In yet another effort to appear “green” to the world at large, the FIA is about to mandate yet another rule change to the F1 engine formula. Currently, the F1 engines are 2.4 liter V-8s, but these are set to be swapped for 1.4 liter four cylinder turbos in 2013. According to word leaking from various paddock sources, the teams, the manufacturers, and El Supremo himself, Bernie Ecclestone, are all unhappy about the change.
As Ecclestone recently told the BBC, “We have a very good engine formula. Why should we change it to something that is going to cost millions of pounds and that nobody wants and that could end up with one manufacturer getting a big advantage?”
The rationale for the change is supposedly energy efficiency. The new formula will use recovered energy (presumably from exhaust) to power the turbochargers, which in turn will boost horsepower. During the Turbo Era of F1 (1977-1988), engines were generally 1.5 liters, and at their peak performance produced anywhere from 1000 to 1500 horsepower. The cars of that era were ungainly crates by modern standards, and were only as quick as they were by virtue of their steroid-driven lumps.
The new turbos are being touted as a green technology, although the turbos have been around for ages, having dominated the Indy Car world much of the time since the 1960’s. In its latest iteration, the F1 turbo will have fuel restrictions, which will supposedly add to the green effect.
The complaint among teams and manufacturers, however, is cost. At a time when the FIA is touting cost containment, they continue to introduce expensive technical changes. While FOTA (Formula One Teams Association) voluntarily eliminated KERS units from their cars in 2010, the FIA refused to take the hint. The technology remains legal, and since the FIA has banned F-ducts, a cheaper and safer technology which more or less achieves the same effect (quicker speeds on the straights), the teams have decided to bring back KERS next year, as well.
Why did the FIA ban F-ducts? File that one under NGR (No Good Reason). Naturally, they’ve tinkered with the rules just enough so that there will be sufficient excuse for the teams to file complaints against their rivals for rules infringements. Movable rear wings will be introduced for 2011, although they may only be used when one car is trailing another by less than a second. The following car may move its wing, the leading car may not. Theoretically, this will aid the spectacle. Perhaps. One thing is for certain: it will add to all the teams’ development expenditures for the year, as will the return of KERS. Ditto, the resurrection of turbos in 2013.
And how relevant are turbos for civilian road cars? Currently, Formula 1 cars enjoy about 3 to 4 miles per gallon in race trim. Will the turbos attain anything better? Not likely. Theoretically, the technology could be translated into a commuter car unit in a more fuel efficient way, but is this a rationale for adopting the turbo formula again? After all, turbos are currently used in road cars, and it’s unlikely that their use in F1 will cause a leap in road car technology.
It’s a dead cert, however, that the turbo-boosted engines will cause a boost in the teams’ above the line expenditures. Not only will there be development costs for the manufacturers, but as turbos add a layer of complexity to engine units (your basic “more movable parts” principle), it will add to maintenance costs for the teams. But such is Formula 1 logic.