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Mercedes-AMG Formula 1 Power Unit


Formula 1 Halts Engine Development – Does It Matter Anymore?

The crucible of motorsport is supposed to advance road car technology – but how do we excuse it if that advancement stops?

As of today, 01 March, 2022, all development of Formula 1 engines and hybrid systems are frozen. That means there will be virtually no changes to the the internal combustion engine, the turbocharger, the MGU-H, MGU-K, batteries, or electric motors for the next five seasons – and, ultimately, begs the question: is Formula 1 relevant anymore?

Before we start to answer that question, though, maybe we should talk about some of that heady language and heavy use of acronyms. You know, so we’re all on the same page.

  • Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) – you know this one, right? This is the piston-driven V6 component of a Formula 1 car’s power unit, and the one that’s (probably) the most familiar to readers of a certain age. In F1, these are high-compression engines made of exotic materials and built to incredibly precise tolerances in order to get the most powerful explosions possible out of a given amount of fuel. As far as ICEs go, these are incredibly efficient and powerful examples of the breed.
  • Turbochargerthis one’s a bit more complicated, but the TL;DR version is that a turbocharger is that it puts a turbine in the path of an ICE’s exhaust, which causes the turbine to spin. That turbine is attached by a shaft to another turbine that “sucks in” air, and forces it into the engine. More air means more oxygen, more oxygen means more, and cleaner combustion. Think of a “turbo” as a turbine-driven air leaf blower and you’re halfway there.
  • MGU-Hthe MGU-H (“H” for “heat”), takes the turbocharger a step further, effectively using that same exhaust flow that’s spinning the compressor wheel to spin a coil spun around the connecting shaft. Spinning that shaft creates electricity, which is then stored in the battery.
  • MGU-Kthe MGU-K (“K” for “kinetic”), this is similar to the “regen” braking found in modern hybrids and EVs, and essentially uses the kinetic energy of the car to spin a generator, converting that kinetic energy into electricity and storing it in the battery, to be used by the electric motor later.
  • Battery – you know what a battery is, but the one in an F1 car is ultra-lightweight, dense, and capable of cycling dozens of times in the course of a race. They’re light, tough, and efficient – exactly what you’d expect from technology developed with a budget in the hundreds of millions.

Whither or Wither, Formula 1

Clipped from F1 regulations.

Make no mistake, I love Formula 1. I’m a longtime fan, too, having begun watching motorsports while I was still in diapers. Many of my earliest memories involve sprint cars, watching Formula 1 and the Indy 500 on TV, and traveling around Florida to see races in Sebring, Daytona, and – of course! – downtown Miami. I have always understood the deal, too. Sure, this was a wasteful exercise in excess and waste, but it advanced the cause. It proved new technologies and made road cars better.

Throughout the 1980s and 90s, the results were immediately visible. Anti-lock brakes and turbochargers went from game-changers at LeMans to standard equipment in cars you could buy. Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive system changed the way we think about performance cars, even now, and popularized all-wheel drive in passenger cars. Heck, even Alcantara – a synthetic, suede-like material chosen for its durability and resistance to slipping as much as its appearance – became popular in this era.

From the 1990s on, the technology transfer was more subtle. Lightweight materials, traction control, telemetry, on-board computers, and semi-automatic transmissions (think: paddle shifters) made the trip from motorsports to passenger cars, continuing that “racing improves the breed” mentality.

Tech Transfer Today

Hybrids and EVs have moved on.

The world is moving to electric cars. There’s no denying that now, regardless of why. It’s here. It’s happening now. As such, it makes Formula 1’s engine development ban – a pure cost-cutting move – especially questionable, and not because F1 engines aren’t great, but because there’s already a plan in place to bring them back in 2026.

From where I sit, that makes Formula 1 a backwards-looking sport. Sure, they’re looking in synthetic, carbon-free fuels like Bosch Syngas to run the cars and keep “the show” alive, but does that offset the carbon created by the tracks? The hundreds of thousands of fans getting to and from the venues? The flights to carry the tons and tons of people, crew, and cargo that make up the F1 circus? If F1 is no longer the technological leader of motorsport, what’s the point?

My heart wants to say the thrills and personalities and innovative solutions to contrived engineering problems still make F1 worth the environmental costs, buy head is starting to believe otherwise. As such, I leave it to you guys: is there any way to justify Formula 1 in the battery-electric future that it seems to be turning its back on? Scroll down to the comments and let us know.

Original content from CleanTechnica.


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Written By

I've been involved in motorsports and tuning since 1997, and have been a part of the Important Media Network since 2008. You can find me here, working on my Volvo fansite, riding a motorcycle around Chicago, or chasing my kids around Oak Park.


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