Let's dive into the incredible history of Formula 1 engines and how they have evolved over the years.
Formula 1 has always been the pinnacle of performance balanced with efficiency. The technologies involved in this motorsport have set the benchmark for what is possible in the automotive industry, and the engineering has trickled down into commuter cars as well.
However, it's quite hard to understand how Formula 1 engines evolved just by simply breaking down a modern variant of its technology. In order to really appreciate what you're looking at, you have to understand how they have changed over the years.
Back in the infancy of Formula 1 in the 1950s, there was no standard for what engines could be used. In those early Grand Prix's, all sorts of engines could be found, from custom built inline four's to salvaged V8's. The only regulations that were in place those many years ago were engine displacement, which was 4.5 litres if the engine was naturally aspirated, and 1.5 litres if the car was fitted with forced induction. Both variants at this time averaged around 400bhp.
A few short years later, the restrictions were tightened, and only 2.5 Litres of displacement and naturally aspirated setups were permissible. With the new regulations in place, engine power was cut to 290hp, however, engineers at the time got creative with aerodynamics and efficiency to compensate for the lack of engine power.
As the years went by, while still sticking to the 2.5 litre regulation, a whole variety of engine designs surfaced. These ranged from inline fours, inline eights, V12's, V16's and even large displacement V-Twin layouts. Around this time, in the early to mid 1960s, Formula 1 cars made the transition from front-mounted engines to mid-mounted engines to help combat severe understeer and tyre wear.
As these engines became more efficient, and the cars being able to reach speeds of over 180mph, safety became more of a concern. At the time, besides a rather questionable helmet, there was practically no safety gear in the cars or around the tracks either, unless you count a few hay bales. Therefore, new engine regulations were implemented, which put yet another displacement cap on the design at only 1.5 litres. At this time, other forms of motorsport, and even road-going sports cars, were far faster and more powerful than Formula 1 cars. But, as a result, this forced the engineers to further perfect aerodynamics and suspension.
At the end of the 1960s, the regulation was dropped and a larger displacement of 3.0 litres was implemented for naturally aspirated engines. They also allowed 1.5 litres for forced induction engines, and the cars produced around 500hp, which rendered them some of the fasted cars ever made at the time.
In the early to mid-1970s, Formula 1 engineers found a clever way to make the heavy engines work for them in terms of weight distribution. They designed a V12 engine variant at 180 degrees, which were essentially bolted to the lowest part of the car's chassis. For many seasons, this design was practically unbeatable... until Renault brought out their 1.6 litre V6 turbo which dominated at the end of the 1970s.
Throughout the late 1970s and most of the 1980s, perfected variants of the 1.6 litre V6 turbo engines remain the standard in Formula 1. This period was known as the turbo era. It wasn't until 1989 that Formula 1 became turbo-free and naturally aspirated yet again with a 3.5 litre N/A engine. With this new engine regulation, teams were divided drastically, as all teams had to design and develop this new engine variant in a very short period of time.
In the 1990s, race teams and engineers developed variants of the V12 3.5 litre engines that could rev incredibly high in order to get the most out of the engines. But, in order to do so, they developed a groundbreaking new system that allowed for the valves to open and close at those high RPMs. What they designed was the pneumatic valve control camshaft system which is still used in road cars today.
In the 2000s, regulations were used extensively to control speed for safety measures. In doing so, the new regulations ushered V10s into the mix as a standard. They made similar power to the V12 predecessor at around 900hp, but with more reliability and fuel efficiency.
It wasn't until 2009 that a new power system was introduced. This was the first time Formula 1 introduced the KERS system (Kinetic Energy Recovery System), which generated engine power salvaged from the rear brakes to a total of around 80hp. This added power were at the disposal of the driver, be used for around six seconds per lap.
In 2014, the FIA threw yet another spanner in the works and changed the entire engine standard yet again. They implemented the 1.6-litre V6 single turbo engine, which is the standard still used today in Formula 1. This is largely due to car manufacturers adopting hybrid technology in order to make the most efficient engines possible while still producing massive amounts of engine power.
Take a look at the video below by YouTube channel, Driver 61, on The Incredible Evolution Of Formula 1 Engines | Track Evolution.
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