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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

No Replacement for Displacement... Except Turbos

For many, the chance to see an insane, high-revving, Formula 1 car is coming to an end.  The current 18,000 rpm 2.4 liter V8s will show their full fury for the 2011 and 2012 seasons then go the way of the Mastodon and Saber-toothed tiger.  With the FIA's focus on greener technologies in racing, smaller displacement engines have constantly supplanted the previous generation.  The 3.0 liter V10s gave way to the current 2.4 liter V8s and they will, in turn, fade away in favor of 1.6 liter four cylinders.  However, for the first time in the modern era of F1, the consumer can truly boast about having F1 technology in their daily driver.

RB7 at

First, let's talk about the outgoing motors.  The main reasons for dropping cylinders from the V10 era to the V8 era were fuel consumption and to make the sport safer by curbing the astronomical amounts of power that were being produced.  In 2004, Ferrari was claiming 940 horsepower out of their V10 while redlining over 19,000 rpm.  Now, with 3.0 liters of displacement that V10 is burning .3 liters per cylinder which is exactly the same amount as the 2.4 liter V8.  So it stands to reason, assuming the majority of engine rules are adhered, that power would drop by about 20% (2 of 10 cylinders) from V10 to V8.  That is exactly what happened.
F2004 at

Since the 2.4 liter V8 is still in use, power figures aren't exactly made public.  However, the 2006 motor used by Toyota is reported to have made 740 horsepower at 19,000 rpm.  The 2007 season saw a reduction in the rpm ceiling by 1000 rpm to 18,000.  As most gearheads know, horsepower is simply a byproduct of a mathematical formula with the only variables being torque and rpm.

HP = (Torque x RPM)/5252

With this equation in mind, the rpm reduction was most likely countered by the frantic development that is the norm in F1.  It wouldn't be a surprise if the 2007 motors actually gained power from the previous year.  After limiting the number of motors that a team is allowed in a year, the FIA decided to call a quits on V8 issues.  Attention turned to the rule changes for the 2013 season and they are drastic!

A quick Google search reveals that the motors will be 1.6 liter four-cylinders with direct injection at a pressure of 500 bar (~7,252 psi).  Also, the new rpm limit is set at 12,000 rpm which is significantly less than that of the current V8.  Considering the FIA has also lowered the number of engines that can be used in a season from eight to five, the lower rev ceiling must be in place to prolong engine life as opposed to lowering power figures.  Several reports are stating that 600-740 horsepower is to be expected.  While neither natural aspiration nor forced induction is explicitly written in the rules, many people are getting teary-eyed and nostalgic hoping that these motors will harken back to the 80s when F1 and Gruppe B were fielding turbocharged monsters.  In all seriousness, the higher cylinder displacement of .4 liter per cylinder, direct injection, and stratospheric power output gives some credence to those turbocharged rumors.
Juke at

So what's all this have to do with consumer automobiles?  Consider the current list of engine suppliers in F1.  They are Ferrari, Mercedes, Cosworth, and Renault.  All except Ferrari have a good handle on small, powerful motors for both street and track applications.  Also, Honda, a dominant engine supplier in the past, is reportedly readying a 1.6 liter four-cylinder turbo for its CR-Z.  The most recent addition to the list of motor's throwing punches above its weight class is Nissan's MR16DDT, found in the Juke which Eric Hsu covers extensively.  Remember that Nissan owns part of Renault and vice versa.  Additionally, Infiniti just sponsored Red Bull in the form of "technical collaboration with Red Bull racing."  This isn't to say that the motor in the Juke will power a Formula 1 car in the future but there hasn't been a smaller divide in recent memory between the applications.  With the current world economy and a focus on smaller, lighter, more fuel efficient power plants, there is no reason the F1 motors can't go through the R&D process next to production motors.  Sharing costs across the production and motorsport platforms would help everyone. 
Lola B08/80 at

A good example of this would be the Lola B08/80 in the LMP2 class of the American LeMans series which is powered by a highly tuned Mazda MZR four-cylinder.  This motor in its most basic form powers the Mazda 3.  In race trim, it puts out somewhere around 500 horsepower at a fraction of the cost of F1 motors.  It's almost unfathomable what would be possible with Formula 1 money.  Hypothetically, the necessity for lightweight and a low center of gravity could even yield V4s.

While many will mourn the death of Formula 1, changes like this are nothing new.  The sport is constantly trying to reinvent itself whether its in reaction to global or political concerns or simply to improve "the show."  It's time to embrace the sport for its practical engineering prowess and technological advances.  Imagine the possibilities.

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