Sunday, 9 February 2014

2014 F1 Engines Explained

Its here.

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2014 is upon us and with it some of the biggest changes to Formula One cars for a generation! With phallic shaped nose cones causing a stir there is also another controversial change to the formula. Its out with the V8 engines of last year and in with smaller and greener high tech turbo-charged V6 engines.


A view of the turbo at the back of the new Mercedes power plant
Some of you might be asking - what exactly is a turbo? Less complicated than you think, a turbo is simply a device which uses pressure from what would be wasted exhaust gases exiting the engine to spin a turbine, which connected to a fan via shaft sucks more air to the engine generating more power. As you are making more power from what is waste, a turbo engine is a more efficient engine than a naturally aspirated (that means non turbo) engine. At the moment, with all the talk and worry of global warming car manufacturers are moving away from big engines to smaller, efficient turbos charged engines to reduce emissions. As modern Formula 1 has rich and powerful car manufacturers as investors, its no surprise they have steered the rules towards the new greener ethos of road cars.

You may now be thinking that turbos are perfect, right? There are a few downsides. The first is there are more moving parts in an engine generating huge pressure and heat. This means turbo engines can often break. To make them more reliable for every day use, road car manufacturers limit their turbos to produce a lot less power than they potentially can. In F1, where every fraction of a second counts, every team will be pushing their more complicated turbo engine to the limit. This means we will see what has become a rare site -more cars breaking down .

Secondly, from a drivers perspective turbo engines have less 'driveability'. The way the torque - the actual force of the engine - comes into play when a driver puts his foot down can feel delayed and, with big power, almost violently catch you unawares. You will have probably heard of 'turbo-lag' before. This was famously noticeable in 80's and 90's high performance turbo road cars, where you put your foot down hard and for a second or more and... nothing happened. Then all of a sudden the turbo spools into life and it feels like you are being propelled by a space rocket! This made those cars of old with quick 0-60 times ever more impressive, as a second or more was wasted with you not really going anywhere. This is because the turbo needs time for exhaust pressure to build to get it going. Modern road cars have fancy methods involving electronics and crafted turbos to make this delay pretty much unnoticeable, but it can not be completely hidden in powerful turbo engines. This why a lot of petrol heads and super car manufacturers like Ferrari and Lamborghini prefer the linear and normal power delivery of a normal naturally aspirated engine to a turbo. Non turbo engines are more predictable, its easier to judge your right foot as the power builds smoothly. 

Thirdly and finally turbos themselves are quite heavy and require the help of an intercooler to cool down all that compressed air coming into the engine. Although you have an efficient engine producing power from waste, there is still added bulky weight and cooling is much more important. These factors are hugely significant in F1 cars. Although the 2014 turbo engines are smaller and so is the fuel tank, the extra cooling requirements and bulky turbo (and other new engine bits for 2014 discussed later) will mean packaging the car behind the driver and keeping the weight down is a challenge for the teams. 

Ask an F1 geek about the turbo cars of the 80's and you will almost certainly get a positive reaction. The main reason behind this is ridiculous horsepower.
This was often over 10 times as powerful as your average family saloon car at around half the weight. Coupled with no traction control to help with wheel spin and little aerodynamic grip compared to today these legendary cars were a beast to tame and unreliable. Spiralling costs and scary speeds saw them banned in favour of naturally aspirated 3.5 litre engines.

This year the turbos are back, but in a very different format. The BMW M12 turbo engine in the back of the Brabham and Benneton cars of 1987 in qualifying trim, with tiddly 1.5 litre engines, produced approximately 1400 horse power.  This years 1.6 litre engines will be producing less than half of that - just over 600hp and around 760hp for 33 seconds of the lap with the new ERS system. 

So why are this years cars a lot less powerful if they are practically the same size? The main reasons are efficiency and reliability. In 1987 for example Brabham could run their monster BMW engine to 1400hp - but only for a few laps in qualifying. And even after a few laps it was not unusual for gearboxes and even the engines themselves to shatter into pieces.
Turbo engines of the 80's were notoriously unreliable
The immense pressures travelling through the engine could end in an explosion showering bits of piston, valves and connecting rods all over the race track.

Rather than just one race session, the new engines are designed to cover a lot more mileage. In fact, you can only change the engine a maximum of 5 times in the 19 race long season. Also, you can only change the turbo, electronics, energy store, and 2 parts of the ERS (described in the next section) 5 times a season or you will face the same penalty.

Rev Limit and Displacement

One of the most controversial changes to the engine is the reduction in RPM, or revs per minute and the reduction in displacement (pretty much the size of the engine). The distinct violent whining buzz of an F1 engine comes from is super ability to spin the crankshaft of its engine at insane speeds. Last years engines were limited to 18,000rpm but this year this limit is 15,000 rpm. Coupled with the reduction in size and the removal of 2 cylinders, the engines are noticeably quieter.

This is certainly a sour point for fans. My lasting memories of going to see Formula One races in the V10 and V8 era are of me approaching a the track from a distance hearing the violent thunderous aggression of an F1 engine getting louder and louder. Especially in the V10 era the sound would often vibrate advertisement boards and bridges. It was awesome.

Now we have news after Jerez testing of team managers being on mobile phones in the pit lane- something they were unable to do before because of the noise. It leaves me quiet worried but I am not going to make a full judgement until I hear them in person. The only added bonus is the sound of the turbo and the new energy recovery system whirring off throttle. Listen for yourself:

Energy Recovery System

Introduced in 2009 'KERs' took energy from braking and stored it as electrical energy that could be released when the driver required it for for just under 7 seconds a lap. Similarly for 2014, what is now 'MGU-K' (motor generator unit -kinetic) also takes energy created from braking through the power train, and stores this in the 'ES' (energy store) to be used as a boost when needed. However there is more wasted energy available to be harvested through the 'MGU-H' (motor generator - heat). This is an electrical generator connected to the turbine shaft of the turbo. When the car is braking and the turbo is not needed the turbine of the turbo will be freewheeling, but this would be wasted energy is harvested through the MGU-H and stored in the 'ES' (energy store) to be used when needed. This energy can be used as a boost, or instead used to spin the turbo up when power is required greatly reducing turbo lag. Also the MGU-H can be used to control the speed of the turbo turbines to reduce pressure if necessary acting in place of a waste gate.

In total the MGU-K can fire back a total boost of 4 mega joules per lap through the engine crankshaft giving around 160hp for 33 seconds. This is 10 times more energy than last years KERs which means failure of this system will be hugely detrimental to performance. Unlike last year were KERs was operated by a 'boost' button on the steering wheel, the 33 seconds of boost from the MGU-K will be pre-programmed into the car to boost automatically at set points over the lap. This can still be adjusted by the driver by changing to different engine maps on his steering wheel. Teams will have to calculate when that all important power boost will be needed.


This years engines will produce similar power levels to last year during parts of the lap, yet will be over 30% more fuel efficient. This years formula is a fuel limited formula, in that engines are limited to 100kg of fuel per race. This year the emerging road car technology direct injection will make its F1 debut allowed in the new regulations. This allows fuel to be sprayed directly into the cylinders of the engine, rather than mixed with air through and intake valve. The result is more precise fueling and therefore increased efficiency.


Finally, another big change this year is the requirement for 8 speed gear boxes with set ratios for the whole season. On a track with long fast track such as Monza you want long gear ratios meaning higher top speed at the sacrifice of acceleration. But on a short slow track such as Monaco you want short ratios for quick acceleration out of slow corners at the sacrifice of top speed. While teams changed the ratios race to race now they do not have this luxury. A balanced ratio will be needed to give them and best performance for all the races in the season.

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