The New V6 Turbo Era

Truthfully, I’ve never really been a fan of Formula 1 pre-race shows. I catch weekend F1 coverage on Sky Sports F1 HD and a lot of their pre-race content is abysmal. It usually consists of brief analysis from the previous race intermixed with pretentious Rolex adverts and people on jet skis. I’m sorry, but whoever gave ‘George the Poet’ that spot on the Monaco pre-race coverage this year needs to be given an award for most unwatchable and cringeworthy television ever produced. Nobody should feel smug about rhyming the words curve and swerve. Most of the time, I treat pre-race content as filler leading up to the good stuff, however there is one segment I do watch with enthusiasm; Martin’s grid walk. A segment just before lights out which consists of Martin Brundle walking around the grid, getting hasty final interviews with team members, talking to outspoken celebrities who don’t know the first thing about F1 and thrusting a microphone into the faces of unexpecting wealthy dullards who have wandered onto the track. If I remember correctly, it was on the Canadian grid walk in June that Martin hinted that the 2014 season’s cars would feature a new type of engine, while talking to an engineer on track. My first thought was “Why the hell does F1 need an engine change?” quickly followed by “I should probably pay more attention to pre race coverage”.

The last engine change in Formula 1 came about in 2006 and it saw V10 engines swapped for smaller V8s. This upset me. One Formula 1 car that truly floated my boat was the Renault R25. A track killer and one of the last of the V10 breeds, killed off by the move to V8 engines. Not only does its blue and yellow livery look achingly beautiful, its engine noise is damn near perfect. That V10 scream that no other engine can replicate. A Godlike, Herculean sound. If a Renault engineer told me the engine ran on testosterone and was oiled by the tears of vegetarians I’d probably believe him. Just the sound of an engine may seem a little bit of a petty thing to get hung up about, but Formula 1 is a sport primarily for the fans and fans want monstrous engines with furious exhaust notes. At least, I do. The R25 made such a beautiful noise and I wish I could hear it trackside today. I’m not suggesting for one moment that the V8 noise of today’s Formula 1 cars isn’t a joy to listen to, it’s just not the R25, and now the FIA are pushing one move further and decreeing that all Formula 1 cars will now run with a 90-degree, direct injection, turbocharged V6.

The new engines will be unbelievably small, just 1.6 litres in displacement. That’s lower than the average engine size for road cars in the UK. The rules as to what the teams can do with the powerplants have got tougher too. The V8 engines of today are allowed to rev up to 18,000 rpm. The new V6s will only be allowed up to 15,000 rpm. The amount of fuel flowing to the engine will be cut to a maximum of 100 kg per hour (with even more stringent tolerances below 10,500 rpm) and the cars will only be allowed to start with 100 kg of fuel on board rather than the previous standard 150 kg. The whole unit must be at least 155 kg in weight (rather than the previous 95 kg minimum excluding KERS) and the engine is only allowed to use one turbocharger. Room for error has been slimmed further by the FIA announcing that teams can only have five engines per season rather than the previous eight. It sounded initially like the eco fingers of modern times have wandered a little too far into Formula 1, until I read about the new energy recovery system.

The traditional KERS method of energy recovery is being given an upgrade and the system will now feature an electronic device attached to the turbocharger, called an MGUH (Motor Generator Unit – Heat), which will store energy from the turbocharger as it spins. The system will still recover energy in the normal way through an MGUK (Motor Generator Unit – Kinetic), but the extra power bought in by this new MGUH will turn the energy recovery system in F1 from a main straight advantage to an absolute game changer. The old KERS systems produce approximately 80 horsepower and the boost lasts for about seven seconds, giving certain F1 cars an edge when it comes to overtaking. This new ERS system will produce a maximum of 161 horsepower and has the potential to last anywhere up to 34 seconds. We’re talking roughly double the boost for five times as long. Considering that on average a Formula 1 driver demands full power for approximately 50-55 seconds per lap, that’s a lot of extra boost to play with. It gets better. We can’t bring up the subject of turbochargers without mentioning lag, and the new ERS system caters for that as well. Rumour has it that the MGUH can be reversed in function, meaning it can either harvest energy from the turbo or keep it spinning. A truly unique method of anti-lag which, if holds true and reliable, could potentially be a huge breakthrough in automotive efficiency. The conventional wizardry used to overcome turbo lag such as variable geometry turbochargers and use variable ratio energy recovery components has been banned, so this ‘electric motor keeping the turbo spinning’ could be a new piece of technology that will work its way through other motorsports and possibly even passenger cars in the future.

We’re now fast approaching August and the teams have until March 1st 2014 to develop and homologate the engines. Details regarding what various engine suppliers are up to has been sketchy, patchy and in some places provisional. The list of confirmed engine suppliers currently consists of Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault. At the time of writing Lotus, Caterham and Sauber have yet to put in a bid for an engine supplier and very recently a German company called P.U.R.E. has entered the ring in the hopes of securing at least one. P.U.R.E is a private company spearheaded by an ex-Ferrari engineer and an ex-FIA engineer, with a former Renault Sport MD as consultant and backed by private investors. They have launched straight in and are developing a brand new V6 engine suitable for use in the 2014 championship. They have yet to secure a team contract, but personally I really hope they do. Not just because I’m a huge fan of small, focused companies that make gutsy moves like this, but also because I think there would be something a little disheartening knowing that every vehicle on the start grid had an engine from one of just three suppliers. P.U.R.E have released CAD images of what the engine will look like, but it seems as if there’s still a long way to go and it’s not representative of the finished article. We will look on and hope. There’s an excellent technical rundown of their engine here on Scarb’s F1, which I highly recommend and makes for a deliciously nerdy read.

Although my initial reaction was negative, following the technical buff up I’m a little excited about this new engine change. F1 engineers are now being pressured to get the same performance from an engine that is 33% smaller, has an inferior cylinder calibration, with less fuel, forced induction and a killer new ERS setup. Consider it a product of my pre-degree innocence but I think I’d be wringing my hands with glee if I were to be given that kind of challenge in the future. Sure, I’m still a little hung up about the sound, but I’ve always been sceptical about the noise produced by turbo units. The duvet-in-the-tailpipe muffling you get from using such a set up robs a car of the potential to strut its full vocal prowess. Take cars like the Bugatti Veyron or the Pagani Huayra, for example. They are both hugely impressive cars that I would willingly lose vital organs to have in my garage, but that turbo ‘whoosh-hiss’ on lift off that they exhibit just isn’t as exciting as the auidal nectar of a naturally aspirated Lexus LFA or Porsche Carrera GT. I know that forced induction is the way forward in efficiency but, at least for me, the sound is one of the aspects of a Formula 1 car that puts it head and shoulders above anything else on four wheels. Renault recently released an audio snippet of their new V6 engine and I must admit it doesn’t sound bad at all, but I will reserve judgement about it until I’ve heard the other manufacturer’s efforts. Who knows, next year maybe there’ll be something about it in the pre-race coverage.

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