These are exciting times for Formula 1 in general and F1 car designers in particular. Since 2007 engineers’ hands have been tied by F1 engine specifications that have been frozen. It’s true that boffins have been examining engines and ancillaries in minute detail to improve the little they can. But there is nothing to match a clean sheet of paper approach - and that is exactly what they have right now.
Up until the end of 2013, F1 engines were normally aspirated V8s of 2.4 litres. At the close of play of the Brazilian Grand Prix on 24 November 2013, those 18,000rpm screamers were shut down for the last time and became junk. In their place will emerge an entirely different concept.
For 2014, engines will be turbocharged V6s of 1.6 litres. Because of increased torque, the belief is that F1 cars will have more power than grip at the exit of a corner. But, apart from an improved spectacle, the long-term effect is a new area of technology and innovation that will eventually filter down to the road cars driven by you and me. According to engine designers, the new formula puts F1 back at the cutting edge.
The key here is that the new engines will be limited by regulation to using a maximum fuel flow of 100kg per hour – or around 28 grams per second. To put that in perspective, last year’s engines had no limit on how much fuel was used. F1 engine technology in 2014 will be all about improving efficiency and making the most of a major change to the energy recovery system.
Previously, F1 engines had a small KERS unit that recovered only kinetic energy under braking. The V6 will have a much larger Engine Recovery System (ERS) and will harvest additional power while the car is braking through a motor generator unit, and from the heat energy in the exhaust.
What does this mean in the performance we will notice on the race track? Last year, KERS gave 80hp boost for 6.7 seconds per lap. The 2014 units will boost the output to 160hp for 33 seconds per lap; a massive increase that will play a major part in how a driver manages his overtaking moves.
Apart from the attraction of F1 to major motor manufacturers, keen to use the accelerated development process that is integral to this top level of the motoring competition, companies such as Shell are already deeply involved in producing even more efficient fuels (in Shell’s case, for Ferrari), all of which will literally and eventually flow to the motorist through the pump.
Fuel efficiency has made huge strides in recent years thanks to F1 development, the engines using 11.6 per cent less fuel in the 2013 races than seven years earlier, just before restrictions [specification freezes and the number of engines used in a season] began to be applied.
That process will be accelerated in the coming months because of the need to find a 30 per cent improvement in efficiency to maintain power. And that, in turn, should bring a 30 per cent reduction in emission. The package that extracts the most performance from fuel energy will perform the best. Getting it right will be vital to competitiveness in F1 in 2014 and beyond.
Although the V6 engine block is obviously shorter than the V8 and has 15% less moving parts, the biggest headache for F1 car designers is the need to package a significantly larger cooling area even though the requirement for engine oil and water cooling is actually less than that of last year’s engines.
The extra cooling needed for energy saving devices must be considered along with the need to cool the charge of air coming from the turbocharger before it enters the engine. Designers are being called upon to provide nearly twice as much area for the various heat exchangers on the 2014 cars.
The engine manufacturers also have to think about making their motors last now that the number per driver per season drops from eight to five across a span of 19 races. Whereas last year’s engines needed to last for 2,000kms, the 2014 units will need to keep going for 4,000 kms. If a driver has a failure and it becomes necessary to use a sixth power unit, a 10-place grid penalty will apply. It’s a tough call.
How will this translate into the actual racing? We have become used to seeing F1 cars and engines show amazing reliability, the field of 22 cars, on average, posting just one or two retirements at the end of 190 miles of racing. That will be very different in 2014 as the teams get to grips with this huge change in technology.
The threat of mechanical failure will bring a new dimension to the racing. And, as for the cars that keep running, the need to eek out the fuel means that the fastest man on the first lap may not be the quickest on the final lap – assuming he’s still running at all.
We are in for an absolutely fascinating season in this ‘all change’ F1 of 2014. Who will win? Nobody in F1 has the slightest clue.
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