Insider’s Guide: The Rules Of The F1 Engine

Formula 1 is at the cutting edge of engine technology and its latest powerhouse is one of the most complex in the sport to date.

In fact, today’s engines are so complicated that they have to go through a pre-start routine involving laptops, remote operations, and a bunch of smart engineers before they can be fired.

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What is in an F1 power unit?

First of all, a modern F1 engine isn’t called that anymore, it’s called a “power unit” – and that’s because it’s a hybrid. It consists of a gasoline internal combustion engine and electric motors powered by an energy recovery system. (ERS).

When introduced in 2014, they were criticized for their lack of noise compared to the popular V8 and V10 monsters of the past, but they are some of the most powerful and efficient powertrains in Grand Prix history. .

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16, Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes F1 W11, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W11, Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35, Alex Albon, Red Bull Racing RB16 and the rest of the field at the start

Photo By: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

How many horsepower does an F1 power unit produce?

The total power of the combined gasoline and electric elements is about 1,000 hp, which is significantly higher than that of a normal road car. The gasoline engine runs at 15,000 rpm – again, significantly more than a road car.

All of this means that an F1 car can go 0-60 mph in about 2.6 seconds and hit around 230 mph, depending on how much drag it is performing. When BAR (which via Honda and Brawn GP eventually became Mercedes) stripped its car of as much drag as possible, it hit 246.9 mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats in 2006.

What type of gasoline engine does the powertrain use?

The engine is a 1.6-liter four-stroke turbo V6. It is designed according to a strict set of dimensions and material limitations, with the cylinders arranged in a 90-degree “V” configuration and two intake and exhaust valves per cylinder.

The turbocharger works by using a compressor to charge the engine under pressure. It is driven by the air flow from the car’s exhaust gases, through a turbine connected to the outlet system.

For those who understand engines, the compression ratio of each cylinder should not be more than 18, the fuel pressure in the injectors is 500 barG or less, and the mass fuel flow should not exceed 100 kg / h, decreasing at low speed.

This mass flow of fuel is essential, because it essentially means that the amount of gasoline entering the engine is limited, limiting the rpm and the power that can be produced and encouraging teams to design more efficient engines.

F1 fuel sign

F1 fuel sign

Photo By: Andrew Hone / Motorsport Images

What fuel do I need?

Cars use fuel made from compounds normally found in commercial fuels, without specific chemicals to increase horsepower. Today, a minimum of 10 percent of fuel must include advanced and sustainable ethanol.

Cars would consume around 135 liters of fuel during a race, which would be a third less than with older thirstier V8s.

What is the energy recovery system (ERS) used for?

The ERS takes energy from the exhaust and brakes and converts it into electricity to directly power electric motors or to be stored in a battery for later use as a further power boost.

The MGU-K (Motor Generator Unit – Kinetic) is an electric motor connected to the engine crankshaft. In regenerative mode, it works as a generator, slowing the car down through “engine braking” (reducing the use of conventional brakes) and producing electricity to charge the battery. In drive mode, it becomes a motor, using that electricity to drive the wheels for additional acceleration.

The system is only allowed to generate a certain amount of power per turn – about 33 seconds of maximum power increase – but it can store double that amount, so a team can be strategic and save money. and use energy at different times.

The MGU-H (Motor Generator Unit – Heat) is more complicated and is used in combination with the turbo, which itself works by using the exhaust gases to spin a turbine which pressurizes the engine.

As a generator, the MGU-H provides resistance that slows down the rotation of the turbo – which helps prevent the turbo from creating too much boost at high power – and turns that energy into electricity which is stored in the battery.

As an engine, it is used to spin the turbo when the driver is not on the throttle, reducing turbo lag and smoothing out power delivery. It is more efficient than fuel alternatives.

Basically, the electricity generated by the MGU-H can be used to directly power the MGU-K – so it can add up to the maximum limit of 33 seconds that can be used from the energy stored in each turn. This means that the more power teams can generate from the MGU-H, the longer they can use their power boost.

The whole system, including the various parts and accessories, must not weigh less than 150 kg, the storage part representing between 20 and 25 kg.



Photo by: Magneti Marelli

How much power do electric motors generate?

The maximum power that the MGU-K can produce is 120 kW, which equates to approximately 160 hp. However, to prevent electric super starts, its use is limited at the start of the race until the car has reached 100 km / h.

The MGU-K must not weigh less than 7 kg and can rotate up to 50,000 rpm, with a maximum torque of 200 Nm. The MGU-H can be lighter by 3 kg and can rotate up to 125 000 rpm.

How is this power deployed?

The power is in the hands of the driver – and the on-board computer. Teams are developing engine boards that are configured to deliver electrical power in different ways, and drivers simply have to choose between them and let the car do the rest.

Is the electric motor dangerous?

The ERS is a very high voltage kit. It operates up to 1000 V and therefore can emit a very dangerous electric shock.

To reduce risk, high voltage cables are orange in color and have a voltage cutout when disconnected. The main energy storage box, MGU-H and MGU-K, and all high voltage junction boxes are marked with hazard warning signs.

The ERS can be shut down in several different ways and to show its operating and insulation status, it is equipped with status lights on the top of the airbox, which light up green when safe. and in red when it is not.

In 2019, after retiring from the Bahrain Grand Prix, Daniel Ricciardo was ordered to “jump out of the car” without touching it after the red light came on and his Renault team declared it “electrically dangerous” . Fortunately, this does not happen often.

How do they start the cars?

The team must attach an external starting device to the car to start the gasoline engine in the garage, pit lane and on the grid. Engines are equipped with anti-stall systems to prevent the engine from stopping when a driver loses control.

Haas F1 mechanics on the grid

Haas F1 mechanics on the grid

Photo By: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

How many power units can a team use in a season?

Years ago, there were no restrictions on the use of engines, and teams spent millions producing special “qualifying” engines that were tuned to maximum but only lasted a few laps before submitting.

Now, to reduce costs, the number of powertrains allowed in a season is limited, with each driver only allowed …

  • – three motors
  • – three turbochargers
  • – three MGU-H
  • – three MGU-K
  • – two energy reserves
  • – two control electronics
  • – eight sets of engine exhaust systems

Teams are allowed to go over their allotted count, but will face grid position penalties every time they do so – so power units are now designed to be more robust than in the past. .

How does the FIA ​​ensure that power units are legal?

To minimize the risk of cheating, DC electrical sensors from FIA designated suppliers are attached to different parts of the ERS and a torque sensor is fitted to the MGU-K.

All cars use the same high pressure fuel pump, made by a single supplier appointed by the FIA ​​World Motorsport Council, and two fuel flow meters are placed in the fuel tank to monitor flow rates.

To control the operation of the gasoline engine, the power output shaft and each propeller shaft are equipped with a certified torque measurement system, and pressure and temperature sensors are installed for the fuel injectors.

Ferrari SF1000 engine detail

Ferrari SF1000 engine detail

Photo By: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

What is the future?

The current units won’t last forever, as F1 is already making plans for the next generation.

There is now a ‘freeze’ on these designs – meaning teams are no longer allowed to develop them. It’s about freeing up time and budget to develop a new, different and more industry-relevant hybrid engine that will be introduced in 2025.

The new regulations will focus on high levels of environmental sustainability, with plans to use fully sustainable fuels and significantly simplify design to reduce costs.

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