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Analysis of F1 engine performance in 2009
Analysis of F1 engine performance in 2009
Posted By: James Allen  |  26 Nov 2009   |  3:47 pm GMT  |  113 comments

There is a great piece of work on Auto Motor und Sport’s website with an analysis of the engines in this year’s world championship. The analysis is based on collating the information each engine builder has about each other.

I’ve checked it out with some of the F1 engineers and it seems that the data is a pretty accurate reflection of the numbers they are working with.

The result is that Mercedes comes out top, with Toyota at the bottom.

Throughout the year one kept hearing stories about how much the Renault in the back of the Red Bull car was down on power compared to the Mercedes in the Brawn, Force India and the McLaren. In fact Renault were allowed to improve their engine quite a lot from 2008 to 2009 and it ended up not far off the performance of the Mercedes.

Most teams reached the conclusion, based on acoustic analysis and GPS, that the spread of engine power from the best to the worst engines was less than 2.5% this year. This means that, if the Mercedes is believed to have had 755hp, the least powerful engine was 18hp down, which is worth just under 3/10ths of a second per lap.

The BMW and Mercedes were at the top, with the Ferrari just behind, then the Renault and the Toyota. On this basis, given how close the lap times were between teams this year, the Toyota and Williams chassis must have been pretty good to withstand losing 3/10ths of a second through engine performance alone. Both teams had the double diffuser from the start of the year, of course.

Responding to rumours in the paddock about the performance of the Mercedes, the FIA took a Mercedes’ engine apart and tested it after Monza, giving it a clean bill of health.

The Renault won out this year on fuel efficiency, however, which was pretty important this year and will be much more important next year with no refuellling. Compared to the Mercedes, the Renault would go four laps longer on a full tank of fuel, which is worth about 3/10ths of a second per lap next year. The Ferrari was less efficient than the Mercedes, as we saw on several occasions this year.

As for next year, Cosworth is believed to be quoting a figure of 770hp, which is up on the Mercedes, but the fuel efficiency is still an issue and the unit is well short of the reliability testing of its peers.

Mercedes was given clearance by the FIA to supply a fourth team next year, but is not able to do so, due to the terms of its agreement with McLaren. Mercedes now owns the Brawn team, while McLaren has a technology partnership with Force India. So it is not in McLaren’s interests to add another competitor.

Red Bull is in limbo at the moment, waiting to see whether Renault, on whose engine its 2010 car is designed, will continue in F1. A decision is expected at the end of the year.

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Sorry that something went wrong, repeat again!

There is enormous force and pressure combined with energy that

makes up a tsunami. Each car has been given a careful polish to look and

sound authentic. The rigors of being a proficient race driver are generally also included

(such as having to deal with a car’s tire condition and fuel level).


Excellent, informative site.

I am particularly interested in the engineering side of f1 and would love to know more information about engine specs. I understand that much of this info. is guarded more closely than a nubile daughter but much of it must be common knowledge.

You’ve told us about the pneumatic nature of the engines top-end and the fact that they are built to rev up to 20,000 rpm but how, exactly, is this achieved? Is it through special materials which are strong and light? Is it through particularly high compression ratios? Is there a great difference in cam-timing compared to a normal dohc v8 engine?

An average V8 engine like the Rover (Buick) unit or even Ford V8 engines such as in Mustangs, F150s and the like only rev to a third of this amount. That is a great difference!

If F1 changes to 1.6 straight 4 turbo engines, what sort of spec are these proposed to be….

compression ratio, boost, cam-timing etc.

Thankyou, mate!


thanks for post, formula 1 engines are at the front of technology for internal combustion engines today. They are 2.4 liter V8 engines, with an operating range of 2000-20000 RPM. Like most car engines they have pistons connected via connecting rods to a crankshaft, they have a transmission and a clutch, as well as cam shafts and valves. Current F1 engines are naturally aspirated, and are not turbocharged. In order to produce 900hp, these engines must be capable of revving very high, 20,000 revolutions per minute to be exact. To do this these engines can not use conventional valve springs, but instead used compressed gas to return the valve to the closed position. Apart from that, and a few differences in some part locations such as the clutch, an F1 engine works just the same as any car engine.


Hello James,

Thank you so much for this post – I have just worked out the fuel efficiency of the F1 Engines in 2009 on my blog and the performance information was a real help!

Merry Christmas to you and enjoy the time with friends and family!


Have done a couple of my own comparisons this season and I am not so sure over the Renault being more economical than the Mercedes. Bearing in mind that the Mercedes is using energy in charging KERS, would that not balance out slightly?


“Red Bull is in limbo at the moment, waiting to see whether Renault, on whose engine its 2010 car is designed, will continue in F1. A decision is expected at the end of the year.”

I don’t understand why all manufacturers are leaving and do not leave the engine behind. OK, there are still costs involved but at least most of these costs, if not all, can be recover if they sell the engines to private teams.

In the last 12 months or so Formula 1 lost Honda, BMW, Toyota and now maybe Renault engines. We are left with Ferrari, Mercedes, Cosworth and maybe Renault. Three, maximum four engines for 14 teams!!!


Hi. Great Site.

In view of the seeming demise of KERS and F1’s supposed interest in being greener. Is there anything in F1 rules to stop the teams electrically spliting water and burning the Hydrogen and Oxygen gas produced to improve power/MPG? Always seemed a better bet than KERs to me!


Interesting idea, not heard that one before. Anyone have any views on that?


if it made sense in terms of energy balance to split water to make hydrogen and oxygen, and then use this hydrogen to burn with the oxygen to make more energy than you needed in the first place, then you’ve solved the problem of perpetual motion…!

Paige Michael-Shetley

If Renault has that big of a fuel efficiency advantage, then we can expect a cakewalk to the WDC and WCC for Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull, respectively. Having a .3 of a second weight advantage is going to be extremely difficult for any designer to overcome fundamentally, especially if arguably the best in the business- Newey- is the one with the advantage. With that said, I have doubts about the fuel efficiency figures from the report, as there were some occasions on which the Merc engine seemed to go just as long on similar fuel loads. (Hungary being one such occasion, when Hamilton went a lap longer than Webber on the first stint despite having a lighter car at the start.)

I’m not at all surprised that the BMW is rated so high on power output in the report. I really think the idea of McLaren purchasing BMW’s engine program would have been a great one for them.


This is why I read your blog James – two very interesting titbits that I hadn’t read elsewhere:

“FIA has said that equalisation is up to the teams to agree between them this year, which will not happen.”

Do you mean it won’t happen in terms of they won’t be able to agree so will go back to the FIA or it won’t happen and we will have unequal engines? Please don’t suggest we’ll have more infighting as one team complains they have stuck to the rules more than another. Cue stewards, appeals, and FIA hearings…

“That’s what the Merc strip down was about. It overreved to 18,300 over the kerbs but that is normal apparently”

I’m not that technically minded, but could this be why the McLarens and Brawns were so good on the curbs? I would have thought this is more about chassis balance than anything, but can someone speculate if this temporary overrev would have “fired” these cars out of the corners better? Or am I miles out…?


No, it’s when the wheels lift off the ground and spin free, the revs went to 18,300, no advantage to it.


“The Renault won out this year on fuel efficiency, however, which was pretty important this year and will be much more important next year with no refuellling. Compared to the Mercedes, the Renault would go four laps longer on a full tank of fuel, which is worth about 3/10ths of a second per lap next year.”

OK, first thing’s first: Companies that specialise in remapping road petrol engines claim that doing so to increase the BHP also increases MPG, because you don’t have to drive the car as ‘hard’ to achieve a given speed.

I can accept this. Doesn’t this therefore mean that, the regulations being as tight as they are with regards to bore, stroke, capacity, configuration, fixed vee angle etc. etc (indeed, the phrase “all things being equal” applies pretty well here!) that as the Mercedes produces the most power, it is the most efficient engine? And that the Renault ran longer because it had a bigger tank? or have I got this wrapped around my neck as usual?

Basically, what’s the relationship between power and MPG, surely the most power from a given capacity is therefore the most fuel efficient?


Hi James,

Its clear to see that the FIA are trying to get the racing back on track, but what are the over taking group doing to spice things up for next year?

Heavy cars, and a difficult aero set-ups affected this years over taking, so it may well be worse next year!



Hi can someone please shed light on wether Cosworth have 770bhp at the fly wheel. As an engine pushing power through a bench is a world away from the reality of it going through the flywheel.

And one final question. Do you think its fair that Cosworth have been allowed to develop for 2010 and the others not?


One of the more interesting things to know, would be the difference in torque curves between all of the engines. Low-end torque, and a smooth torque progression with a wide maximum flat is just as important as overall power.


Is there an English version of this site?

Auto Motor und Sport’s website


James, I wish you’d link to other peoples’ sites especially when discussing their stories. Yours is a very anti-web approach.

Anyway, here’s the original article –


Actually, that links to an article from December last year and it talks about Cosworth winning the tender to supply the cheap engine package


so, power;






Fuel efficiency;







James, how serious do you think VW are about their recent announcement that they are considering entering F1 as an engine supplier?


What use is the BMW’s engine power if it keeps blowing up!

Although, it is interesting though that the two german manufacturers both have/had anecdotally, the most powerful motors.


And it is interesting because it is an article from a german magazine… in which I never ever saw a car comparison test lost by a german car maker.

And I’ve been reading it for 15 years.


I’m very curious to see how fuel consumption plays into all this. Somehow, I feel that 15-20 kilos’ worth of extra fuel, when the cars are loaded to the brim, would play a bigger role than +/- 10-15 bhp…

Having said that, the all-mighty Merc engine is pretty fuel-efficient, right? In F1 terms anyway… 😉

That, plus watching the drivers having to nurse their new tyres for 1-2 laps after a pit-stop, should change a few things. Call me a hopeless optimist, but I expect to see quite a bit of overtaking at Monaco in 2010!


Good stuff James…!

BMW messed up big time in ’09. I blame KERS.

I’m expecting a few of the Cossies to destroy themselves in the first few races… until they re-acclimatise themselves with F1 properly.

Interesting that the Renault was most fuel-efficient in ’09 and that will really come into play in 2010.


Another great informative article there James! I’m sure you’re going to be busy over the festive period, but please keep these coming. I’m sure I’m not the only one that’s counting down to the first race of 2010, and we all need our fix!



I seem to remember Force India squeezing more laps out of their first stint fuel loads than the other merc engined cars at a couple of races, any word on this?


Could it be a drag thing? The Force India, whilst lacking downforce, is a very slippery car, allowing it to be at the top of most speed trap lists throughout the year… I would imagine that this would have a positive effect on fuel consumption at least although I don’t think it can outweigh the positives of good aero…


Well, I personally don’t believe that, with the information you get from certain teams (f.i. Ferrari), that exact power numbers can be retrieved. There are an incredible amount of parameters to go by and almost all of them are non public. The only way to go: fit all different engines in exact the same chassis/body.

A little less efficient aero package and an engine a bit more tweaked to the max revs end of the scale gives more or less the same result as a car with a better aero package but with an engine that has a little bit less power.

The only difference is that the less efficient aero car is asking more energy thus burning more fuel. Not because the engine is less efficient but due to the aerodynamics.

Revs and torque make power. Since the rev limit in F1, the max power from a unit is more or less predictable (but not exact) due to the fact that differences in torque between a bad and a good engine is only very minimal.

With such small differences, the available power band and fuel efficiency become more important than sheer power.

I’m sure that the mercedes engine of this seasons F1 was a very good one, BMW’s is for sure more a question mark.

In the last 15 years I have read many, many articles of AM&S. In the end of their stories, the german products are always best. No exception here.


Don’t forget that the Mercedes engine is actually designed and built in England by Ilmor, a company now wholly owned by Mercedes (they bought them out in 2001)


Yes but as long as the mercedes logo is proudly present on the engine it doesn’t make no difference to the majority of the AM&S readers. Or to the AM&S for that.


I doubt Cosworth will produce a top class engine.


James, ain’t got much to say, but great insight as usual.

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