Powering into the future

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Recently Mercedes executive technical director Paddy Lowe stated that with the current power unit regulations ending in 2020, discussions should begin on what will power our formula into the next decade.

Plenty of fans since 2014 have spoken out on their displeasure with current 1.6 hybrid V6 turbo era because of the lack of the high screaming pitch that had become so accustomed to the nature of the sport.

Yet despite all of this this we’re seeing the evolution of the fastest power unit the sport has ever seen, with the first iterations of these in 2014 showing not much more than around 750-800 horsepower. Heading into 2017 with no development tokens to hold them back, the fourth evolution could well take us past the 1000 horsepower barrier, in just four years a rough estimate of a 200 horsepower gain is incredible.

But alas, the current units are extremely technical and is alienating some of the fanbase who can’t understand the technology and are often finding that they don’t give the same thrill the old engines once did because of the noise generated.

How do we power into the future? 

With a move away from the current power unit the most likely scenario, the biggest question is, what will be the next power plant in the back of these cars?

A move back to the 3-litre V10s of old as some of the fanbase have called for is almost out of the question, the world markets and manufacturers are quickly steering away from such units as they are just simply to fuel thirsty. The V10 would run at nearly 190 kg of fuel per hour, this versus the current V6 hybrid turbo running at 100 kg per hour and producing the same power now if not more so, it would appear that progression of efficiency has clearly made the V10 now a cast into shadows of history in the technology stakes.

How about a move to an even smaller unit similar to that of the LMP1 Porsche 919? A 2-litre V4 block with a hybrid system that still as a package produces 1000 horsepower? A world away from a normally aspirated V10 sure, but it certainly would be an idea put forward by the manufacturers to allow the V4 to be the I.C.E. (Internal Combustion Engine) and perhaps allow a the hybrid system to have a massive development window to increase the electrical power output.

This might be more difficult to achieve in terms of technicality and with Formula 1 fans being put off already by some high tech being put out there, it might be a path the FIA may not want to adopt.

The alternative?

How about sticking with the 1.6-litre V6 format? It’s certainly not the most popular choice, but with the continuation of any regulation set will always sees the performance gap shrink, so why steer away again at possibly a great cost to again move to a different power unit?

With 1000 horsepower, the removal of the development token system and the 30% fuel efficiency that has been achieved, it ticks all the boxes for manufacturers to continue down this path, but with some fans who still haven’t quite bought into the concept it might be hard to convince them that this is the way forward.

The most common suggestion that has been put forward is to bring back the 2.4-litre V8 engine, but with perhaps a version of the current hybrid system attached including the turbo. While some of the technical aspects would remain because of the hybrid systems attached, a V8 I.C.E. is something the teams know very well and would be easy to work with.

Fans want to hear the scream of an engine that makes their hairs stand on end and rightly so, the hybrid setup will give the power unit a very different scream because of the energy recovery systems at work, but no doubt it would satisfy fans as well as keeping manufacturers interested in sticking around.

The tricky task would be efficiency, the V8 was roughly consuming 130 kg/ph on fuel, to get back towards the 100 kg/ph limit we have now would be a task for the manufacturers to work on, but no doubt they would be up to it; perhaps maybe even decrease the displacement to 2 litres could help with this?

Parity with the rules

With Paddy Lowe making the suggestions we should start talking about it makes perfect sense. When discussions started for the current era of power units back in 2011 there was a lot of things that just haven’t succeeded in the way they were intended, with limited power units and the early frozen development on a regulation set so new really hasn’t worked out.

To get discussions underway with 4 seasons remaining makes great sense, decide the unit, get the rules and regulations fixed fairly at a reasonable cost, all of this with some wiggle room for development without complete restriction would certainly please many in being prepared for the coming change.

It’s going to be a long way until 2021, but it all starts somewhere and I don’t think many would disagree with Paddy’s suggestion to start discussing it all now, I know I don’t.




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