Back to a turbo future

Formula 1 is preparing for a return to turbo power in 2013, but with revs reduced and the advance of KERS this won’t be like travelling to the ’80s

Under Jean Todt’s leadership the FIA is committed to launching a new 1.6-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged engine for Formula 1 in 2013, with a new generation of KERS or energy recovery systems as an integral part of the package. Onboard fuel capacity is likely to be slashed by half and engine power restricted to less than 600bhp, with revs kept to around 12,000rpm. For better or worse, the FIA’s turbo will herald a new age of Grand Prix racing.

Gilles Simon, FIA director of power train and electronics (and former Ferrari F1 engine boss), explains the concept: “The new power train will refl ect our view of the evolution of power trains within the industry, an approach we will apply to their development in all our championships. The new F1 unit will feature exhaust energy recovery coupled with an integrated energy recovery system. Durability will also be enhanced. We are aiming to introduce the advanced power train in 2013 and we’re working to defi ne the details by September. All the engine manufacturers currently involved in F1 – as well as other manufacturers – are participating in the technical meetings.”

Simon says the FIA is working hard to get the 2013 F1 rules right before addressing details of the ‘Global Racing Engine’, a roughly similar low-revving, low-boost 1.6 turbo four with an unstressed production block intended for use in a variety of worldwide racing categories. “Our work is focused on defining the F1 power train,” says Simon. “This will have similarities to the touring and rally car engines, but we’ll be looking at considerably different levels of performance. It’s important not to confuse the term ‘Global Racing Engine’ with our work on the F1 power train. A Global Racing Engine can be used in several formulae.”

At the Canadian Grand Prix in June I talked to many Formula 1 people about the 2013 rules. All were happy to discuss the matter, save Ferrari, which said it was too sensitive to talk about publicly. Among those who have been meeting regularly with the FIA to discuss the new formula is Williams director of engineering Patrick Head.

“The basic brief for 2013 is new technology and high efficiency,” he says. “They’re talking about halving the amount of fuel available for the race to a fixed amount, and also having a maximum fuel flow-limiting device. Maybe they will play games with those things according to the type of track. All this means you’ve got to produce a very efficient car, and to maintain the high downforce levels you’ll have to have a shaped underside. So they want very good fuel consumption, high efficiency, new technology, low cost and to improve the show. To satisfy all those parameters is not easy.

“The general public are interested in new technology and they’re interested to a degree in ‘green’ issues,” adds Head. “But I don’t think that’s what makes them watch motor racing. So it’s going to be an interesting journey to see what we end up with.”

“I‘ve been very happy with the FIA meetings,” says McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh. “They’ve been constructive. I personally would prefer to have a V6 engine, but I won’t be distraught if it’s an in-line four, as long as it sounds great and works well.”

Whitmarsh is a true believer in F1’s pursuit of cutting-edge technology and he’s convinced the time has come to embrace ‘green’ values. “We have to strike the right balance,” he says. “Many of us believe in the purity of Formula 1 as the most technically advanced area of motor sport. The technical competition we enjoy has been a fundamental part of F1’s DNA. Whether people like it or not, it has been one of the differentiating features of F1, which many of us think has contributed to the enduring interest that people have in the sport.

“At the same time we have to look to new technical challenges, and we should select challenges that are of interest to F1’s investors. At the moment that’s improving fuel efficiency and therefore reducing carbon output, and increasingly the automotive industry is moving to downsized turbocharged engines.”

Whitmarsh draws a parallel with McLaren’s latest road car, the MP4-12C. “Two or three years ago it was our view that a McLaren road car required a large capacity, normally-aspirated engine much like the McLaren F1,” he says. “When we started development of the current family of cars we began with that concept. But we came to the view that we had to demonstrate we were being responsible with these products, that we were reducing the carbon output. So we selected a downsized turbocharged engine that has phenomenal performance. It’s probably 20 per cent better in terms of its carbon emissions than the engines in competing products, and it’s a very exciting engine to drive with a lot of character.

“It’s natural therefore that when we’re considering future power plants for F1 we do the same sort of thing. We have to look at turbos, hybrids and energy recovery systems. We’ve got to demonstrate that F1 has a conscience and is an environment in which appropriate technologies are being developed.”

Mercedes-Benz motor sport boss Norbert Haug has been pleased with progress in the FIA meetings, but warns that the 2013 rules will have to be carefully framed to ensure development costs – especially for energy recovery systems – are kept in check. “In general, I’m always against spending money,” he says. “We all need to make sure it’s not the basis for a money-spending competition. We should agree on a form of resource restriction, like they’re doing with the Formula 1 chassis, and the FIA needs to be mindful that we cannot have budget limits on one side and spend whatever we want on the engine.

“F1 is the pinnacle of motor sport technology, so it’s important to have a technically demanding formula. Having said that, we should not be spending hundreds of millions of pounds. That would be completely wrong. If that were the case, it would definitely be the end of our F1 activities.”

Patrick Head echoes Haug’s concerns. “Personally I like the idea of more open rules, but we don’t want to get into a spending war. Supposedly, Mercedes spent €70 million developing last year’s KERS motors for McLaren. We wouldn’t even know how to start spending that amount of money. We probably spent about €2 million on the KERS system we developed. It is a runner. Next year we’ll be running our own KERS system. We just didn’t get it ready to run last year.”

Whitmarsh believes KERS can be a useful tool if the rules are written correctly. “It’s right to have such technologies. They encourage efficiency, create a challenge and highlight the relevance of what we’re doing. But we should also use them to enhance the spectacle. We’re going to have a great learning exercise next year. We’ll have moveable rear wings, rather then being deployable at a whim, which is where KERS was before and where the F-duct is today.”

The FIA confirmed before the Valencia GP that in 2011 driver-adjustable rear wings will be allowed for the first time, but can be activated only when electronic controls say so. This is defined as when “the driver is less than one second behind another at any of the pre-determined positions around each circuit”. As Whitmarsh says: “The car behind will be allowed to deploy a drag-reducing approach to attack and hopefully overtake, but the car in front cannot defend using that system.”

Both Renault and Ferrari pushed hard for KERS’ power storage to be doubled from 400KJ to 800KJ in 2011, essentially to make the systems more effective for racing, only for Mercedes to block the move. “If you’re going to have energy recovery technology but it’s not something you necessarily need what message does it send when the benefits are so marginal?” says Renault spokesman Bradley Lord. “That’s just a horribly mixed message for F1, which is why Renault is in favour of a much freer system. We want things so that everyone has it because you can’t afford not to. Then it’s a positive contributor and puts F1 on the path of research and development.”

Lord says Renault is a strong supporter of the proposed 2013 rules. “Ninety per cent of Renault’s road car sales by 2015 are going to be [based around] small-capacity turbocharged engines. We want F1 to be a forerunner of the technology that is used in our next generation of road cars. The other thing is a fully-integrated energy recovery system – not the bolt-on that KERS was last year, but a much freer, more significant system integrated into the engine and gearbox, so it’s a full drivetrain approach.”

But he also cautions against the dangers of creating a spending battle: “The FIA is in favour of total freedom, while the participants are in favour of something more restrained where we won’t end up sinking hundreds of millions of dollars in systematically searching for performance gains.”

Cosworth general manager of F1 operations Mark Gallagher has been working on the new rules with the FIA and manufacturers since the end of last year. “We’ve been meeting with Gilles Simon and the engine working group,” he says. “Cosworth has taken a lead with helping Mercedes-Benz frame the engine rules. There was an agreement that if we helped frame the regulations we’d do it in a way that would be affordable for us. And if it’s affordable for us, it’s affordable for the manufacturers. Nobody wants to come up with a proposal that’s going to cost $100 million to develop.”

But costs aside, there’s another reason why such as Whitmarsh would prefer a twin-turbo V6. It’s as much to do with producing an F1-like howling exhaust note as a handsome technical piece. “It’s entirely appropriate that we have a downsized engine, but it’s got to sound great,” he says. “In the last few weeks I’ve been driving our new road car with its turbocharged engine and it sounds fantastic.

“Part of the thrill of racing cars in general and F1 cars in particular is that they have an incredibly exciting engine note. It’s part of the spectacle. We want engines that are the most technically advanced in motor racing and are relevant to the challenges the automotive industry faces. We want people to view F1 as an environment where we’re developing relevant technologies, but you mustn’t lose the character of F1. It’s got to sound great. You can do that with sufficient revs, sufficient openness of the induction system and the exhaust. It can be done, and I’m sure we will do it.”

Head agrees that the correct exhaust note will be a key to the success of F1 in 2013. “A lot of the interest in today’s F1 cars is in the ‘shock and awe’ factor. It’s not quite as much as it was because we’ve now got these little 2.4-litre V8s. But they do rev highly – [up to] 17,000rpm. Not as high as they used to, but they do sound busy. If you have a 12,000rpm four-cylinder turbo I’m not sure that will produce the sound people like to hear from a Grand Prix car. People might say the [1980s] BMW turbo was okay, but in qualifying that engine made 1400bhp and it was dramatic. You’ve got to have that ‘God Almighty!’ factor. And in terms of what’s being talked about, I’m not sure that factor will be there.

“Personally,” Head continues, “I’d love to see it not be less than two litres for a turbo engine. The only reason I’d opt for an in-line four is because of KERS. They’re talking about 150 kilowatts KERS motors, which is big enough that if you had a V6 with a turbo on either side the only place you could put the KERS motor would be on the front of the engine, which sticks right into the fuel tank. It wouldn’t be tidy, but if that was the answer then we’d do it. Maybe a twin-turbo V6 would provide better noise than a four-cylinder.

“Obviously with an in-line four with a conventional head you’d have the exhaust on one side and the turbo and inlet on the other, and room to put the KERS motor down low alongside the engine. I can see for technical reasons why an in-line four would be better if there’s a big KERS motor on it. But I think for the health of F1 I’d rather see the twin-turbo V6. They’d be little jewels of an engine with little turbochargers and we’d just have to stomach putting the KERS motor on the front.”

Triple World Champion Sir Jackie Stewart believes Formula 1 must pursue ‘green’ technology. But Stewart joins Whitmarsh and Head in worrying about the reduction in the aural appeal of F1 and big-time motor racing in general as it goes down the ‘green’ road. “I don’t think anyone should be against being progressive to create a lower carbon factor,” he says. “Motor sport would be one of the most obvious areas for criticism if we as a community do not act responsibly. In F1 we are in search of speed and we are in search of economy, and with the new rules for 2013 you’ll have to have an even better balance of economy and performance in the same package. But F1 has the fastest development cycle of any sport or industry I know, and because of that I see no reason why we can’t be eco-friendly.

“But we can’t forget that one of the key elements of F1’s appeal is the sound. It’s an important ingredient in the total experience of watching a motor race, whether it’s Formula 1, NASCAR, Indycar or sports cars. If we make motor racing less spectacular by reducing the sound, we’re going to lose a lot of the audience. So we have to produce a formula that’s going to do positive things for our planet, while at the same time still enthusing and engaging people.”

I believe Whitmarsh, Head and Sir Jackie are right on the money. To me, the sound of a Formula 1 car is at least half the attraction. Here’s hoping the FIA, the teams and the manufacturers find the right solution.