F1 Winter Break
F1 in the Future – The Engines
F1 in the Future – The Engines
Posted By: James Allen  |  27 Dec 2009   |  1:34 pm GMT  |  105 comments

Thanks for all the feedback and ideas so far. Given widespread concerns about global warming and the environment, the conspicuous consumption of fossil fuels for entertainment is a concept that has a limited shelf life and it present risks for the sport. This is the key area where innovation is essential for survival – it’s as simple as that.

Perhaps given the seriousness of the situation, many of your ideas concern the engines, fuel economy and alternatives for the future.

F1 cars will always be light and will need a lot of power from the engine. Most engineers agree that twenty years from now the prime mover of a Formula 1 car will probably still be fossil-fuel powered, but with a strong element of electrical assistance from hybrid technology, which recovers energy from braking and recycles it into motive power through electricity.

They all agree that the engine will probably be just 500cc, with a development of today’s turbos attached to the exhaust to harness the exhaust energy. The unit will probably develop around 300-400 horsepower, with boosts coming from energy regeneration. Scavenging energy to convert into power will be a vital part of the story. They will have direct fuel injection, variable valve timing and small motor generators on each wheel making the most efficient recovery of energy. Currently engines are only about 30% efficient. Engineers believe that by then they should have improved to be around 50% efficient or more.

F1 has to fit in with the developing process of man’s reaction to global warming and this presents its major threat. Between then and now F1 has the chance to present itself as the laboratory for the drive towards fuel efficiency and sustainability.

One of the challengers for the rule makers will be noise. The sound a racing engine makes is a big part of the attraction for many fans, but it will no longer be acceptable in 20 years time to put out 100 decibels. The sound will have to be reduced, although not to the level of hybrid vehicles today, which are virtually silent.

Although great progress is expected to be made in electric car technology in the next 20 years, engineers do not believe that F1 cars will be electric by then as it would take a revolution in battery technology to make ultra lightweight batteries which were able to charge up quickly enough in the energy regeneration phase, store enough energy to cope and then discharge the energy quickly enough. There will be good electric racing series in 20 years, but will F1 be one of them? Probably not.

Hydrogen presents safety concerns which are considered unlikely to be surmountable by then, according to F1 engineers I spoke to.

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I have been reading all your comments on new technology for the future of F1 and saving the planet, it has taken a long time to read because so many of you have given your ideas. I have been watching F1 all my life and I believe that if any of the brains behind F1 have read your ideas would be laughing to how you think is the way foward in F1. These guys are so clever that when the time arrives they will have the solution to making F1 as quick and as exiting as it is today. So please let the professionals get on with it and all of you stick to your full time jobs. It’s basically the same in every sport, take the England team in the world cup at the moment. Everybody is an expert at football, just let Capello get on with it because he has the crudentials in his line of work just like the F1 designers.



Pardon me if I’m a bit off topic here (I am not an engineer) but surely this whole discussion is mooted if the FIA’s idea of saving money is to ‘freeze’ engine development, or to even SUGGEST tuning down the dominant Mercedes engine of 2009 to level the playing field for this season. Please correct me if I misunderstand the above and ignore the following rant…

Surely the whole point of F1 is to outsmart your opponents technologically whithin the given restrictions (Brawn 2009?). Would it not be much, much more entertaining watching different solutions to the same problem race each other (under the same budget restrictions), than stifling development and handing out standardised parts to save on development costs? The Idea of slowing cars down for the sake of safety is in my humble opinion a misguided one in a sport like F1. Dont lower the performance, Increase the safety! Never offer a technological ‘hand down’, always offer a ‘hand up’. The drivers are supposed to be the top athletes in the world – they know what they are getting themselves into – and have the talent to do it safely (look at professional surfers – the risks are HUGE and they still manage). And the engineers are surely capable of coming up with solutions to any safety concerns that may arise – which would be useful in the real world as well.

To get back to the engines of the future – so many interesting concepts and ideas have been mentioned in this discussion – the FIA should give the F1 engineers the freedom to pursue some of them, instead of dumbing the sport down in every passing season!


“but with a strong element of electrical assistance from hybrid technology, which recovers energy from braking and recycles it into motive power through electricity.”

They already had it with KERS. Why did they get rid of it just when it was working ? One of the best bits of telly ever seeing Eddie Jordan having to swallow his words that ‘no KERS car will ever win a grand prix’

Yes, PLEASE give them more power & less grip. I love burning hydrocarbons and the lovely smell and noise that it makes. But we can’t do it indefinitely.

Global warming or not (what, Copenhagen, and the Arabs want us to PAY THEM if we stop using their oil ? Make me laugh – I presume that this is on the basis that they’ll stop supplying oil now if we don’t. Isn’t that called blackmail ?) there is a finite supply of oil.

F1 is about the bleeding edge. There are several here who say you can’t or it’s not possible. So we couldn’t fly to the moon ? Build a monocoque car ? Ground effect ?

No, not everything is possible, but F1 should be leading the pack, not following it. Why not push electric technology ? Being cleaner doesn’t hurt, regardless. Maybe we will all benefit in the long run from better batteries or other power storage techniques, motors or entirely new technologies etc. Think what could be done if all the engine manufacturers in the world overnight had to stop development of the internal combustion engine (30% efficient now after over 100 years of development, maybe 50% efficient in 20 years ? Big whoosh. Not.) and push all their R&D cash into finding a new power source………….

The trouble is that there are too many vested interests (namely the extremely rich people who control most of the oil) who want oil to stay……… Is F1 brave enough to send the oil companies the way of the tobacco companies ?? I doubt it. Money talks and integrity slings it hook and walks.

What a sad world we live in. But as long as F1 is on the edge & pushing cars to the limit, I’ll be watching.


Looking through the comments on this post i was surprissed to not see any mention of different internal combustion engine configurations. i for one would love it if they opened up the rules to allow rotery engines or the new MYT (massive yet tiny) design.

The MYT design has a better power to weight ratio than even the most advanced jet engines (read the engine in the f22 raptor) and has awesome fuel economy.


Happy New Year everyone! And thanks again for the book, James. A wonderful read.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled program, already in progress…

As is always the case, F1 has ignored simple solutions. Alcohol fuels to name one (alcohol made from tobacco ought to run a car at least as well as moonshine liquor…). More broadly, the FIA has put the sport into this bind by decoupling it from engineering in the “lower” classes. As someone pointed out above, there’s no grass roots connection. Of old, F2 regs provided a direct preview of, and warm-up for, the next F1 – and many of the innovations seen in F2 came out of F3. The history would be more tedious than difficult to mention, but citing Cooper and Lotus will suffice for now.

A return to this practice is urgently needed. FIA surveys are not enough. FOTA surveys are not enough. They have inherent lag-time before anything practical can be implemented based on the findings, if implemented at all. There must be a way to prototype the formula, to see, on track on the shop floor and in the grandstands, how a new formula would work. I wrote a guest column in Racecar Engineering to this effect about F2 (which ran, ironically, in the same issue that the spec series route would be taken). The basic concept was simple: Production motorcycle engines (as defined by the FIM, a body with which the FIA has no visible coordination, another obvious thing that something needs to be done about), ATV or snowmobile engines at a max displacement of 1200cc.

Going further, and using the same sources for engines, I’d say turbo/supercharged four-strokes to 600cc, unblown to 1200cc; two-strokes unblown up to 800cc and blown up to 450cc, ideally running on alcohol fuel. The appropriate chassis and safety rules are ready off the shelf via Appendix E of the FIA code, the “national” or “free formula” regulations. Set a 450kg weight limit (WITHOUT ballast), and allow designers freedom over type of transmission, choice of driven wheels, and position of the driver relative to the engine i.e., permit front-mid engined designs – a realistic possibility in four-wheel and front-wheel drive vehicles.

Adopting this as an FIA Formula Four (F2 having taken a different road) is feasible and can be done quickly. It’s essentially in place right now. Racers around the world have already made such cars and engines the standard at the club and lower professional levels in all manner of formulae (e.g. Formula BMW, the SCCA D Sportsracer class, Radical Sportscars, Legends Racers, Minisprints, NHRA Jr. Comp dragsters, etc., etc.). Bringing these strands together as I’ve described cannot be too difficult. Many of these series already provide a model, taken from Formula Ford, for how a world championship could be run to this formula without the ruinous travel costs associated with F1: National or regional championship series from which the top (five?) finishers in each would go to a World Final. Rotate the location of the Final year on year, and you have the bonus of Bernie’s “Olympic dream.”

Think about it.


I think hydrogen is going to be left behind as an automotive fuel. For general purposes, I think all-electric vehicles charged form the grid is where we’ll see domestic cars go. The question is, does F1 & other motor sport formulas follow the trend of domestic vehicles?

If they did, I think we would see many new technical innovations to aid competitiveness such with drives being able to control the distribution of power to all 4 wheels, and with pit-stops for changing powerpacks & energy conservation/management during the race being as important then as they are now. And isn’t it these kind of elements that interest most dedicated F1 fans the most: drives & teams putting the best in automotive technology to the test?

The sound will be a sad loss though! But with F1 engineers pushing motor RPMs to 200k and beyond, who knows what the new sound of an electric F1 car might be like?



Lets read this text in 10 or 20 years, and we will see what will be the future. James, remind us about this text 🙂


I`ll be….around 50!!!

Hope i ll change my Fiesta by then ;))


Smaller quieter engines, electric, hybrid ! all thing that make worry about the future of F1. F1 should be about going fast and nothing else, if a technology comes along that doesnt make an F1 car go faster then it should have no place in F1.


James, I think we should be pushing for more power. Daniel Ricciardo said after the recent test that the car basically had more grip than power. As a drivers championship, we want it to be the other way around. The engineers keep finding downforce, so more power is needed. From a half litre turbo they’ll get close to 500 kW from petrol in time reliably, but this isn’t enough!


I agree with that, good point


The sad thing is, this sounds far more entertaining than the future vision of F1 being described throughout this post!


Can anyone say Podrace?



Just curious as to why the engineers have safety concerns with Hydrogen fuel when it is less volatile than petrol.

This is where I’d like to see the sport go. Not only is hydrogen the most plentiful substance in the universe but the exhaust emissions is nothing but harmless water. It needs a lot of electricity to produce the fuel but that is offset by the tons of oxygen the process produces.

Also, as far as I am aware, the cars will sound like a normal petrol engine. The fans win. The environment wins.


Pumping more oxygen into the atmosphere does not “offset” the rising CO2 levels. If only it were that simple!

In reality, making hydrogen fuel takes an awful lot of power. That power has to come from somewhere, and if it’s coming from fossil fuels we have gained nothing by switching to hydrogen.


I’d prefer to see a limit put on both fuel capacity and fuel flow, but allow the engineers the freedom – de-restrict engine capacity, layout and induction – to find the most efficient method of getting the most power for the duration of a race, including the use of KERS. If the power outputs increase too much then further limits can be placed on the fuel system.


I still don’t get why the sport won’t liberalize a lot of the regulations (with the one stipulation that cars must have a certain level of fuel/energy efficiency) to allow the teams to innovate and arrive at the best possible technical package for their powertrains. Dictating from the top down, will only result in incrimental advances versus more exciting (probably more expensive since teams will waste money on dead end ideas) prospect of different teams/cars pursuing different solutions.

In my opinion, best way to initiate such a long term excercise is to remove the engine formula restrictions and switch to a fuel/energy efficiency formula that becomes more restrictive over time. Once the excercise becomes build the fastest, most reliable, most efficient powertrain system as possible (maintaining no refueling and liberalized powertrain regulations), teams would be forced to innovate.


An interesting series of articles, thanks.

As someone who is working with a group who have developed a hydrogen fuel cell powered car, it seems like the ideal power plant for a racing car and has a lot to gain from being developed in that environment.

Neither storage or safety issues need be a barrier as there are vehicles in service now that meet all existing norms.

Going back and proposing a volatile fluid as a fuel, that pools under the damaged vehicle, would now be very difficult if it had not been so well established. Hydrogen can be exquisitely well contained and managed and rises away from the vehicle if released.

Generation of Hydrogen can be accomplished in many ways that are in tune with environmental good practice but they need to be developed on a large scale to have an impact.

I can see motor racing looking at both problems, generation and motive power. It would be very interesting to see teams having to create their own Hydrogen and then using it most effectively at a race meeting.

Hydrogen would give the range required for a proper race and would more readily fit a race chassis than batteries, which have even more complex safety problems and will remain bulky and heavy for a long time yet.


What? So road cars will be ahead of F1? They are actually allready. The hybrids are on the rise and they are here to stay. In this respect. Honda, BMW & Toyota were right to drop out of F1. F1 is just an expensive marketing tool with irrelevant R&D.

But it shouldn’t be. F1 could drive innovation as decisions need to be made in a blink as opposed to the endless board meetings in companies.

Fossil fuelled engines are a dead end. Who cares about noise? Everyone is wearing ear plugs allready. And if you don’t, you should. Wake up! All the noise of our road cars have been DESIGNED by a group of engineers. It is like clubbing. There’s no need for the music to be so loud.

Imagine a F1 car at high speed without noise. That is truly sci fi! You could hear the sound of the wind. One could replace the noise by relevant commentary and live stream pitlane interviews from James Allen and the likes. At the end of the race a victorious driver could speak to his fans live from his car in his out lap 🙂


F1 has always been about the pinnacle of technology and it has trickled down to road going cars . If you are going to sit ther and say that it is irrelent to development you are not only ignorent but uneducated . Wher do you think that todays suspension came from or the common automatic tranny . Stop living in your own fantasy world and come back to reality . By the same token i gues medical reasearch is just a expensive pr campaign .


If anyone had to describe the death knell for F1 in the future, this would be it. F1 can only marginally be aligned to green friendly before falling flat on it’s face, because everything that generates the excitement is totally anti green. I can fully understand limits being placed upon fuel usage during a race but as soon as you reduce it below a certain level, you are better off with 250 MotoGP.

If you try promoting F1 as having significant green credentials, this position has more holes in it than the biggest deep sea fishing nets. Anyone who believes that F1 can be used to efficiently develop the green initiative must remember that this could be achieved for a fraction of the cost and energy in a standard development program. F1 is all about excitement, pace and power.

There is still a place for F1 in this ever encompassing green environment, but more akin to a chocolate biscuit every two weeks in a restricted diet. You can only go so far diminishing the end product until such a point where it no longer becomes attractive. Horse racing could follow suit by adopting only Shetland ponies mounted by camel jockeys, it is just not viable past a certain point.


James, I found an article whislt browing for related info. Looks like other formulas are already experimenting with greener racing technology.

“Audi has been stomping the competition at Le Mans with its diesel R10 and R15 racers, and it even brought some biodiesel along last year. Peugeot has been right behind the Germans with its own turbodiesels and plans to run a diesel hybrid at Le Mans in 2011. Here in the United States, the American Le Mans Series runs a whole slate of alt fuels and hands out awards to the most eco-friendly entry. And boutique automaker Panoz is working on an ALMS race car that burns algal fuel.”




Running an electric motor with CVT ‘box may be greener and quicker. However, as many have pointed out previously the sound of F1 cars highly tuned engines is part of the attraction.

I think the gearbox and drivetrain in general will see more development before the sport retires the internal combustion engine. Rules currently specify certain number of gears, between 4 and 7 I think, which is restricting development. You can now buy a Skoda Octavia with 7 speed, double clutch auto ‘box, F1 needs to stay a step ahead.

I have a feeling that Jame’s next post will focus on drivetrain.

By the way James, this is not the first time that alternative fuels and power sources have been tried.

Rover BRM Gas Turbine car, tested for the 1963 Le Mans, never really took off, so to speak. And neither did Chrysler’s clean burning, liquid natural gas turbine-flywheel racing car, circa 1994.

I hope F1 doesn’t disappear into an environmentally friendly black hole of it’s own making.


I wonder how much energy could be harvested from a generator coupled to an exhaust-driven turbine? If a turbocharger isn’t used to compress an intake charge, could it contribute to an energy recovery and boost system, even under current or pending F1 rules?


First time commenter, love the site BTW, the most informed and civil of any comments section anywhere…anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about future racing cars (writing a project about just that). I think the writings of Ray Kurzweil can lend an insight. He posits convincingly that technology grows exponentially and that when things grow exponentially it makes it difficult to exactly predict how fast they will get “out of control”, or at least beyond our wildest predictions (although he does try). F1 being so tightly entwined with technology it would be hard to see it not be affected by this growth. Basically what I’m trying to say is that I think the next 20 years will surprise us all.


Thanks for that


Thanks JA for another good read.

This is my first comment on this site so it might be all over the place.

Before anything, it is hard for me to imagine why it is so difficult to implement a budget cap. As prominent examples, the NFL and NBA in the states have salary caps (a huge portion of the teams’ budget) that work quite well.

Expanding salary cap to most of the teams activities is a bit of work but not inconceivable. Considering F1 is essentially a franchise league, this is needed to keep smaller teams competitive, as opposed to European football leagues where there are opportunities to get attention (and income) from relegation, etc.

It seems that people in the business are (since they are mostly Europeans I suppose) ignoring the difference between the business models of F1, which is in fact closer to the franchise model in the US, and other sports leagues in Europe and want to have their “freedom.”

Regarding the actual topic of the article.. I personally believe it is best to lift all the regulations and simply put in a “carbon credit” limit alongside the comprehensive budget cap, and maybe (a big maybe) a personnel number limit.

Carbon credit is a simple enough concept that it is easier to market, which many companies have started to use around the world. This way teams will have a lot of flexibility to venture into different technologies within the budget cap, which I think is another big interest generating point of the sport. For example, some teams would go for a big bio ethanol engines (since they would consume a lot less “carbon credit”) as some have done in the US, or some might think that electric system is better (given that the battery technology will advance, which very slowly is.. but it is a well known fact that we have reached the limit of the traditional technology for making batteries more capable until we have a breakthrough in fuel cells. Clearly at this point it is not feasible even with 3 pit stops to change packages), or to stay with the petrol engine.

This opens up the avenue for hydrogen engines in the future as well without a change to the rules. Of course some rules still need to be enforced (safety regulations and tests, tires, and perhaps some limits on the aero wake, which can be tested in a wind tunnel with the chassis).

Again, this brings us back to the fact that F1 is really a franchise league. With the budget cap it is possible to have people really put in the effort and money for the future if things don’t go well this year. I would take another example from the NFL: teams at the bottom of the league often give the current year and the next 3-10 years up and put in a large investment in key personnels such as a quarterback (replace “quarterback” with “engine system” or “advanced KERS system”…).

Many of these technologies can lead to driver aids. For example, I am pretty sure KERS can easily be used as a TCS (since KERS sort of has to be controlled by electronics it is easy to use KERS to replace brakes in the overall TCS system). If the budget cap and unlimited development are implemented, it would be a challenge to deal with these issues. Noise and other marketable “amusement points” are topical issues that would need to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.


but it is a well known fact that we have reached the limit of the traditional technology for making batteries

It may be well known, but it is incorrect.

New technologies with new materials, order of magnitude better performance and superior packaging as well. All as of Nov/Dec 2009.

Most people seem to be writing batteries off as at their peak, they are nowhere near (unlike the internal combustion engine which has changed little during my lifetime relative to changes in battery tech during the same timespan). Nanotechnology is changing many preconceived ideas about these areas.


Yes, except that we have been hearing the exact same stuff for the past 10 years without a “breakthrough.” We have had advancements in lithium-ion batteries, but no real breakthroughs from the fuel cells that we were promised ten years ago, in fact it was widely promised even twenty years ago if I remember correctly. Given the history, it is a bit early to be “sure” about such a breakthrough happening from another technology and productionized within 3-10 years.

It is in no way to imply that batteries are at their peak and I am sure they will advance to a point it can replace petrol engines (there certainly are a number interesting technologies being tested in the labs), but it is to say that their progress to get better has been a lot slower than expected, and as of now there is no reason to believe otherwise.


on that i had heard that williams had developed a KERS system that used flywheel to store the energy as compared to batteries.. that could be the direction for sustainable future coupled with some environmentally friendly fuel source such as solar power

also the circuits can use the heat /geo thermal energy produced by the cars to produce electricity.. i m sure there is alot of energy produced by the cars over the entire course of the event that is lost in the environment which if captured can be put to use and bring the “green credentials” to the sport.

few such steps could help offset the carbon emissions and F1 can play the part to be the laboratory for future technologies at the same time


interesting thoughts!!

i would like to add here that electric cars (at least today) are not necessarily more environmentally friendlier as compared to conventional petrol cars.

the biggest issue is when it comes to dispose of the batteries… imagine if all cars in the world run on batteries… where would all the li-ion and other chemicals end up?

not just that… i remember in one of the top-gear episodes, they proved that traveling by car has lesser carbon foot print per commuter as compared to that of an electric train…

so unless we can find out a way to recycle/ the batteries we can’t claim that electric is the way to go…

solar energy has the most potential but there are still few gaps to be filled

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