Saturday, 26 January 2013

F1 2014 – The Second Turbo Era Begins

So, just in case you’ve somehow avoided all Formula 1 news in the last year or so, there will be a major shake-up in the regulations of F1 cars next year, the first major overhaul since the Kinetic Energy Recovery System and the new, cleaner bodywork with wide front wings and narrow rear ones was introduced in 2009. One the one hand, it means the end of the screaming V8 engine, which is sad, but on the other, it introduces turbocharging, something not seen in the sport since 1988, along with a much more powerful and important Energy Recovery System, er, system. Recently, details have emerged about the hotly anticipated Mercedes engine, pictured above. It may look like an engine block with a hat box and the beginnings of a strange horn on top of it, but it’s actually the future of high-end motor sport.

Well, OK, technically speaking extensive hybrid systems have already been around for a year or two in sports car racing, most notably in the Audi R18 e-Tron quattro and the Toyota TS030 Hybrid that raced to the death at last year’s 24 Heures Du Mans, and a small turbo engine is allowed instead of a bigger naturally-aspirated one in LMP classes. Still, F1 has to move with the times if it wants to stay relevant, and it is relevant; carbon fibre construction, ABS, Traction Control, semi-automatic gearboxes and a number of other things all filtered down from the world of F1 to the road cars you see every day (they’re still working on making carbon fibre an everyday car part, and a breakthrough is rumoured to be just around the corner). So the road car technologies of downsizing, turbocharging and sometimes adding a hybrid system have to in turn filter up to motor racing so they can develop. For instance, Direct-Injection is currently unsuitable for very high-revving engines because it can’t deliver fuel fast enough – hence why diesels, where the technology started many moons ago, are all low-revving torque-meisters – but with the new 1.6-litre V6 Turbo engines, F1 must find a way to use DFI on an engine that revs to 15,000rpm, either by combining it with indirect fuel injection or doing some magic. The maximum fuel injection pressure will be limited to 500bar, which is a lot, and they will only be allowed 100kg of fuel (roughly 140L), shedding 60kg from today’s fuel rules, with the outlawing of in-race refuelling still in place. This may lead to a balancing act by both strategists and drivers between speed and economy that hopefully won’t dampen the racing too much.

Since the 1990s, F1 teams have been secretive about their actual power outputs, but it’s generally agreed that today’s 2.4-litre V8s make 700-750 horsepower before you add the KERS boost. The 1.6 Turbo engines supposedly match this figure (in a car that will probably weigh around 20-40kg more…), but 2014’s cars will also feature ERS’s that that go harder for longer, opening up another ‘80s F1 trend of being associated with Viagra. Not really. The point is, the current KERS will be doubled in power output in 2014, meaning a 120kW (161bhp) boost, and will also be able to “harvest” up to 4 mega joules of energy from the rear brakes, a fivefold increase over this year’s system. The main reason for this extra capacity is that the system will be getting its energy from two different sources, combining a developed version of the current rear-brake kinetic-energy recovery system with a similar setup that harvests otherwise-wasted heat energy from the turbocharger when the car’s not accelerating. This has been nicknamed TERS, although in the regulations they are both called ERS, with either Heat or Kinetic on the end to differentiate them. I prefer saying “KERS ‘n’ TERS” though, and I hope Eddie Jordan and David Coulthard both say that live on TV next year. It’s like surf ‘n’ turf, but it’s made of lightning. REAL LIGHTNING.

So if the engines alone manage to make 700+bhp, the ERS boost will make that over 860bhp. But hey, that’s only for 6.7 seconds per lap, right? Nope. If LMP cars can use it most of the time, why can’t F1 cars? The power boost will be available for a massive 33.3 seconds per lap, which on some tracks should mean they can hit that boost button coming out of every single corner. I hope they don’t get RSI in their thumbs…

The thing about small DFI turbo engines with big fancy hybrid systems is that it’s all a lot more complicated than a naturally-aspirated V8 with a little motor-generator on the rear axle, so it’s more likely to fail somewhere along the chain between fuel combustion and tyre combustion. This makes the limit to just 5 engines per season – down from 8 – seem a little strict, but if Mercedes-Benz, Renault and Ferrari can make these engines reliable, they can certainly make their high-budget road car engines reliable too. They’ve all got some experience with smaller turbo engines (Ferrari makes the new Twin-Turbo V6s and V8s for the Maserati Quattroporte), so it could happen, but I would still expect a drop in reliability compared to the tried-and-tested V8s.

Renault's rendering of their engine
Another less black-and-white change will be in the power delivery. Let’s say a current 2.4 engine makes 700bhp. That’s 291.6667bhp-per-litre. The same specific output in a 1.6 engine would give just 466.6667bhp. For a turbo to add the remaining 233.333bhp to a 1.6, it will have to run a very high boost pressure. That will cause notable turbo lag, where the exhaust gases aren’t running through the turbine fast enough for it to do its work until a certain (in this case high) RPM, meaning a power delivery that goes nothing-nothing-nothing-EVERYTHING. This effect won’t be as bad as it was in the ‘80s simply because turbochargers are much better these days, but it will still feel very different to the progressiveness of an NA engine. This could cause drivers to get snap-oversteer as the turbo comes on boost mid-corner-exit, something they will have to learn to deal with at first. Seeing who adjusts the quickest will be interesting for sure.

As for the rest of the car, well, they were going to bring back late ‘80s wings as well, but after pressure from teams they’ve decided to keep the aero rules fairly similar to the current setup, although hopefully the stepped nose will be gone. Plus, of course, anything Adrian Newey comes up with that’s deemed too advantageous in this year’s Red Bull RB9 will be banned in 2014, because that’s just kind of how it goes these days.

So now you know. Or perhaps you already did, in which case well done for keeping yourself informed. This rules overhaul is why Lewis Hamilton moved to Mercedes-AMG F1, because the German operation are touted to have the best V6T engine and are widely regarded to have the best V8 engine at the moment. We’ll just have to see if it pays off, and how the Renault engine that will no-doubt sit in a Red Bull car compares…

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