F1 engines, beasts waiting to be unleashed

Ford Cosworth F1 engine. Picture credit: www.flickr.com/ John O'Nolan

Formula 1 has always been about powerful engines, massive power outputs and loud sound leading to a spectacle.

But powerful engines have always been in the eye of the storm for the amount of fuel they guzzle. So, Formula 1 looked for ways to reduce engine capacity but still produce impressive horsepower figures.

This led to the introduction of the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) for the 2009 season. An upgraded version of the KERS was introduced in 2014 and is a combination of a Motor Generator Unit-Kinetic (MGU-K) and Motor Generator Unit-Heat (MGU-H). This system is simply known as ERS. This system also has Energy Store (ES) and control electronics. The year saw the reintroduction of turbocharged engines for the first time since the 1988 season.

Engines were not that powerful for the first three decades or so. But middle of the 1980s saw turbocharged engines being used and these could put out about 1000 horsepower but the reliability question would pop up time and again. In 87 and 88, turbocharged engines were allowed. Power outputs dropped a bit after turbocharged engines were banned from 89 and only 3.5 litre normally aspirated engines were allowed. From 1995-2005, 3 litre engines were used and some engines could put out up to 965 hp. From 2006-2013, 2.4 litre engines were used and the best engines could produce power in the region of 750 hp. This continuous reduction in engine capacity was being done because fingers were pointed at F1 for being too wasteful with fuel and of course the cost factor.

The current 1.6 litre turbocharged engines could be putting out as much as 830 hp and the MGUs can add another 160 hp or so for a 33-second period per lap.

Present day engines get power boost from the MGU-K and MGU-H units. MGU-K can be considered as an upgraded version of KERS. Kinetic energy generated during braking is converted to electricity and stored in a battery. This energy is then used along with regular engine power for acceleration.

MGU-H is a system that recovers energy from the turbocharger and converts heat from exhaust gases to electricity. This energy is again used to power the MGU-Kinetic unit or can also be stored in a battery. A maximum of 4 Megajoules can be returned to the MGU-K and to the drivetrain from there.

F1 cars had done away with starting the engine by onboard means. An external starter was needed. But the engines with ERS systems, the driver is able to start the car if it stalls while on the track. However, the first start is still done with an external starter.

The FIA has plans for the next generation of engines from 2021. Some of the key proposals are getting rid of the MGU-H, more powerful MGU-K, single turbocharger, standard energy store and control electronics and others.

Another interesting proposal is to increase the engine speed by 3000 rpm above the current 15,000 rpm. This is being done to improve the sound and increase fan appeal. When the 1.6 litre turbocharged six-cylinder engines were introduced in 2014, there was a hue and cry about how ‘silent’ the engines had become compared to the earlier 2.4 litre eight-cylinder power plants.

With inputs from formula1.com

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F1 engines, beasts waiting to be unleashed

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