Let’s get one thing straight out of the bat. An engine is the most important component of any car. Without it you are just stuck on the side of the road. The same fundamentals apply to F1 cars. In F1 however there are other components as well which help a team win the races. An engine alone is a crucial component but not the only factor which helps the team to vanquish its opponent. The aerodynamics of the car, which includes the front and rear wings, side pods, the under trays where the air flows, even the side view mirrors are designed in a way that it helps channeling air to the important areas of the car, so as to reduce drag or resistance and help the car achieve faster speeds. This however is a topic for another discussion. Here we are going to talk about the evolutions of F1 engines from the inception of the sport itself in 1950 to the modern days design and innovations of the current engines.
1950-1953: The era saw Formula 1 teams use a 4.5L atmospheric and 1.5L supercharged engines capable of producing power up to 445hp.
1954-1960: The power of the engines was reduced to 290hp. No team ran a supercharger in their engines and the capacity of the naturally aspirated engine was reduced to 2.5L from 4.5L of the previous regulations.
1961-1965: The power of the engine was reduced even further to a maximum of 225hp and the engine capacity was reduced to 1.5L. But there were gains made in improving the efficiency of the engine and by the end of 1965 cars achieved much higher performance and speeds compared to the car of the 1960 which had a bigger engine.
1966-1979: It became apparent that the Formula 1 cars were now falling behind the sports cars in terms of achieving out-right speed, the FIA allowed the increase in the power of engines. The new engines were 3.0L naturally aspirated and 1.5L compressed. The changes however were not appreciated by every team and some resorted to running engines with specifications of 2.0L naturally aspirated and 1.5L compressed.
1980-1986: The regulations remained the same but by the end of 1970s teams started to experiment with turbochargers in their cars and Renault manufactured and introduced a turbo charged engine in an F1 car in 1977. It wasn’t until 1980 when the Renault’s turbocharged engine showed other engine manufacturers that this was the way forward. Shortly afterwards in 1981 Ferrari introduced its own version of turbocharged engine. BMW designed turbocharged inline-4 engines for Braham team which was under the ownership of former F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone. In 1983 Alfa Romeo made a turbocharged V8 engine. Keeping up with the trend Honda and Porsche introduced twin turbocharged V6’s and by the end of 1985 each team in Formula 1 was running a turbocharged engine car.
1987-1988: The seasons were dominated by the turbo engine cars. The top three teams at the time, McLaren, Ferrari and Williams, were all running turbocharged engines. In 1987 cars running Honda engine won 11 out of 16 races and in 1988 McLaren won 15 out of 16 races running the 640hp turbocharged Honda V6 engine in their car as well. Teams like Lola, Tyrrell, AGS, and March who were running naturally aspirated V8s didn’t find much success. Ferrari was also running a turbocharged V6 which had 650hp in qualifying trim. The naturally aspirated engines attained the maximum power of 640hp. This was a 640hp BMW M12/13 run by Arrows. Ford produced a 620hp 3.8L V8 for Benetton. The smaller teams were running a 590hp Ford engine.
1989-1994: Turbo-Chargers were banned during this era and the cars were powered by a naturally aspirated 3.5L V10. McLaren powered by Honda engines dominated the seasons from 1989-91. The Honda engine achieved the maximum horse powers in these years with the figures of 675hp. 690hp and 710hp respectively. Behind them was Renault powered car of Williams which had 650hp in 1989 and 700hp in 1991. Ferrari’s engine was powerful than Renault in 1989 with 660hp and 710hp in 1991. Their car however was the third best in these seasons. Other engine suppliers during these years were Lamborghini, Ford, Yamaha and Judd. Honda departed from the sport in 1992. After their departure Renault powered cars had the most success in the next two seasons and Williams won the 1992 and 1993 drivers and constructors championship In 1994 Michael Schumacher won the 1994 driver’s championship driving Ford powered Benetton. This was the last season where Ford Powered cars won races in an F1 season. From there on Ford Powered cars lacked performance to beat the front runners and they left the sport after few years.
1995-2005: Turbo-Chargers remained banned and the engine displacement was reduced to 3.0L. Renault powered cars again dominated the first three years. Michael Schumacher won his second WDC with Benetton who ditched the Ford engines and switched to Renault. Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve won the 96 and 97 WDC with Williams winning the Constructors title. Both years Renault engine powered the WilliamsF1 car. For 1998-99 seasons Mercedes-Benz engines made their return to the top of the grid. Mika Hakkinen won the driver’s title in 1998-99 and McLaren won the constructors in 1998. Mercedes engine was more powerful compared to their rivals. Ferrari however decided to go for a different approach. They switched from V12s to V10s which meant they lost to the Mercedes Powered cars in out-right speed but their reliability was lot better compared to their rivals. From 2000 onwards till 2004, thanks to their research and development in V10 engines, Ferrari saw their cars dominating the sport. Michael Schumacher, who switched from Benetton to Ferrari in 1996, won all 5 drivers title during that era and Ferrari cars with their superior engines won the Constructors title. By ensuring reliability of their engines at the beginning Ferrari switched their focus to increase their power and from the year 2000 beyond their cars were not short of either power or reliability. Ferrari’s closest competitors at that time were Mercedes engine which was run by McLaren. But reliability issues and inferior car design meant that they weren’t able to challenge them for either title at that time. 2004 title winning Ferrari had an engine with 900hp, which equaled the performance level achieved by Renault and Toyota. BMW returned to the sport in 2000 and started supplying engines to WilliamsF1 team. Initially their engines were very reliable but were short of power. However as the era progressed they increased the performance of their engines in terms of raw power and in 2005 they had the most powerful engine which produced 950hp behind Honda which had a 975hp engine. Mercedes had 930hp engine which was powerful than Ferrari and Renault but poor reliability of the McLaren car resulted in them not winning any titles despite having a fast car.
2006-2013: TheFIAmandated that all Formula 1 cars will run the same engine displacement. The displacement size was also reduced from 3.0L V10 to 90° 2.4L V8. The revs were also limited for the first time to 19000 rpm. From 2006-2010 Formula 1 witnessed different constructors winning the title with three different engines. Renault won the 2006 driver and constructor title. Ferrari won it in 2007 however this was the year in which McLaren had the most points in constructors with Mercedes engine but they were disqualified from the standings due to the spy-gate scandal in which they tried to acquire the performance secrets of Ferrari. 2008 Lewis Hamilton won the drivers title with the Mercedes powered McLaren but Ferrari managed to win the constructors title. 2009 saw the introduction of a new technology, the KERS (Kinetic Energy Restoration System). The KERS allowed cars to harvest the energy dissipated during the braking and managed to convert that kinetic energy into electrical energy which was stored in a battery. That electrical energy was used to gain more horse-power on the straights. Not all teams however run that system. Brawn GP, the former HondaF1 team, bought by ex-Ferrari team Principal Ross Brawn, managed to win the 2009 drivers and constructors title with a Mercedes Engine. Their superior car design allowed them to lap faster by a good margin compared to top teams like McLaren and Ferrari who were the entrants running the KERS system. That year also saw the emergence of RedBull running the Renault engine as a front runner. The KERS system remained in the sport till 2013 which saw all the teams running it. The RedBull, thanks to their superior chassis designed by Aerodynamicist Adrian Newey, won 4 constructor titles with Renualt engine from 2010-2013. Sebastian Vettel won the driver’s title in that time. From 2010-2013 cars had regular power of 700-800hp. There were only 4 engine suppliers in 2013, Mercedes, Ferrari, Renault and Cosworth who returned to sport in 2010.
2014-Present day: 2014 saw the F1 saying goodbye to naturally aspirated engines for good. The displacement size reduced from 2.4L V8 to 1.6L V6. Turbo-Chargers made their return to the sport and F1 decided to go green with the introduction of hybrid engines. There were separate components specified which worked in unison to provide the car with its outright power. The revs were limited to 15000rpm from 18000rpm which were the specifications in 2010-2013 years. Cosworth decided not to build these new hybrid engines and left the sport. This is the era which Mercedes has dominated. They have won every constructors title from 2014 till now and Lewis Hamilton has won 5 drivers title with Rosberg win one in 2016. Honda made return to the sport in 2015 after leaving F1 in 2008. They spent three miserable years with McLaren with an underpowered and severely unreliable engine. McLaren saw their worst years in F1 and didn’t manage to place their car on podium which proved to be one of their longest draughts of not winning any trophy. In 2018 Honda switched to Toro Rosso and McLaren attained services of Renault. As it turned out it wasn’t entirely Honda’s fault that McLaren underperformed in those three seasons and it was their car not being aerodynamically strong which was highlighted when they switched to Renault. RedBull decided to ditch Renault engines after criticizing them constantly for providing them with an underpowered engine compared to Mercedes and Ferrari and decided to try their luck with Honda in 2019. They had one year to ponder over this future switch as they saw the performance of their sister team, Toro Rosso, and decided that Honda has enough potential to help them win another title. RedBull won 3 races in 2019 with Honda engine. The current engines are said to produce power as high as 1000hp.
The present day F1 engine regulations state that the cars will run a ‘Power Units’ consisting of an ICE (Internal Combustion Engine), MGU-K (Motor Generator Unit-Kinetic), MGU-H (Motor Generator Unit-Heat) and Turbocharger. The MGU-K and MGU-H are part of the ERS (Energy Recovery System). How these components exactly work and what their roles are in an F1 car are stated below:
ICE (Internal Combustion Engine): The new regulations meant that the naturally aspirated engines were no longer to be made and instead the new engine consisted of 1.6L Turbo-Charged V6. These engines though still very powerful didn’t create much spectacle in terms of how less noise they make. Fans have been vocal about their disappointment in this regard and have been demanding to see the return of V8s or V10s because the noise they make certainly created a sense of joy when everybody heard it. These engines have been on the quieter side but the top speeds have remained pretty much the same. In fact cars have been going faster around the circuits beating lap records. That is however not only due to ICE but also to the other components of the Power Unit.
MGU-K (Motor Generator Unit-Kinetic): The Kinetic unit works similarly like the old KERS. The heat dissipated during the braking is recovered by the unit which is stored in a battery motor connected to the petrol engine. When the driver presses the ERS button this energy is used to provide extra horse-power to the car which then helps the car at the long straights to gain speed and reduce lap times. Whenever the driver is not pressing the ERS button for energy deployment, he is harvesting that energy in the kinetic unit. These days the MGU-K unit alone provides a car with 160hp and if the driver loses this part during the race then he is at a severe disadvantage.
MGU-H (Motor Generator Unit-Heat): This was a new complicated system in which the heat generated by the exhaust is directed towards a small turbine. This turbine spins using that heat which in turns produces electricity which is stored in a battery. This electrical charge is also used to power the car and give it more horsepower.
Turbo-Charger: Turbo-Charger is a component designed to inject more air into the internal combustion engine. The air injected helps the engine achieve higher performance and efficiency which in turn helps the car to go faster. The exhaust gases exhumed by the cars are directed towards turbo-charges which has a compressor that compresses the air towards the engine. This helps the ICE to have more air to burn the fuel when it naturally doesn’t have sufficient air itself which happens in slow corners of the race track.Number of Components Allowed: In the 2020 F1 season cars are allowed to run each of three Power-Unit components for the whole season. This means that each team can change their components three times during the course of the season. These components include the ICE, MGU-K and MGU-H. However the Energy Stores which primarily include the batteries and the Control Electronics which is used to control the power of the MGUs and transfer it to the battery are limited to two each. This step was taken by the FIA to help reduce the costs for lower order teams and to allow them to invest their money on other parts of the car. The other intention was to stop the big teams from gaining advantage who can afford to run fresher parts every race.
At the moment there are four engine suppliers in F1. No other entry is to be expected anytime soon. There are ideas floating around that Audi or Porsche may be interested to enter the F1 arena in the capacity of engine suppliers. These are however just rumors. Currently the engine suppliers are Mercedes who have dominated the hybrid era of F1, Ferrari who are proving to be the second best team behind Mercedes but certainly doesn’t have enough to eclipse them. The next supplier is Renault which hasn’t managed to fare much better in the hybrid era and have played second fiddle to Ferrari and Mercedes. Honda is the fourth team which made a return to the sport with McLaren in 2015 but switched to supplying RedBull and Toro Rosso in 2019. How much Mercedes has dominated in this time period comes down to their very reliable fast engine and the fact that they have proven to be most powerful of all the four suppliers. In the table below is the comparison between performance and the result of the four engine suppliers. The horse-power figures are not completely accurate because this is a closely guarded secret among the teams and no team has given the exact figure of how much horse power they are actually running. The data of horse power was provided by Auto Motors und Sports who used GPS data to determine the power displacement of all the F1 cars.
|Engine Suppliers||Horse-Power (2017 figures)||Only V6 engine||Races Win (2014-2019)||Constructors Win (2014-2019)||Drivers Title Win|
FIA is poised to implement new regulations in 2021. The engine regulations are also subjected to some changes in which the complicated MGU-H system is expected to be scraped and the MGU-K system is to be made more powerful. The engine displacement size will remain at 1.6L V6 configuration. To address the criticism directed at the complexities of building these engines, the engine design is to be simplified. This would also help in cutting costs and promote new entries into the sport who have reservation of being F1 complicated and expensive to get right at the first try. There is also a proposal made by FIA in which the manufacturers are asked to design a standard set of components which can be compatible with the components made by other teams. For now the hybrid era will remain in F1 and if the words of the FIA officials are anything to go by, we will see F1 try to become more environmentally friendly than they currently are.