F1's Turbo Challenge

A look into how the new "green" turbocharged engine regulations for the 2014 season and what effects it will have on the sport for the teams, drivers, engine manufacturers, the FIA and even the fans.
Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Jonny Rocklicff. A life-long Motorsport fan writing for GP Focus and regularly giving his thoughts on its podcast, often enjoying making references to Formula One from "back in the day". Follow him on Twitter at @SilkCutJag1985

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July 4th, 2012 (F1plus / Jonny Rockliff).- As things currently stand Formula One is set for the return of turbocharged engines in 2014, bringing about the end of the current 2.4 litre V8′s that have been used since 2006. As the sport looks towards “greener” technology there are many challenges ahead for the teams, the engine manufacturers, drivers and even the governing body, the FIA. This will also see the return of the “turbo era” which produced many memorable World Championship battles in the 1980's, before being banned at the end of 1988.

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The FIA initially planned for the new engines to be used from 2013 and to have a flat 4-cylinder configuration, however after an FIA World Motor Sport Council meeting this time last season the concept was ditched in favour of a 1.6 litre V6. Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone expressed concerns that the sound of the flat-4 engines would be bland, too “different” and that it would “alienate the fans” from the sport. It was also seen as a cheaper alternative to develop and at the same Council session the introduction was pushed back a year to allow the manufacturers more time to develop the V6, especially as some work had already started on the flat 4-cylinder engines, and to refine its durability as the engines will be expected to last for even more races than the V8′s currently do.

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With the European economy currently in a volatile condition Ferrari President Luca Di Montezemolo has recently pledged for all the teams and the FIA to work together on reducing costs in the sport and prevent it from becoming a casualty of the economic situation. FIA President Jean Todt has admitted that the turbocharged engine package “will be more expensive” but that he is working in close conjunction with the manufacturers to negate the increase in costs as much as possible. Already there are some measures in place and one such example is a further restriction on the number of engines a single driver is permitted to use in a season, after which grid penalties are given for every new engine used over the limit. Currently a driver has an allocation of eight engines to be used throughout the season, in 2014 the limit is set to be reduced to five engines per driver in a season with a further cap for 2015 which will permit just four engines!

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One of the classic and powerfull Turbo engines of the 80s (Honda)

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This is why durability will be more crucial than ever, however the new technology being incorporated to the design of the engines could endure the life-span of the engines. A new technology based on the KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) concept is to be introduced called TERS (Thermal Energy Recovery System) and the way it functions is to harness the hot air given off by the exhausts and utilise them in a similar fashion to which KERS currently is. The V6 configuration and size of the new engines means that they potentially will share some similarities to the turbocharged engines of the 1980′s, however the new specifications will only allow for one turbocharger and it has been nearly a quarter of a century since the end of the previous turbo era.

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A new engine supplier known as P.U.R.E. is set to enter the frame in 2014 although there are unsurprisingly no teams currently contracted to receive a supply of V6 engines. The operation was set up by former manager of Jacques Villeneuve and British American Racing founder Craig Pollock. The engines have been designed by Gilles Simon, former FIA technical director and head of engine development at Ferrari. Back in January of this year Craig Pollock commented that the firm were “six months ahead of schedule” and that the first engine is due to be fired up in July. Also he hinted that Cosworth could end up pulling out of Formula One by mentioning that he expects there to be four engine suppliers in 2014 and that “these are Renault, Ferrari, Mercedes, and Pure”. Cosworth is a privately owned operation and doesn’t have the resources to develop their engines on the competitive levels that car manufacturers can, they currently supply engines to just Marussia and HRT, having lost Williams and previously Caterham as customers to Renault. Potentially this could hinder development of their own turbocharged engine.

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Designing a car around the turbocharged engines will be a new challenge for the teams, even those who were around in the 1980′s such as McLaren, Williams, Ferrari and Lotus (under the Toleman and Benetton guises), the new engines will change the dynamics of the car dramatically thanks to their smaller size, the differences from the 2.4 litre V8′s and also the new TERS device.

Those who drove the turbo cars of the 1980′s often recall that you “had to have balls to drive those cars”, particularly Gerhard Berger, thanks to the tremendous amounts of power that the turbos produced before limits were imposed on the maximum allowed boost. Driving a turbocharged car produced many other challenges as well as coping with the power, most notably dealing with the infamous turbo lag where acceleration would be terrible out of slow corners and then the power would suddenly kick in and very harshly in the case of some engines. Technology has evolved a lot since those days and any turbo lag effects could be nullified by deploying the energy recovery systems that will be available to use, however it could take a lot of getting used to by the current drivers, who may be used to the rapid acceleration of the 2.4 litre V8′s.

Ferrari engine used for the 2011 season.

Strategy will be just as important as it is now as drivers and teams will be required to manage the energy recovery systems, boost pressure and the amount of fuel injected, a skill which Alain Prost became a master of during his Championship winning years. Management of the rear tyres will be essential as there will be higher wear rate from the higher torque output from the engine. Harder rear tyres may need to be developed by current sole tyre provider by Pirelli. This is an area which may possibly play into the hands of the smoother drivers such as Jenson Button and Sergio Pérez, however it is very early to start speculating about the winners and losers over the driving styles required to master a turbo Formula One car!

Many cynical fans, particularly those who never witnessed the turbo era, have commented that the new engines will mostly sound either “tame” or “too quiet”. If only they took two minutes to watch a classic Grand Prix from this period to listen to the awesome sounds that the engines gave. And if that wasn’t enough perhaps a visit the Goodwood Festival of Speed might change their minds, where many classic racing cars are often demonstrated and run up the historic hill climb track, including those from the turbo era. Fans will undoubtedly expect to see plenty of overtaking action, particularly with drivers and teams having control of the amount of turbo boost at their disposal to attempt an overtake. As a consequence of what may be witnessed the current Drag Reduction System could eventually be made redundant.

2014 is still quite a long time away yet and many things, especially political issues, can happen in that time frame. The political world of Formula One can sometimes be just as predictable as the on track action we have seen in this season’s Championship and we could even see yet further delays to the introduction of the new engines or further alterations to the technical regulations. I for one look forward to seeing the return of the turbo era, witnessing the drivers having to cope with turbo lag and the subsequent sudden delivery of the power and also once again hearing the “snarl” of a turbocharged engine.

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