The outline for the new F1 engine rules is here!  It’s a simple set of dot point goals for the formulation of a new formula, but boy oh boy is it interesting.  Gone is the politicking of the Bernie era, in is the considered, consultative process of Ross Brawn. 

There are two massive issues with the current power units that need solving.  The sheer technical complexity makes them massively expensive.  Then there’s the sound.  Sure there’s a reason they sound the way they do – I get that.  But when you hear the old V8s or V10s, even the cars from the ’80s turbo era, there’s a visceral satisfaction that’s been missing for the last few years.

The learned fans and the engineers defend these V6 hybrids to the hilt and yes, they are super impressive technically.  Try explaining them to a normal fan though.  The average F1 fan, the normal guys I talk to day in day out that genuinely follow every race glaze over when regaled with the genius of the current engines.  As technically impressive as they are, the vast majority of fans just don’t care.  They make 1000bhp but they sound crap.  What’s the point of spending ludicrous amounts of money on something that just doesn’t resonate with the people you’re trying to communicate with?

The announcement is encouraging.  The first major change of the post-Bernie era was always going to be a big deal and this looks like a well thought out, measured approach.

New F1 Engine Key Points

Straight from the FIA, here are the key points;

  • 1.6 Litre, V6 Turbo Hybrid
  • 3000rpm higher engine running speed range to improve the sound
  • Prescriptive internal design parameters to restrict development costs and discourage extreme designs and running conditions
  • Removal of the MGUH
  • More powerful MGUK with focus on manual driver deployment in race together with option to save up energy over several laps to give a driver controlled tactical element to racing
  • Single turbo with dimensional constraints and weight limits
  • Standard energy store and control electronics
  • High Level of external prescriptive design to give ‘Plug-And-Play’ engine/chassis/transmission swap capability
  • Intention to investigate tighter fuel regulations and limits on number of fuels used

The Hits

Sticking with the 1.6L V6.

Sure it would be nice to see a return to a bigger naturally aspirated engine, but the downsized world is here to stay.  The current V6 units have also been very heavily developed over the last few years, so it would be a shame to leave most of that to waste.  They are, however, going to restrict what is allowed to go on inside the cylinder.  That’ll get rid of some of the oil burning and compression-ignition stuff that Christian Horner has been alluding to in the press.

Getting rid of the MGU-H.

Thank goodness that’s gone.  The most technically complex part of the current power units is also the main culprit for the flat, uninspiring sound.  Usually the turbine speed is regulated by controlling the exhaust pressure on it by opening the wastegate.  That gas becomes exactly that, though, waste.  So the purpose of the ‘H’ was to keep the wastegate closed to capture and use that energy.

The problem with keeping the wastegate closed is that all of the exhaust gas passes through the turbine which muffles it.  Get rid of the H and open the wastegate, and we get the engine sound direct.  That’ll go a long way to solving the noise problem – hello screamer pipes!

Getting rid of the H also means a reduction in electronic management and modes.  The H could be used in reverse to drive the turbo electrically, acting like an electric supercharger to minimise turbo lag.  Now with no H and the turbine size likely regulated to encourage the engines up to at least 15,000rpm we’ll have lag.  It’s hard to get caught in the wrong gear with modern paddle shifts but get caught out in the wrong gear and the punishment would be severe. It’s something else to keep the drivers on their toes.

Tactical Deployment of a More Powerful MGU-K.  

Push to pass?  Not quite.  I like this though.  Rather than the myriad of deployment modes that they currently have, just a simple e-boost button.  Like the NOS in Need for Speed but with less wanky motion blur.  Hopefully they don’t restrict it to X seconds per lap like they did with the old KERS and let the drivers go hell for leather.  It could become a real cat and mouse type game.  Can the driver behind trick the driver in front into draining his battery to defend while saving his and then fly by?  Variable power means variable racing and unlike the DRS, it won’t be limited to a specific section of track – opportunist moves are well and truly on.  Very cool.

It’s also going to produce more power.  How much is the question, but the current MGU-Ks produce 120kW (160bhp) which is a lot, it’s pretty much a BMW i3 (125kW).  A bigger boost with tactical deployment probably also signals the death knell for the DRS, something we know Ross Brawn is not a fan of.

I’m Not So Sure About

3000rpm higher engine running speed. 

The current rules allow engine speeds up to 15,000rpm.   With the turbos and electrics configured the way they are, the teams are currently only going up to 12,000rpm.  There’s a lot of missing information here, and hopefully that’ll fill in in the coming months.  Does this mean an increase in the maximum back to 18,000rpm?  Or does it just mean the engine manufacturers will be encouraged to utilise the full 15,000rpm limit?

The clue could be in the ‘turbo dimensional constraints’.  It’s possible that the rules could mandate a turbine size and ratio that is most effective in the 12-15k rpm range.  That then brings in longevity concerns.  Part of the reason manufacturers run the lower revs is to get the distance out of the current power units.  Next year teams only have 3 PUs per car to last the whole season.  An rpm increase will only shorten the life of the internal components – which means more expensive bits needed to last the distance.  Given these new engines are going to cost less, here’s hoping they lift the power unit component cap or even drop it completely.

Standardised Energy Store. 

If there was any one point that I would think F1 should create a development war, it’d be in the battery.  Battery technology is what limits electric and hybrid production cars today.  What a place F1 could be to push development and improve cells for the passing down to a product for public sale.  Manufacturers are adamant that F1 technology needs to be production relevant, so this is where the new rule proposal really misses the mark.  Racing improves the breed and the battery is arguably the part with the greatest headroom for development.

You could argue that a battery development war could discourage new manufacturers from entering the sport.  Hypothetically, the ‘Plug and Play’ nature of the new engines could mean that Aston Martin, a smaller company with minimal hybridisation could develop their own 1.6L Turbo V6 and utilise a Mercedes Benz or a Williams Hybrid Power or McLaren (they’re making the Formula E batteries for 2018) developed energy store and MGU-K with it.  Mix ‘n’ Match – so to speak.  Why should the whole power unit have to come from the same supplier?

New F1 Engines, Good Stuff

I think they’ve hit the nail on the head with these new engine rules.  It’s enough of a departure from the current to solve the problems, however the downsized, sustainable message the FIA is in favour of stays.  It’s clear there has been consultation, consideration and a genuine attempt to walk the tightrope across all of the vested interests while keeping the fans at heart.  This isn’t the usual knee-jerk rule-making we’ve come to expect.  If this is what we can expect from the new Ross Brawn led technical team, sign me up.  Here’s hoping they can get everyone to agree to do it before 2021.

Posted by Lehmo

Tragic automotive enthusiast, motorsport fan, car salesperson and now amateur writer. Always drives with his hands at 9 and 3. Has been known to watch more than one motorsport event at a time.

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