An Illustrated Guide to F1′s Radical New Engine (from Wired)


The new engines coming to Formula 1 this year are radical. So radical, in fact, that Formula 1 insists it isn’t an engine. It’s a power unit.

They even capitalize it: Power Unit.

They can call it whatever they want. We’ll call it awesome. At 760 horsepower, this turbocharged, hybrid-electric power uni… er, engine isn’t just the most technologically advanced mill in the world, it’s also one of the most efficient.

In recent years Formula 1 has made a big push toward efficiency, and to make the technology propelling guys like Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso around the track at least somewhat relevant to the cars the rest of us drive. They’ve experimented with kinetic energy recovery systems and even toyed with the idea of making the cars run only on electricity in the pits. Beginning this year, teams areare downsizing from a 2.4-liter V8s to 1.6-liter V6s that feature direct injection, turbocharging and a pair of energy recovery systems that pull in juice from exhaust pressure and braking. They also sound like pissed-off vacuum cleaners. This isn’t the first time F1 has embraced turbos, and the new hybrid systems are a step up from the push-to-pass KERS systems we’ve seen in recent years. It’s a whole new breed of racing technology that balances output with efficiency.

It’s where power meets programming.

“In essence, engine manufacturers used to compete on reaching record levels of power,” says Naoki Tokunaga, Renault F1′s technical director for Power Units. “But now will compete in the intelligence of energy management.”

That last bit — “energy management” — is the key to F1 in 2014, and poses a host of new challenges for both the engineers and the drivers.

“In the relationship between fuel used versus lap time, there is a borderline between what is physically possible and the impossible — we name it ‘minimum lap-time frontier,” says Tokunaga. “We always want to operate on that frontier and be as close to the impossible as we can.”

Skating the line between the possible and the impossible will be a challenge for drivers as well. While most of the heavy lifting will come from the armies of engineers in the pits and back at race HQ, drivers must change their driving style to suit the tech and manipulate the various knobs and switches needed to maximize performance on the fly.

“There will be certain driver-operated modes to allow him to override the control system, for example to receive full power for overtaking,” says Tokunaga, adding that, “the throttle response will be different so the driver will need to readjust for this. However, full throttle no longer means a demand for full engine power. It is an indication to the [power unit] given by the driver to go as fast as possible with the given energy.”

So how will Renault and the other 21 racers taking to the track in 2014 manipulate this new engine to dominate the pinnacle of motorsport? Hit the full-screen view in the gallery above for the details.


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