Formula 1 will enter a new era at the Bahrain Grand Prix: this season, the teams will only be allowed to use eight-cylinder engines with a maximum cubic capacity of 2400cm3, which will produce about 200HP less than the ten-cylinder engines used last year. The goal is clear: increasing safety by reducing power.
The new regulations will push the engines even further into the limelight in Formula 1. “A V8 spends much more time in the wide-open throttle range every lap than a V10,” explained Alex Hitzinger, Head of the Formula 1 project at WilliamsF1’s engine partner, Cosworth. “So the engine performance will become even more critical for the overall performance of the car.”
The loss of power is not causing the engineers any headaches. As in the past, it is estimated that every season they will probably regain 20 to 30 HP of the roughly 200HP they have had to give up because of this reduction in engine capacity. However, it was much more difficult to reconcile the whole series of parameters that were specified for the new engines. For example, the minimum weight of 95kg combined with the other specification of the minimum height for the centre of gravity has meant that the V8 is much heavier than it actually needs to be. The engineers did the best they could and designed the engine much more rigidly, which has benefited the handling of the cars. Because they did not need to watch every single gram, they also made several static components like the cylinder block and the cylinder heads much more robust, and so increased the service life of the engines.
The new regulations have not changed the basic task of exploiting the rules as much as possible and so gaining a valuable advantage even before the season starts. “We set ourselves a target of a top engine speed of 20,000rpm,” said Alex Hitzinger, “and we’ve managed that.” The new engine for the Williams FW28 drove its first kilometres on the test stand on October 12, 2005, and the first test drives on the track were held just five weeks later. Despite the engineers’ love of detail, it was important to keep an eye on the bigger picture, such as delivering a compact, mechanical package to the aerodynamic engineers to leave them as much freedom as possible for their work.
Because a V8 is much shorter than a V10 and by its nature also needs less cooling, it was possible to visibly streamline the new car at the rear, which helped the aerodynamics.
New engine concepts are also in the pipeline for road car production. “The increase in fuel prices will be a major driving force in the next few years for the development of engine technology,” said Dr. Christoph Lauterwasser from the Allianz Centre for Technology (AZT). On the one hand, that means low-consumption, efficient engines, which explains the continued trend towards diesel vehicles, whose engines are about 30% more efficient than comparable petrol engines. But, on the other hand, there is a growing proportion of hybrid vehicles that combine a combustion engine with an electric engine and produce excellent fuel consumption and lower CO2 values. “The significance of alternative fuels like natural gas and biofuels will increase all over the world,” said Lauterwasser. “If you also consider the tests on hydrogen vehicles and fuel cells, it’s easy to see that we are heading towards a new level of variety under the bonnet.”
In Formula 1, the engine capacity was reduced from 3.5 to 3 litres for safety reasons in 1995. However, that did not interrupt the power explosion, and to halt it further, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) then decided to impose more restrictions: for instance, in the 2004 season, each engine had to last a full grand prix weekend, and since 2005 it has only been permissible to use one engine for two racing weekends. Of course, all these rules are open to exceptions: with the permission of the FIA, the smaller teams will still be permitted to use ten-cylinder engines, but their engine speed must be limited to a maximum of 16,700rpm.
The new engine concept will also affect the racing strategy of the teams, because at the end of the day a V8 at full power consumes about 15% less fuel than a V10. That will either shorten the distances that can be driven between pit stops or it will shorten the pit stops themselves, because the car does not need as much fuel as before. The strategists are already racking their brains. According to Hitzinger, “there will certainly be lots of changes in terms of the tactics.”