By Gary Anderson BBC F1 technical analyst on 3rd December 2013.
Formula 1 is undergoing a revolution this winter.
The cars that emerge at the end of January for the start of pre-season testing will look very different from those of the last few years – and they will be even more radically changed under the skin.
There are significant changes to the chassis regulations and even bigger ones to the engine, which together amount to probably the biggest change in rules in a lifetime.
Chassis-wise, front wings will be narrower, front noses will be much lower, the rear wing has been reduced in size and exhaust-influenced aerodynamics – the defining technology of the last three years – should have been eliminated by moving the exhaust position to high up in the centre of the car.
As if that’s not dramatic enough, the 2.4-litre naturally aspirated V8 engines that have been used since 2006 have been consigned to the museum. In their place will be 1.6-litre V6 turbos with a much more extensive and integral use of energy recovery.
These engines will be governed by two different fuel restrictions: a maximum fuel-flow rate of 100kg an hour; and a maximum of 100kg of fuel to be used through a race. That compares with a maximum fuel flow in 2013 in the region of 160-170kg/hour.
The idea is to bring F1 into line with cutting-edge road-car technology, and to stimulate research and development in that area.
The name of the game is efficiency – using much less fuel to generate the same performance. The idea is to increase fuel efficiency by as much as 40%.
ENGINES ARE DEAD; LONG LIVE THE ‘POWER TRAIN’
F1 engines are now referred to as power-trains, to emphasise the importance of energy recovery within the motive package.
The V8 engines produced about 780bhp. The new turbo engines will on their own produce in the region of 620bhp or more, but the electrical energy will increase that back up to at least the same as before. Some insiders have even said total power could be as high as 840bhp at the start of 2014.
The engines will have a single turbo. Simply, the exhaust gases blow into a turbine, speeding it up. This is attached to a second turbine, which sucks in cold air and pressurises the intake system of the engine, increasing its power.
If, for example, a 1.6-litre engine is boosted by a turbo at two bar (twice atmospheric pressure), it behaves like a 3.2-litre engine.
But more boost means more fuel, so the fuel-flow limit will control the boost pressure the turbo can add.
On top of that, there are now two electrical motors rather than one, driving an energy recovery system that has twice the power and 10 times the capacity of the Kers F1 has used since 2011. This is now referred to simply as Ers – Energy Recovery System, because it is regenerating more than just kinetic energy.
Kers produced 60kw that could be used for 6.7 seconds a lap. From 2014, Ers will have 120kw for just over 30 seconds a lap.
One electric motor works like the current Kers. When a driver brakes, a motor-generator captures energy and converts it to electrical power, which is stored in a battery. This can then be re-applied during acceleration to boost performance.
The second electrical motor is attached to the turbo.
Normally a turbo has something called a waste-gate on the exhaust side, which releases excess energy if the pressure gets too high.
Instead of a waste-gate, the motor will convert that excess energy into electricity by preventing the turbo from over-speeding. This electrical energy can then be used immediately or to help charge the battery pack.
This second motor is new technology and it is an area that has been left open for F1 to innovate.
Because the turbo can be maintained at the required operating revs, its power delivery should be instant.
There will be none of the “throttle lag” turbo engines are notorious for, when there is a delay between pressing the accelerator and the power coming in, caused by the time it takes for the turbo to get up to speed.
This technology has a direct transfer to road cars, where instead of the most power for a given amount of fuel, manufacturers can employ it to make cars more economical.
The high levels of innovation required mean there is the capacity for one engine company to stand out from the others from the beginning. Engines will be a performance differentiator for the first time in years.
That is a good thing or a bad thing depending on your point of view.
A BASH WITH THE UGLY STICK
The new rules are not going to do anything to make the cars more attractive – quite the opposite in fact.
The most striking aspect of the new cars will be a much lower nose, as well as a narrower front wing, and the chassis rules could lead to some ungainly designs.
The chassis shape is defined by three points – the bulkhead at the front of the cockpit opening, which has a maximum height of 625mm above the floor of the car; the bulkhead at the driver’s feet, which has a maximum height of 525mm; and the crash structure in the nose, which is approximately one metre forward of that. That area has been lowered to 185mm – that’s 365mm lower than in 2013.
The problem is that the transition from the 525mm height to the 625mm height can happen almost immediately, and that will almost certainly lead to ugly stepped chassis in the area of the front wheels.
The FIA, which has lowered the front bulkhead to increase safety, recognised the inevitable problem and did try to smooth this transition out over a longer distance, but the teams refused. That’s because most want to carry on using push-rod front suspension, and a higher chassis where the suspension mounting points are located makes it easier to fit that in.
So the chances of a step on the top of the chassis nose, as in 2012, are very high.
As well as that, the bodywork then has to drop much further to the lower nose tip.
The teams are allowed a thin ‘vanity panel’ to smooth things out for cosmetic reasons, but this will add weight, so designers will be reluctant to use it.
The other big change at the front is the front wing, which has been reduced in width by 75mm per side.
This will significantly affect the aerodynamics at the front of the car, making it much harder for teams to turn the airflow around the outside of the front wheels.
It will also be hard to control the airflow that goes inside the front wheels, which teams did with the previous generation of cars until 2008.
Further back, the radiator inlets will be larger as a result of the greater cooling requirements. And at the back, the exhaust exits through a single hole in the centre of the car in front of the rear wing, which is smaller and no longer contains what is known as the lower beam wing – a horizontal element at the level of the rear light.
The lower beam wing has been used to ‘link up’ the airflow in the diffuser and the upper rear wing. Removing it will stop that happening, so the under-floor will be much more critical to ride-height changes and in its resultant aerodynamic behaviour.
WILL CARS RUN OUT OF FUEL?
Those with long memories will recall that when fuel limits were introduced to F1 with turbo engines in the mid-1980s, races were marked in the early years by cars running out of fuel.
But technology has moved on a long way. Fuel usage can be measured extremely accurately these days and the engineers will know from the first lap whether they’re in trouble with fuel consumption.
There may be times when drivers have to slow down, but it is unlikely ever get to the point of running out of fuel.
Nor will it be a case of driving slowly for a while and then speeding up in the last 10 laps. Teams will be trying to get the best balance of the fuel flow limit and fuel capacity for optimum performance throughout the grand prix.
RELIABILITY A CONCERN
The new power-units are extremely complex and teams are making no secret of the fact that reliability is a major concern at this stage.
Building a 1.6-litre V6 turbo should in theory bring no major problems, but these new engines do introduce direct injection into F1 for the first time, where the fuel is injected directly into the cylinder rather than just upstream of the inlet valves.
Beyond that, there is the complexity of the energy-recovery systems.
The engine is much more reliant on electrical power for its overall performance, so there will be no more winning races with a broken energy-recovery system, as Red Bull have done several times over the last few years.
Packaging is also a major problem. The engine is shorter but the battery pack is much bigger, and the additional motor on the turbo has to withstand turbo operating temperatures of 400-700C.
That’s why Red Bull design chief Adrian Newey has described these power-trains as “monsters”. The engineers all like to package nice cars.
I expect there will be times next season, especially early on, when we and the TV cameras will be searching the track for cars still running.
LESS WORK FOR THE DRIVERS
The engines are much more complicated, but the drivers will have less work to do.
Until now, the Kers boost has been accessed by a button on the steering wheel that the drivers have to press. But from next year the Ers is built into the running of the engine.
The electrical power will be used to create a much smoother torque curve.
The engineers will map the engine to fit the driver’s style and as long as he drives consistently then he will stay within the fuel consumption that you need for the race distance.
If the driver is erratic and every lap is a new experience that will lead to a bit of trouble.
WILL THE CARS BE SLOWER?
The indications are that the engine package will achieve very close to the same power as now, if not a bit more.
In terms of car performance, we are looking at loss of 10-15% downforce; as a rough estimate 10% is about a second a lap. They will also be 50 kilos heavier, which equates to approximately 1.5 seconds slower.
So the cars might start the season about three to four seconds or so slower than last year.
But once teams get their head around the front-wing changes some of that will be clawed back – more than a second during the season.
But a lot depends on the tyres. Pirelli is concerned about the torque demands of the new engines and may well be conservative, which would raise lap times further.