Video Explains How Small Formula 1 Engines Can Make 1,000 Horsepower

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A 1,000-horsepower engine doesn’t seem that incredible anymore. You can buy a production car that puts out that amount with an electric or gasoline-powered motor. Chrysler’s Direct Connection will sell you a crate engine with 1,000 horsepower. But to make that amount using a 1.6-liter engine? That still seems like witchcraft.  

Leave it to Jason Fenske to demystify these small powerplants on his Engineering Explained YouTube channel. According to Fenske, it’s all thanks to the combination of an extremely high-revving 1.6-liter turbocharged V6 engine paired with two electric motors. 

The origins of the current generation of engines date back to 2014 when the FIA, Formula 1’s governing body, created the specifications for the engine. Part of those specifications included the utilization of turbocharging, paired with two electric motors and a battery to store energy. But unlike a Toyota Prius hybrid, designed for fuel efficiency, the hybrid setup in an F1 car is used for extra power. 

One electric motor is used to regulate the turbos in place of a wastegate and for regenerative braking. The energy captured from those functions is stored in a battery which is used to power a second motor attached to the crankshaft. Combined, this system is called the ERS or Energy Recovery System, which adds an additional 160 horsepower and can be used in short bursts for accelerating or overtaking another car. 

On its own, the internal-combustion engine generates 830 horsepower, which is an incredible amount for such a small engine. Equally amazing is the fuel efficiency of these powerplants. For safety, F1 cars are not allowed to refuel during a race, meaning they must carry enough fuel to last for about 250 miles. F1 regulations also limit the cars to 110 kilograms of fuel, or the equivalent of 36.7 gallons.  

To achieve the necessary power and efficiency, F1 engines achieve a peak thermal efficiency above 50 percent, significantly higher than a modern passenger car’s 35 percent thermal efficiency. Accomplishing that requires a combination of pre-chamber ignition and a high 18 to 1 compression ratio. There are several tricks engine constructors can use for both pre-chamber ignition and to get the higher compression ratio which are proprietary and part of the secret sauce that makes up a modern F1 engine.     

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