ATLAS F1   Volume 6, Issue 45 Email to Friend   Printable Version

Atlas F1   Taking the Lid Off F1

Formula One Technical Analysis


  by Will Gray, England

Last year, Atlas F1 ran a series of articles that investigated the technical areas involved in design, development, and construction of an F1 car. Now, a year later, Will Gray picks up where he left off, and dives deeper into the technical analysis of Formula One.


Part 8A. Horses for Courses: Engines

Current Formula One engines are incredibly powerful, producing around 800bhp (that's the equivalent of the car being towed by a pack of 800 horses). They run at up to 17,000 revolutions per minute - this speed of rotation determines the power the engine produces, and the value given is a maximum, only happening at full throttle. Compare this to your average hot hatch, which produces around 140 horses at 4,000 to 5,000 rpm, then realise that the F1 car is probably half the weight of the hot hatch, and you can begin to understand why Mr Schumacher and friends get going so quickly!

This power doesn't come easy, and major manufacturers have to spend millions to keep up to speed. Winning pays off, so more and more major manufacturers are coming into Formula One for the publicity of being the best in the world - Honda spent a long time at the top, and are leading the rush back into F1. So where does all this money go? The engine manufacturer strives for four things - low end power, top-end speed, minimum weight, and maximum reliability: a tall order from a mechanical machine which must take so much abuse!

Mugen-Honda MF-301HEThe engine has a number of cylinders, each of which can be imagined as a fully enclosed baked bean can with an inlet on one end (the valves) and a moving base on the other (the piston). For every cylinder, the valves open to allow air and a fuel spray into the combustion chamber (the inside of the cylinder), where it is compressed by a piston moving up the inside of the cylinder. The compressed air in the enclosed chamber meets a spark and is ignited, creating an explosion, the force of which pushes down the piston which originally moved up to compress the air.

This piston is connected to the crankshaft (a shaft running through the lower half of the engine) in a manner such that the linear movement of the piston creates a rotational movement of the crankshaft, and that over the course of a single, full 360 degree rotation of the crankshaft (called a cycle), each piston moves up and down in its corresponding cylinder once. The rotational movement of the crankshaft is transferred by the transmission to the rear wheels to provide the forward motive force.

The designer has many factors which he can play around with to improve the engine. In Formula One, the regulations currently specify a cubic capacity of 3 litres (3000cc) - that is to say only three litres of air may be taken into the engine in every cycle. That means that the volume of all the cylinders must not exceed three litres, and the regulations now state that the mandatory configuration must have ten cylinders, no more or less.

The airbox feeds air from above the driver's head, through an intake, and vertically down onto ten engine trumpets. At the end of these trumpets are the valves which allow the air into the engine. The speed of the air going into the airbox (which is whatever speed the car is travelling at) provides a ram effect which forces the air into the cylinders under pressure before the piston compresses it further, offering improved performance.

The Ferrari V10 model 049Engine improvements also come from packaging and weight reduction, as well as from performance. The engine, at around 100-120 kilos, makes up a significant proportion of the car's dry weight, so designers use new materials with improved strength and reduced weight to allow the reduction of the engine's dimensions, and make it more compact. As with the car, is critical that the centre of gravity of the engine is as low as possible - of such importance, in fact, that Adrian Newey recommended an engine design change to Mercedes simply for that reason. In addition to this, the actual height of the engine itself should be minimised, because the engine cover comes as low as the top of the engine allows, and with a lower engine cover comes better airflow. It all inter-relates!

Weight saving and packaging is all well and good, but achieves nothing if the engine pops its clogs half way through the race! Reliability is the buzz word for a successful engine designer - and if he fails to achieve this, the world often knows about it in a spectacular fashion with a smoke-screen which hides nothing, and cannot be ideal for publicity! The designers have complicated computer simulation tools at their disposal, with which they analyse the stresses the engine must cope with. Along with this, they run full or 'half' engines in test cells (soundproof booths where the engine rotation is run to F1 speeds without moving anywhere) to analyse their performance and reliability.

An F1 engine is built to survive for a handful of hundred kilometres, so a team will go through around eighty to one hundred engines in one season! The engines do get rebuilt, and the checking procedure which goes along with this (measuring parts and checking for cracks) takes up to five days. Parts from the engines, like all parts on the cars, are 'lifed' - the exact amount of kilometers they have been used for is logged - so that they can be re-used but discarded before the designers predict they will fail. Once built or re-built, an engine will be fitted to the car's gearbox, and checked in a test cell in simulated race conditions, prior to being taken to the Grand Prix.

As well as the mechanical side, semi-automatic gear shifts and 'fly-by-wire' technology means the engine involves a mass of electronics. When the accelerator pedal is depressed, it allows a certain amount of fuel and air into the cylinder mentioned earlier. The more the pedal is depressed, the more air and fuel is allowed into the cylinder's combustion chamber, and the bigger the explosion. The bigger the explosion, the bigger the force on the piston, and therefore the bigger the rotative force on the crankshaft, which is in turn transmitted to the wheels, so the more accelerative force there is. However, the pedal is not physically connected to the engine - and this is where the electronics come in.

The Mercedes-Benz FO110J V10In the olden days of a metal wire connection, the angle of the pedal physically related to the butterfly valve (the device used in the engine to regulate the amount of air allowed into the combustion chamber). Now the connection is made via computer, and the 'engine map' basically tells the engine what angle of pedal relates to what volume of air and fuel allowed into the cylinder. In doing this, the team can give different 'maps' to each driver, so that they can get the best out of the engine. They can also change the maps for wet weather, so the driver doesn't need to change his driving style. Those boys get it easy these days! But thatís what the FIA thought, too - so they have restricted engine electronics significantly, and police it heavily.

Engines are at least as complex, if not more complex than the cars themselves and require a design and manufacturing team as strong in skill and numbers as that of the team it supplies. The current merging of team and engine manufacturers, along with the increasing involvement of the manufacturers themselves can only serve to make F1 technology grow faster than ever.

Next Week: "Use the Force: Transmission"   |   Previous Parts in this Series:    


Will Gray© 2000 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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