F1 Turbo Engine Reliability

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As mentioned in Podcast 334, Alain Prost has expressed doubts over the reliability of the turbo engines to be used from next season.  The original article in AUTOSPORT gives the reliability figures for the Renault works team from the original introduction of the 1.5 litre turbo engines in 1977 until the team’s withdrawal from F1 in 1985.

However the Renault engines were supplied to other teams as well, and many other manufacturers also produced turbo engines with eventually all teams being powered by the forced induction engines in 1986 before the normally aspirated option grew to 3.5 litres in 1987 along with a reduction in allowable turbo boost.

Looking at the finishing rates for all the turbo engines between the first tentative appearance in 1977 until they were banned at the end of 1988, we get the following table, the first figure is the number of finishes for the engine in the season and the second is the number of race starts:

1977

1978

1979

1980

1981

1982

1983

1984

1985

1986

1987

1988

Renault0/44/148/2811/2714/2914/3225/5136/9554/10650/95  
Ferrari   0/114/3016/2220/3018/3219/3214/3211/3219/32
BMW     6/2218/4420/6834/6335/935/32 
Hart     2/1710/2924/704/471/5  
TAG      0/721/3216/3017/3120/32 
Honda      4/89/3217/3124/3242/6144/61
Alfa Romeo      10/2912/5213/444/300/16 
Zakspeed        1/99/279/293/14
Motori Moderni        2/132/312/29 
Ford         7/2413/32 
Megatron          18/6018/32
Osella           2/10
overall0/44/148/2811/2828/5938/9387/198140/381160/375163/400120/32386/149

0.00%

28.57%

44.44%

39.29%

47.46%

40.86%

43.94%

36.75%

42.67%

40.75%

37.15%

57.72%

 

The first year of any turbo engines introduction was plagued by a particularly poor finishing rate, but overall through the period the percentage finishing rate is surprisingly low by today’s standards.  Of course not all of these failures to finish are down to engine failure, there are examples of driver fatigue, accidents and running out of fuel in the results as well as other parts of the car failing.  However it is still highly likely that the finishing rate in 2014 will not be as high as it has been over the past few seasons.   Even the all-conquering McLaren Honda in 1988 had one engine failure that year.

So next year especially if the season runs to 22 races will the championship be less of forgone conclusion as we come to the fly-away races towards the end of the year.  Will potential unreliability issues mean that drivers within 60 points of the lead have a better chance of snatching victory due to the threat of impending engine demise for the championship leader?  If the unreliability strikes at the rate it did last time turbo engines were introduced in F1, then much of the grid will be getting 10 place grid penalties for using a sixth, seventh or eighth engine from about this point of the season onwards.

Mark Webber’s fireworks at the end of Singapore may just become a familiar sight next season, as more engines end up with the insides on the outside.  While this may not show the engine manufacturers in the best light, at least it shows that they are pushing the development to the limit.  While Prost has expressed an opinion that the failures may only appear in the pre-season tests.  I somehow doubt that any unreliability issues will be fixed in such a short time, and expect such issues to last through most of next season and possibly into 2015.

So, will anyone be able to do a Raikkonen and finish all the races in 2014 in the points?

 

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