The 2017 oil-burning issue in Formula 1 has been an interesting discussion and possible reason for performance gains made by Ferrari and Mercedes over the course of the season. Perhaps Renault as well but I’ve heard less of their program than I have about the other two.
The FIA did release some mid-season guidance on the concept of burning oil on the piston head to increase performance and I would suspect that Renault is doing less of this innovation as Red Bull’s Christian Horner has come out as a staunch critic of the concept.
“Burning 4kg of oil in a race, it’s almost a diesel engine,” said Horner.
“It goes against what the concept of this eco-friendly hybrid formula is.
“I think the reality is it would be better to see it addressed properly, and take away the uncertainty.
“I know other teams are particularly upset about what they perceive as oil burning, particularly during qualifying.”
Let’s be honest, he’s got a point. If F1’s entire reason for bringing the hybrid power unit into the sport in 2014 was to be more sustainable and achieve a higher efficiency rate for their engines, then simply burning more oil in the piston is completely antithetical to the entire notion of being more sustainable.
The effort to be more efficient and more sustainable bankrupted three teams and has cost Sauber, Williams, Force India, Toro Rosso, Red Bull and McLaren a lot of time, effort and cash in engine supply contracts as they can’t/won’t build their own engines. At this point, the hybrid is so complex that these teams can’t justify the amount of R&D it would take to build their own.
It’s difficult to know, sitting on the outside, where the biggest gains in performance have come from over the last three years but as the MGU-H and MGU-K as well as ERS are relatively limited through regulations, one could presume that the Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) is where the teams have made advances and in particular, by burning oil in the piston chamber. It’s a guess on my part as I am not embedded in the engine departments of the teams.
McLaren’s boss, Eric Boullier, is also not sure the current regulations are strict enough.
“I know the FIA and Charlie [Whiting] are working very hard to try to close the loophole because there’s not a clear definition of oil in the FIA regulations, but I don’t know if it’s going to be enough,” said Boullier.
“We have to also clamp [down on] this oil consumption, which would be at the end closing the loophole for next year.
“I think the restriction may [need to] be a bit higher than it is planned to be today.”
At some level, we’re arguing over if the hybrid power unit is as “green” as it was initially intended to be and surely the FIA may feel it is not but like many of these issues, it is difficult for the FIA to manage this flouting of the regulations. Ultimately they will have to detect the amount of oil used in an F1 car as well as the amount of oil in the fuel mixture.
We have a hybrid power unit and yet we are nearly running a diesel configuration so what have we gained? We’ve gained power unit efficiency for sure but does that take into account the burning of oil? I found this article very interesting as it echoes some of the things I’ve been saying since the hybrid was introduced. I also applaud David for having the guts to write something contradictory to what most auto journalists are parroting.
On some level, we are now beating lap times and while the broadcasters are really excited about it and bigging up the hybrids, we’re beating lap times from 10 years ago. I’ve argued many times that had we not changed to hybrids, are we seriously suggesting that even ICE V8’s or V10’s would not have improved in development over the years? Surely we would ahve been beating laps time with an evolved V8, no? As you can see in the linked article, the efficiency of today’s ICE is impressive and in many cases, more efficient than even than some hybrids.
That’s not to compare them with the F1 hybrid, that’s another beast for sure but still, isn’t the prime mover all about road relevancy? I said back in 2013 that I felt the way forward was to reduce the fuel-flow rate to the V8’s and watch innovation still deliver 800bhp at 18,000rpm over time. Mercedes says their F1 hybrid power unit is road relevant and that may be…for a super car. I would argue that an evolved V8 would have been more directly road relevant to more models across their car line but I may be wrong. Maybe they derive more road relevancy from a MGU-H for the C class but somehow I doubt it.
At the time, F1 deemed the V8 a horrible bane on society but it was one of, if not the, most efficient engines in the world. The FIA felt that 3mpg’s was a terrible message to be sending but in my opinion they were looking at the wrong metric. They should have been looking at the efficiency rating of the V8 and then, through reducing fuel-flow rate, watched as the technology got even more profound and efficiency even greater. That is road-relevant to me.
Hat Tip: Autosport