Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, Jerez, 2014

Are the 2014 cars powerful enough for Formula One?

F1 StatisticsPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, Jerez, 2014The change in regulations for the 2014 season has prompted debate over whether the new generation of cars are fast, powerful and exciting enough for Formula One.

The combination of an overhaul in the engine regulations plus another rise in the minimum weight limitd has led to concerns that the new-look F1 will be less exciting than what went before.

How will the performance of the new cars compare to previous generations of Formula One racers? Let’s take a look at the data.

F1 car power-to-weight ratios, 1966-2008

The chart below shows the power-to-weight ratio of McLaren’s F1 cars between 1966 and 2008 and gives a useful indication of the performance of competitive Formula One cars during recent eras of engine regulations.

In 1966 the short-lived 1.5-litre engine capacity limit was scrapped and teams were allowed engines of up to three litres. The Cosworth DFV was the engine to have for much of this time, with Ferrari taking a few titles in the second half of the seventies.

However the arrival of Renault’s F1 entry in 1977 heralded a coming revolution in F1 engines. They took advantage of a rule allowing for 1.5-litre turbocharged engines and by the early eighties these were clearly the future of F1 engine development.

Ayrton Senna, McLaren, 1988McLaren were a little late to get on board as reflected in the data below – Renault and Ferrari’s early eighties contenders were more powerful, though also considerably heavier. When the turbo era ended in 1988 their all-conquering Honda-powered MP4-4 represented a peak in terms of power-to-weight ratio.

In 1995 the F1 rules were changed so that the minimum weight for a car had to include its driver. To make for a fairer, albeit rough comparison, that 90kg hike has been added to previous years’ data in the ‘adjusted’ line below.

That shows us that when V10 engines were scrapped at the end of 2005 their power-to-weight outputs were comparable to what had been seen during the turbo era.

However it’s very doubtful they approached the extremes of the qualifying laps of the early eighties, with unlimited boost and ‘hand grenade’ engines which destroyed themselves after a single lap, during which they produced more power than the dynamometers could read…

Year 1966 1967 1968 1969 1970 1971 1972 1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
Power-to-weight – bhp per tonne 600 691.59 793.04 822.05 803.74 789.47 798.61 798.61 773.71 792.16 789.47 800.68 785.95 803.42 820.51 944.44 1388.89 1388.89 1388.89 1574.07 1666.67 1370 1380 1425.74 1462.45 1267.33 1465.35 1142.86 1166.67 1233.33 1266.67 1308.33 1325 1350 1375 1475 1516.67 1533.33 1225 1275 1275
Power-to-weight – bhp per tonne – adjusted 513.6 592 675.45 700.16 688 681.82 690.69 690.69 672.94 686.85 684.83 694.24 683.14 696.3 711.11 809.52 1190.48 1190.48 1190.48 1349.21 1428.57 1161.02 1169.49 1210.08 1241.61 1075.63 1243.7 1142.86 1166.67 1233.33 1266.67 1308.33 1325 1350 1375 1475 1516.67 1533.33 1225 1275 1275

Data source: McLaren – The Cars 1964-2008

Power-to-weight ratios in the V8 era

Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, Monza, 2008Two changes have affected power-to-weight ratios since 2008. The first was a steady increase in the minimum weight limit, which by 2013 had risen by 47kg to 642kg. This obviously has a negative effect on power-to-weight ratios.

The second change was the addition of energy recovery systems, which made a further contribution to total power output.

With engine development rules frozen the introduction of KERS in 2009 represented by far the most significant opportunity for engine manufacturers to increase horsepower. And even then only to a limited degree – the regulations permitted an extra boost of 80bhp for 6.6 seconds per lap.

This indicates that by the end of the V8 engine era last year Formula One cars had a power-to-weight ratio of over 1,300 bhp per tonne – comparable to what Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari was producing when he won his third world championship.

Power-to-weight ratios in 2014 and beyond

The engine rules have been completely overhauled for 2014. The new units are smaller in capacity (1.6 litres) and have fewer cylinders (six). But for the first time since 1988 they are sporting turbochargers and, perhaps most significantly, boast considerably more powerful and sophisticated electrical energy recovery systems than has been seen before in F1.

The cost for this in engineering terms has been another substantial increase in the minimum weight limit. It now stands at 691kg and with most teams struggling to hit that mark it will rise again to 701kg next year.

Simple maths shows us that in order for this year’s F1 cars to have a comparable power-to-weight ratio to last year’s they will need over 900bhp.

A recent report indicated one engine manufacturer may be close to that. Mercedes have indicated their engine is producing close to 700bhp before the extra 160bhp-plus from the energy recovery systems is taken into account.

That indicates a power-to-weight ratio of around 1,240bhp per tonne. But it’s important to keep in mind that power isn’t available at the exit of every corner – a major part of the new regulations requires teams to manage the energy they have and unleash maximum power when they need it most. We look set for some exciting qualifying sessions this year.

It will remain comfortably the highest-performance single-seater racing championship in terms of power-to-weight ratio. The current IndyCars produce over 900bhp per tonne and the new Japanese Super Formula racers will be close to 850. While NASCAR’s monstrous machines are at least a match for F1 in terms of sheer power their huge weight – 1,515kg for the lightest drivers – results in a more modest 560bhp per tonne.

All torque

Kevin Magnussen, McLaren, Jerez, 2014Formula One engineers’ pursuit of maximum power for minimum weight has been repeatedly thwarted by the rule makers and often with good cause – in the name of improving safety or protecting teams from the worst excesses of an out-of-control spending war.

But seeing the world’s best drivers grapple with light, powerful racing cars is a fundamental part of the sport’s attraction and one which those who write the rule book should be wary of diluting.

However there are encouraging signs that the new generation of engines will not leave us wanting in terms of the spectacle. The difficulty of handling the power and torque of the hybrid-boosted turbos had drivers slewing sideways out of the slow corners at Jerez.

“The power of the engine is awesome,” Jenson Button enthused after his first taste of new-style F1. “It’s very torquey.”

“It feels the most powerful engine I’ve driven. Obviously it isn’t in terms of outright power but as a racing driver you feel the torque, you feel the power at low-speed, high-speed, throughout the corner, you don’t really feel the difference.

“But it’s coming out of the corners when you have so much torque it’s exciting.”

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Images © Daimler/Hoch Zwei, Honda, Ferrari/Ercole Colombo, McLaren/Hoch Zwei

92 comments on “Are the 2014 cars powerful enough for Formula One?”

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  1. Jack Flash (Aust)
    18th February 2014, 1:42

    Keith – Sorry but I have issue with the inconsistencies of mensuration in this article. Not the data itself, nor the conclusion so reasonably presented from the data; just the manner in which it is identified in measures.

    In an International forum, such as this website on the internet, there is an element of responsibility to keep measurement units straight and within the relevant systems-of-units. Mixing Imperial units of mechanical power [brake-horse-power (bhp)] with that of SI units of mass (kg/tonne) is poor form.

    Formula 1 is a sport governed by the FIA, which ascribes itself, its inspection records, and all its regulatory sets to employ SI units, otherwise known as “Metric”. I have no problem with a choice to use Imperial measures to present data for some reason, but mixing them — No.

    SI based ‘Power to Mass Ratio’ (power to weight): Watt(W) per kilogram (kg), or kilowatt (kW) per tonne (t) is valid.
    Imperial ‘Power to Weight Ratio’ (mechanical output): brake horsepower (bhp) per ton (T) is valid.

    Our brethren American friends have enough problems trying to bend their heads around Formula 1 and the SI unit world. Mixing units is not helping their cause. A far more instructive international audience presentation would perhaps have shown both mensuration systems for direct comparative reference. Imperial unit plodders could have learned something Metric without realising it.

    Don’t misunderstand me. I really appreciate all the fine exemplar data you’ve collected and the insightful points you made based on that data (bravo and thanks), but the mixed units things I cannot abide. Please do not do that again. Jack Flash.

    1. Jack Flash (Aust)
      18th February 2014, 1:46

      Oh, and for Reference:
      1 bhp = 746 Watt (10 bhp = 7.46 kW)
      1 std ton (2240 lb) = 1016 kg

    2. Oh, please…bhp and lbs have been used by car enthusiasts for ever. Most people can translate it to other formsquite easily if they are desperate enough. We still use inches on our tools when working with cars.

  2. I can’t wait to see Fernando’s early upshifts exiting out of the corners!
    He’s so clever and sensitive doing that,and especialy this year it will make a difference compared to everyone else(having all that torque and low downforce at the rear end).

  3. I think the power is too low.
    I don’t mind the turbo engines at all, but I just don’t see the need to restrict power and fuel use so much.
    Keep the small turbo engines and ERS, and just allow them to use more fuel.
    We wouldn’t need to have this discussion, and I think more power with less downforce would be more fun to watch then less downforce and less power.
    Regardless of where they set the limit, it is going to be an efficiency race as long as they don’t reintroduce refueling, since fuel weighs a lot.

    1. I think the introduction level is alright – the real problem is the imposed development freeze along with the new engines. Without the freeze they might have reached 800 bhp + ERS within the first couple of seasons.

      It will be interesting to see what Honda ends up with since they are somehow escaping the freeze until introduction in 2015.

  4. Looking at those figures, especially during the 1980s, makes me wonder… what on Earth would engines be like now had turbos not been banned for 1989 and development allowed to continue with few restrictions?

    Sadly I’m not mechanically minded enough to be able to make an educated guess. If anyone is, would they have hit a plateau, even with the brilliance of F1 engineers working on them? Or could they theoretically continue to get more and more powerful…?

  5. And my car is at a sad 227 (without me)…

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