Looking on the F1 bright side

I read somewhere that the average American child witnesses 20,000 murders on TV before reaching the age of 18. Violent feature films sell well and news always tends to be bad news, because that is what people want to hear about. Or at least that is what the ratings say. There are occasional quirky stories used to fill available time at the end of all the bad news and designed to be uplifting, such as the Herbie the skateboarding duck, which was discovered by the BBC in 1978. The term “skateboarding duck” is now regularly used in the TV industry to describe these warm fluffy items… So, right now, as we look at negative stories such as “F1 breakaways” and “F1 losing sponsors” and so on, it is possibly a good moment to have a think about the good that may come as a result of the new Formula 1 engine regulations which will come into effect in 2013.

At present, F1 cars are powered by 2.4-litre V8s with minimal development allowed. For those who have them this is cheap and cheerful. For those who do not, there is little point in joining in, given that it makes little sense to invest in something which gets little coverage unless it goes wrong. In any case, the automobile industry is not really interested in 18,000rpm 2.4-litre V8s. Instead we will have the 12,000rpm, 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo, with direct injection, running on petrol. Direct injection has been chosen because it increases both fuel efficiency and high power output and is an area where automobile companies have been developing systems for the last 15 years, following its first use in production vehicles in Japan, where Mitsubishi, Nissan and Toyota all produced systems in quick succession. Renault was the first company to pick up on this in Europe in 1999, when its alliance with Nissan was just beginning, and Volkswagen followed, using technology adapted from Audi’s R8 Le Mans racer. Since then many other companies have followed with systems of their own, including Ford, Alfa Romeo, BMW, Honda and even GM’s Opel/Vauxhall. Last year Ferrari offered its first direct injection systems with the Ferrari California, while Porsche, Infiniti, Jaguar and Hyundai are recent converts. The systems are developing all the time. According to the FIA calculations the new F1 engines will bring improved efficiency of around 35%, although this is bound to improve.

The good news for companies wanting to enter F1 in 2013 is that the new rules create what is, in effect, a level playing field: everyone will need to start from scratch to design a new engine, and it is not just direct injection that will be attractive to the manufacturers, there is also much potential for energy recovery systems. Power outputs will still be around 750 hp, but the potential for using electric power at low revs, for example, is exciting for everyone, even the luxury car makers. The designers will need to be good because the rules allow for only five engines a year in 2013 and four after that.

Right now there are only three manufacturers in F1, Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault. Cosworth provides customer engines. Honda, Toyota and BMW all have recent experience in F1 and so have engineers who understand the demands of the sport. They all withdrew because of the costs involved, the need to use their money on more effective forms of research or lack of success. The Volkswagen-Porsche alliance may not yet be finalised, but the German firm is already hot to trot in F1. McLaren is almost certainly going to make its own engines, as it has done with its latest road car, the MP4-12C. In such circumstances it makes little sense to go into a partnership with either a rival or an unsuitable brand. It seems that the Japanese are among the most excited with talk of a return from Honda and/or Toyota and perhaps even a challenge from a smaller player, such as Suzuki. Nissan could be involved tomorrow (and logically should be) by badging existing Renault F1 engines, while working in league with its partner on a future engine. Other Renault or Nissan brands might also be involved.

One really needs to look at who are the big players and what they have to gain from F1. The Asian developing markets are the target for everyone these days, while some of the European markets, notably in the east, are attractive to European manufacturers and most of the big players would like to make an impact in the US as well.

Toyota remains the world’s largest car company in terms of production, ahead of General Motors and Volkswagen, although both are pushing hard. The Ford Motor Company has slipped back to fourth, but is not satisfied with that while the ambitious Korean firm Hyundai is quietly moving up the order, just ahead of France’s PSA (Peugeot-Citroën) and Honda. Alliances do tend to confuse the statistics as Renault and Nissan combined produce more vehicles than Ford, while Chrysler and Fiat, which are in the process of merging, together make more cars than PSA. In addition to these firms, there are a number of small but relatively ambitious Asian companies, particularly in China, who might see this as a chance to get ahead of the pack, and one should watch out also for Tata Motors of India which is the owner of the Jaguar brand. Now is a good time for ambitious engine designers to be looking for partnerships with such companies, following in the tradition of Cosworth and Ilmor.

It is not easy to compare eras but when F1 banned turbos and switched to normally-aspirated engines in 1989 there was an influx of new engine companies in the years that followed including Renault, Lamborghini, Judd, Subaru, Life, Yamaha, Porsche, Ilmor (which would later become Mercedes), Hart and Peugeot. Not all were successful but it showed that they were willing to try. There is also more chance these days to have more “brand engineering”, with different marques owned by the same manufacturer using the same engines but branded differently.

24 thoughts on “Looking on the F1 bright side

  1. “Now is a good time for ambitious engine designers to be looking for partnerships with such companies, following in the tradition of Cosworth and Ilmor.”

    …calling for Paul Rosche? He’s retired.

  2. I’m not sure that many teams will be willing to take a risk and choose a Suzuki or Tata engine when customer engines from Renault, Mercedes, Ferrari etc. are available.

    So it might take the FIA to revise the rules and only allow engine manufacturers to supply two teams.

  3. About dropping turbos and getting more engine people in:

    Was it not that no-one in engineering could solve the torque envelope with turbos (oh, the drivers managed, on track, wow!) but such crazy parameters do not encourage any-one else to rush in.

    There’s a bit in this, about half way through, where the Shuttle is throbbing into the air, because there’s a pulse jet, lifting it. Up a bit, up a bit more, pause, blast. Repeat.

    It’s not directly comparable, but I think turbo era drivers were just as extreme. Those things were land based rockets.

    – – –

    Totally agree with being positive, somehow good news doesn’t seem to sell. Thanks Joe for getting on the positive. There’s a lot to look forward to. Something always fills a void, there’s very little negative in nature.

    – – –

    Isn’t turbo, particularly diesels, so mainstream now, that everyone is doing it?

    (meetings all up creek with the weather, but i’d best stop reading, it’s too compelling!)

  4. The current engine regime is rather boring and takes away an important aspect of F1, it is almost like having a standard engine.

    In any case, normally aspirated V8 engines do not sound like beeing the cutting edge of modern engine design. 😉

    Lower revs and longer engine live will make research into engine development probably more useful to roadcar engine development, or at least to road car marketing.

    I will never have a flexi front wing or a double diffuser on my car, but who knows, a Merc with Turbo and Kers , powered by F1 technology as seen on TV sounds like a hell of a marketing idea.

  5. “..Volkswagen followed, using technology adapted from Audi’s R8 Le Mans racer.”

    This is quite interesting, given that it’s a recent and relevant (in that VW is one of the companies that has expressed an interested in getting into F1) example of a mass-market road car manufacturer using technology in their road cars that was derived directly from their sportscar programme.

    I agree that the new engine formula is great news and I really hope that it leads to more engine manufacturers joining the fray, as well as greater standardisation of engines across the different formulae (albeit de-tuned for the lower formulae), to encourage engine manufacturers to supply multiple formulae.

    I’m also still keeping my fingers crossed that the VW Group still step in to sponsor Hispania racing using the SEAT brand and eventually acquire the team outright to run as Audi F1. 🙂

  6. OT inspired by Jims mentioning of Lotus, I saw my first Proton in the car park of the Colchester General Hospital in November (you do not find any over here in Germany),

    It might have been an older model, but it seems the company has still a long way to go and probably should not spend money on F1 via Lotus but invest in other things or cooperate with an established manufacturer. At least that car made a Dacia Logan look extremely sexy…

  7. From what I’ve read, the Mp4-12c engine is an unused Menard Engineering IRL design bought by Mclaren and then repurposed by Mahle and then Ricardo.

    Anyone, please feel to correct me.

  8. “There is also more chance these days to have more “brand engineering”, with different marques owned by the same manufacturer using the same engines but branded differently.”

    I think Tony Fernandes and Dany Bahar must have taken their notes down wrongly during this particular Team Ownership 101 lecture.

  9. Two points on the new engine design:

    (1) 750 combined bhp is too little, IMHO, as it will further increase the percentage of flat-out acceleration during a lap, making circuits ever easier to drive on, and mistakes less likely to occur.

    More power would increase the number of spots a driver can actually make a difference, and consequently lead to differentiate between talented drivers and those that are less, as well as showcasing the driveability of an engine.

    (2) The level playing field may attract interest from many potential suitors, but who will actually take the plunge with the upfront cost far from trivial, and the low number of actual engines used offers little ROI (or outrageous prices per unit)?

    Who can afford to keep an engine shop around for 4 engines per car per year? Or will each manufacturer simply build a couple of dozen lumps and put them in storage for a couple of years?

  10. Following on Proesterchen’s last point,

    Presumably the new engine formula will be a part of the “World Engine” scheme, so we will see less-highly-tuned versions powering lower-formula single-seaters, rally cars, GT cars, &c &c.

    Joe, is the World Engine still in the offing? And if so, has anyone ever looked in a publically-available way at the total worldwide market size for the thing? Presumably the opportunity to provide seven or eight categories with engines based on the same technology will make the prospect of engine manufacturing a much more attractive business proposition than a fixed market of 192 dinosauric V8s.

  11. I’d love to see the teams be given a bhp limit and a maximum amount of fuel they can use and let them have free reign over what they do. It would cost a lot of money, but it’d be interesting to see the results.

    I like Ed’s idea of restricting an engine maker to only supplying 2 teams. But you would need new engine makers to step forward before you could implement this. Or a lot of rebadging, which would work well for VW. They could make one engine, sell it 10 different teams and simply badge them VW, Audi, Lambo, Porsche and SEAT. Just make sure that they put the right badged enigne in the right car, it wouldn’t look good to see a SEAT beat a Lambo!

  12. ” …most of the big players would like to make an impact in the US as well.”

    Anyone seriously looking to expand in the U.S. market should forget F1 and just buy commercials for the NFL games. They’re pulling INSANE #s.

    “If it wasn’t clear before, this season has underscored the point, italicized it and shouted it from the rooftops: N.F.L. football is by far the most popular form of programming on American television.

    The evidence: Of the 20 highest-rated telecasts of any kind so far this television season, 18 have been N.F.L. games on CBS, NBC or Fox. In terms of the best of 2010, nothing else comes close. Of the 50 highest-rated programs during the calendar year, 27 have been N.F.L. games, including 8 of the top 10.”

  13. Well, I basically have the willingness and wherewithal to (seriously) follow one motorsport series at a time; IndyCar’s rejuvenation will come online a year sooner than F1’s, so I guess I’ll be giving them a chance in 2012. There’s gonna be less in the way of hybrids (at least for starters) but otherways it looks to be much less like a “spec” solution than F1’s upcoming model.

    Especially with all the uncertainty with the “Concorde”, CVC and all, manufacturers should seriously consider the synergies IndyCar can provide. The new management seems downright rational and reasonable – and while it currently doesn’t seem much of a competition where scales of economies come into play, there’s room still for a juicy showdown between IndyCar and F1 in Asia. Indys just gotta do their own thing and not try to be the “other” F1.

    F1 has become too elitist anyway, too much disingenuous talk, posturing and bluster (for what the contributions in tech really amount to, Bernie even trying to be cute with a very tech savvy audience riffing about engineers being better off playing amongst themselves on some tropical island with – sigh – “gold plated computers” or something … ironic when you consider the particulars of thermal insulation needs and the applicaton of Au foils in F1) – even for what seems to be on the way. Yeah, such a thing may fly for a while in certain parts and Bernie and Co. will surely reap the spoils of those circumstances, but I don’t see why I should be actively involved.

    Endurance got mentioned as easing new technologies into mainstream production. F1 is going to be stuck with I4’s for years to come. Have you seen the new ACO/ALMS rules? Now that’s giving the teams true liberties, puts F1’s schemes to shame. Less manageable, more uncertain in outcomes – and more entertaining, you betcha!

  14. What about the sound. Will the new engines sound as good as the current screamers?

    I really doubt it, and the F1 noise is an important part of the show. Hopefully I’m mistaken!!!

  15. AFAIK JJ is correct.

    WRT 1600cc, 12,000rpm and 750bhp

    That’s 2/3rd the capacity and 2/3 the revs for the same power.

    A quick sum suggests thats about 2.5 barg boost? So that’s nothing like the boost used with the old turbos.

    Makes me wonder if they are going to get through a few more than 5 per season though.

  16. I agree with Acrobat747. The loss of the distinctive sound of an 18,000 rpm F1 engine will be a huge loss to The Show. That unique whine is something that grabs non-fans by the ears and invites them to have a look at F1. My GF, who is a professional singer, knows beans about F1 but occasionally does an enormously entertaining, realistic , and pitch-perfect imitation of a McLaren racing through Monaco onstage to entertain the crowd while her bandmates switch guitars.

    Relevance to road car technology is of dubious benefit. Look at NASCAR: billion-dollar TV contract, #2 viewership sport in the US (exceeded only by NFL), averaging 175,000 fans per race, and yet the engines HAVE CARBURETORS. When’s the last time a production road car was built with a carburetor, 1972?

  17. “According to the FIA calculations the new F1 engines will bring improved efficiency of around 35%”

    This 35% figure is often quoted as if the new engines will achieve some kind of miracle fuel efficiency never before seen in F1, but I think it’s getting a bit blown out of proportion.

    Yes there will be a fuel saving, but is it actually an achievement to be proud of?

    It’s worth remembering that in 1988 the turbo cars were limited to 150 litres of fuel, which is around 35% less than the 225 or so litres used by a 2010 F1 car. So nearly 25 years of progress, including KERS and now direct injection, and we’re no better off than we were (in terms of fuel efficiency) in the late 80’s. Progress?

    Were the “FIA calculations” that came up with this figure of 35% really nothing more than a quick flick through the history books?

    Perhaps McLaren should just bring the MP4/4 out of retirement for 2013…

  18. The very talented bloke who designed RML’s new Chevy WTCC engine (the first proper clean-sheet GRE) should be high on any potential engine supplier’s shopping list…

  19. Nice article Joe and it all makes sense.
    My worry is the pinnicle of motorsport using an engine that has no proper noise to it. Some top people in F1 reckoned a 2ltr v6 would have been better and made the right noise. After all when people first sample an F1 car at full chat what strikes them the most, the sound of it.
    The death of the vee engine is a sad day indeed.

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