a lot longer than they did in the ’80s, ’90s, and even 2000s. Today, as per several rule changes that allow for three engines (known as Power Units) to be used throughout a season, an F1 engine is designed to last much longer than their predecessors.
If we take the 2000’s as an example, a driver would use one highly-tuned engine specifically for qualifying, then another for the race, then use brand new engines for the next round – although the engine performance was majestical this was highly unsustainable.
On the other hand, if we look back to the engineering of the 80’s and 90’s, we would often have races with only a handful of finishers, due to such high numbers of drivers retiring from races with reliability issues.
The rule changes, coupled with improvements in reliability, has seen many armchair experts complaining that F1 is boring. While ‘boring’ is highly subjective, most agree that overall Formula 1 is better served when costs are reduced and more cars finish races.
The complexity of the hybrid system power-unit also adds to the complexity of answering the question of how long an F1 engine lasts.
The Formula 1 Power Unit
The power unit is split into four parts:
1) The MGU-K (Motor Generator Unit – Kinetic – recovers energy from the rear axle)
2) The turbo
3) The Internal Combustion engine
4) The MGU-H (Motor Generator Unit – Heat – recovers energy from the turbo)
Drivers are allowed to use three of each of the above four parts during the season. If they use more, they then become subject to grid penalties. Conservation of these parts is why during races we’ll hear of engines being ‘turned down,’ much to the chagrin of those who prefer to watch races where drivers push the cars to the limit – then beyond.
The most recent rule changes for F1 engines were introduced for the 2014 season, when engines were changed from the high-pitched screaming 2.4 litre V8 to a vacuum-cleaner sounding 1.6 litre V6 turbo, which were not popular on their debut at Albert Park in Melbourne.
The new regulations included multiple Energy Recovery Systems and fuel flow restrictions to entice more commercial partners to the sport, however, the changes alienated fans as the MGU-H and MGU-K hybrid units produced a much different engine noise than their predecessors.
With complaints from the fans growing louder than the engines, turbo wastegates were introduced in an attempt to bring the more familiar buzz back to being trackside.
Although the power output of the engines was reduced, the introduction of energy recovery systems (known as KERS) saw a boost of 160hp and two megajoules per lap. KERS has since been renamed Motor Generator Unit – Heat, and heat energy recovery systems have been permitted, and are known as Motor Generator Unit – Heat.
The 2015 season saw an improvement on the 2014 engines, with most manufacturers adding an extra 30-50hp. Mercedes had the most powerful engine, producing 870hp (649kW).
The changes that we will see to Formula 1 engines from 2022 were originally slated for the 2021 season, however, they were postponed for one year owing to the Coronavirus crisis.
The changes have been a work in progress since 2017, and have involved all key stakeholders as well as input from drivers such as 6-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton.
The next generation of engines will retain the 1.6L V6 configuration, however, there have been multiple changes made to simplify the design, cut costs, and encourage new manufacturers into the sport.
Most drastically, the 2022 Formula 1 engines will see the removal of the Motor Generator Unit–Heat (MGU-H) system. To counter this, the Motor Generator Unit–Kinetic (MGU-K) will be more powerful, and will rely more on driver deployment and can be used more strategically throughout a race by the driver.
F1 teams are essentially allowed three Power Units throughout the season, as a rule change for 2020 meant each team could have one additional MGU-K, bringing the total to three, which matched the three Turbo Charger, Internal Combustion Engine, and MGU-H components that were already allowed.
This was brought into place as during the 2019 Formula 1 season nine out of 20 drivers went over the MGU-K limit, receiving substantial grid penalties as a result.
With only three F1 engines allowed for the season, each one needs to last for seven races if a driver is to avoid grid penalties for going over their allocation (there are 22 races on the calendar, but three doesn’t divide into 22 evenly, so it is really 7.33 races).
Not only do the engines need to be used across the 22 races, they must also make it through the three practice sessions and qualifying as well.
Article 23.3 (a) of the 2018 FIA sporting regulations states: “…each driver may use no more than three engines (ICE); three motor generator units-heat (MGU-H); three turbochargers (TC); two energy stores (ES); two control electronics (CE) and three motor generator units-kinetic (MGU-K) during a championship season.”
Until the end of the 2017 season engines were required to last five races, or four per driver. The change to three power units lasting seven races from the start of the 2018 season posed serious challenges to engineers, but was brought in to reduce overall costs for ‘customer teams’ purchasing power units from the likes of Ferrari and Mercedes.
An F1 car idles at 5000 RPM, with the 1.6-litre V6 engine topping out at 15,000RPM in the present version. While 15,000 RPM is the legal limit, most cars rarely exceed 12,000 RPM during a race due to fuel flow restrictions, and the importance of conserving power units throughout the season to avoid grid penalties.
Previously, the 2.4 litre V8’s used from 2007 to 2013 had a revolution limit of 18-19,000 RPM.
Prior to that, when engines were a V10 or V12 (or V8 in 2006) the revolution limit was unrestricted.
Race distance in Formula 1 is defined as the smallest number of completed laps that exceeds 305 kilometres (with the exception of the Monaco Grand Prix at 260km).
An F1 engine needs to last seven races, so seven races at 305 kilometres each equals 2135 kilometres, which when converted means an F1 engine lasts about 1326 miles.
However, we still need to take into account the miles driven in free practice and qualifying!
As each driver will complete a different number of laps in free practice and qualifying due to varying factors (such as technical problems during practice or being knocked out of qualifying early) it is impossible to ascertain an exact number of miles a Formula 1 engine will last, but we can see it is north of 1326 miles per the above calculation.
Before rules were introduced to reduce spending on engines, and teams could use a new engine for every race, one power unit would last on average a tiny 250 miles only! 250 miles is 402 kilometres, and as mentioned before, race distance is 305 kilometres…
The Benetton B186 was the most powerful F1 car ever built, and could produce an astonishing 1350+ hp in qualifying spec, and 900 hp in race spec.
Built by the Benetton F1 team for the 1986 Formula 1 season, the Benetton B186 was the first car constructed by the Benetton team, who had bought out the Toleman F1 team at the conclusion of the 1985 season.
The car used the BMW M12/13 engine and despite such high power, only experienced moderate success in 1986 with Gerhard Berger and Teo Fabi behind the wheel, achieving one race win at the 1986 Mexico Grand Prix, two pole positions, and three fastest laps.
Teams are often cagey about how much budget they spend in development, however, we know the cost of an F1 engine is between $7-8 million USD.
Until now, spending has been uncapped, with giants Ferrari and Mercedes spending in excess of $400 million USD on their 2018 cars.
In comparison Williams, the last true ‘privateer’ on the grid, spent approximately $150 million USD which explains some of the gulf between the front and back of the grid (poor decision making at Williams notwithstanding).
From 2021 teams will be limited to spending $145 million USD, and you can be sure they will maximise every cent in the quest for the marginal gains needed to win a championship.
The figure per 2021 was initially set at $175 million USD, with further reductions coming through in following years, however, in response to the coronavirus crisis, the amount was lowered by $30 million to help teams already struggling due to the loss of finances caused by the pandemic.
Formula One cars currently use a 1.6 litre four-stroke turbocharged V6 engine, and have done since 2014 (although they have been modified over subsequent years).
The engine is known as a short-stroke engine because to operate at the high speeds they do (F1 cars regularly travel at 310 km/h) the stroke must be short to avoid engine failure caused by the connecting rod, which at these speeds is placed under enormous stress.
A large bore is needed due to the short stroke I order to reach the 1.6-litre displacement, resulting in a less efficient combustion stroke when the revs are low.
While the engine of an F1 car may be smaller than that of a road car, it is able to generate more power due to the extremely high rotational speed of up to 15,000 RPM, considerably higher than a road car which usually stays below 6000 RPM.
Until the mid-80’s metal valve springs were used to close the valves, so engines were limited to 12,000 RPM. Renault then created pneumatic valve springs which lowered power loss. As a result, all manufacturers have used pneumatic valve springs since the 90’s, which has meant engines have been capable of hitting a high of 20,000 RPM.
At the end of each season, the engines are first refurbished and used in demo cars. Each team has a demonstration team, Red Bull Racing being the most famous, who travel around to roadshows and events such as the Goodwood Festival of Speed to bring F1 to more people than would normally be able to get o close, and to wow crowds.
Often the engines used for such events will be V8’s, as the intention is to put on a show that also gets people talking and reminiscing.
For these demonstrations, if it is a current F1 team, they would use an old chassis and also put the current livery on it to first keep sponsors happy.
Some F1 cars are sold to collectors who use them at track days, while others go into museums.
Much has been made of the debate between fans of Indy and F1 as to which s the fastest, ‘best’, and most exciting.
F1 is known as the pinnacle of motorsport around the world, but Indy has a much bigger following than F1 in the USA owing to its prioritisation of having a more equal playing field, which often leads to different race winners throughout a season.
IndyCar has a higher top speed than Formula One, topping out around 235 mph (378km/h), which is 30 mph more than a Formula 1 cars top speed of 205 mph (329km/h). As IndyCars often race on ovals, less downforce is needed than in Formula 1, who prioritise downforce and cornering speeds to race on tighter circuits.
On the Utah salt flats, Honda was able to tune an engine to reach 397km/h in straight-line speed, as downforce and cornering was not a consideration for their attempt.
Although an IndyCar is faster in a straight line than a Formula 1 car, this does not give them an overall speed advantage, as an F1 car is able to accelerate much faster and lose less time in the corners.
Circuit of the Americas is used for the United States Grand Prix, and in 2019 IndyCar raced there for the first time, which meant a more accurate comparison between the two racing classes could be made.
In IndyCar, Australian Will Power took pole in 1m46.017s.
When Formula 1 hit COTA later that year, Valtteri Bottas set the pole lap in 1m32.029s – a time which would see the Finn some 14 seconds faster than Power.
Simply put – yes.
It also has to be said it is a little like comparing apples and oranges.
In 2019 Renault said their engine hit 1000 horsepower, and estimates suggest Ferrari and Mercedes touched that magical engine mark as well. An F1 car weighs 1615 pounds (740kg) and 176 pounds (80kg) is made up of the driver and seat weight.
On the other hand, a Nascar weighs 3400 pounds (1542kg) and has 850 horsepower.
An F1 car can go from 0-60mph in around 1.8 seconds, whereas a Nascar takes three seconds.
Ferrari has a long tradition in Formula 1, and have the trophies and fans to back up their claims to being the best team in the history of Formula 1.
In the 2020 season, Scuderia Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, and Haas will all be using the Ferrari engine.
Second to Ferrari in terms of prestige, Mercedes have a long history in Formula One and are the first team ever to win six consecutive Constructors and Drivers Championships, doing so from 2014 to 2019. Ferrari also won six consecutive Constructors Championships from 1999 to 2004, but the Drivers Championship of 1999 was won by Mika Hakkinen with a Mercedes engine in the back of his McLaren.
In 2020 Mercedes, Racing Point, and Williams will be powered by the Mercedes engine.
Currently, only two teams use a Honda engine, Red Bull Racing, and their sister team AlphaTauri.
In 2020 the factory Renault team will use their Renault engine, with their only client being McLaren. Ironically the two teams fought for the ‘best of the rest’ title in 2019, and will likely do so again in 2020.
With the two teams locked in a battle for fourth in the Constructors Championship, the relationship frayed in 2019, and McLaren later announced that they will switch to a Mercedes engine from 2021 in a bid to rekindle their championship-winning ways of the 1990s.