I like the ‘SOUND’ of the FIA’s meeting on future F1 engines

If you listened to our recent interview with NBC Sports F1 broadcaster and championship-wining F1 mechanic, Steve Matchett, you’ll know we discussed the very topic of today’s news from the sport’s governing body, the FIA. The question? What will the next Formula 1 engine iteration or formula be in 2021?

If you’ve followed any of my editorials since 2014, you’ll know that I, as a CTO in the AV technology industry, have beat my chest over the press and pundits of their immediate change in the choice of words they chose to use when trying to support and promote this current engine formula.

I have, on many times, highlighted that it is easy to spot the Melissa McCarthy eco-warriors amongst the press as they immediately replaced the word “sound” with the word “noise” back in 2014 which moved the conversation from what is truly a visceral part of F1 to something that instantly fans were to associate as a negative element of the sport. It was heavy-handed, pervasive and shocking to me how quickly this happened and how ham-fisted it was from a brand perspective given that millions of fans found this element one of the most compelling. 

Even today’s news has been placed in the eco-correct word machine and the headlines from the press are still using the word “noise” when the FIA themselves—in their own press release—have reverted to what it has always been—SOUND.

In my interview with Steve Matchett, you’ll recall that I asked him about improving the sound and he said the only way he can see that happening is to remove the turbo and brilliantly, he also noted that it isn’t just sheer decibel levels (he’s obviously correct) but the frequencies in which the exhaust note carries which is spot on. I’ve been arguing that since March 2014.

The FIA met with manufacturers to discuss what the future engine of F1 should be and they list four real goals.

  • a desire to maintain F1 as the pinnacle of motor sport technology, and as a laboratory for developing technology that is relevant to road cars
  • striving for future power units to be powerful, while becoming simpler and less costly to develop and produce
  • improving the sound of the power units
  • a desire to allow drivers to drive harder at all times

Notice the reversal from other FIA communications referring to it as noise? Now it’s sound which it has always been. Now go take a look at some of the articles about this meeting and spot the uses of “Noise” and you’ll discover very quickly who is where on this issue.

The meeting included VW which has started more Audi-to-F1 rumors but hey, who knows…it could happen. FIA president Jean Todt said:

“I was very pleased with the process, and the fact that so many different stakeholders were able to agree on a direction for the FIA Formula One World Championship in such an important technical area,” said Mr Todt.

“Of course, now we must sit down and work through the fine details of exactly what the 2021 power units will be – but we have begun on the right foot, and I am looking forward to working through the process to come up with the best decision for Formula One into the future.”

Will the FIA ditch the turbo? That’s a tough call if you’re still seeking road relevancy for road car manufacturers. The fact is, these current engines are engineering miracles producing between 900 and 1000 horsepower, while saving 30 per cent on fuel consumption compared to previous generation engines, and approaching the magic 50% thermal efficiency number – a figure that was unheard of three years ago.

Still, all of this is somewhat diluted if it doesn’t produce better racing and entertainment and this is the innovation block that Formula One Management’s Ross Brawn wants to impact. Determining the next engine is wonderful but it has to be couched in the desire to create the most entertaining racing it can, not just lure and retain road car manufacturers.

There was an interview that Sky Sports F1’s Martin Brundle did with Brawn in which he intimated an engine format that could find independent engine manufacturers back into the sport. Companies such as Cosworth or others who could be critical suppliers for independent teams such as Red Bull, Toro Rosso, Force India, Sauber, Haas F1, Williams or McLaren.

In my mind, the new format needs to be exactly what the FIA are seeking. Road relevant for any manufacturer who may want the rapid-prototyping crucible of F1 in which to develop technologies quickly for their consumer products, less expensive and much better sounding. It would be nice to see Mecachrome and Cosworth back in the sport as well as VW/Audi, Toyota, BMW or others. I like the “SOUND” of that a lot.

Hat Tip: FIA

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Salvu Borg

At the present level of F1 engine technology (Level of combined energy recovery and power output/ present level of efficiency/at the present level of fuel economy/ at the present level of financial backing and at the present level of facilities) the likes of Cosworth, Illmor and Mecachrome are just non starters. unless they are backed-up/being farmed-out the project by one of the road car manufacturers, like Illmor used to be by Mercedes and Coswarth by Ford and Judd by Yamaha. It was reported that apart from the four present active manufacturers another four attended the meeting. Road car manufacturers presently… Read more »

Roger Flerity

Not sure I agree. Mercedes, McLaren and Williams have technology groups that make money selling technologies to other teams. Red Bull is heading down that road as well. So, as the formula matures, some of the hard to develop technologies become available. From turbo compressors the MGU components, batteries, electronics, etc.. These cars are not 100% from any one constructor. For example, Magneti Marelli provides Ferrari a lot of its technology components and a Honeywell turbo. Renault is using an APC Pankl turbo, while its MGU components come from all over the place (including Red Bull itself). Just like Delara… Read more »

Salvu Borg

I fully understand all you said re the present manufacturers doesn’t do it all by themselves/all in house, and you are correct in that. but at the present level of PU technology I don’t believe that RBR, McLaren or an independent engine maker have or can get the Resources both technical and financial to undertake/produce their own PU otherwise they would have done it. Up to the 2.4l NA V8 Cosworth was doing it with a “patched-up” previous model, and even so they and all on the grid could calculate it was going to be hopeless, they only managed when… Read more »


I like the way you think about this Roger. Making the best F1 p.u should be challenging, and it should be technology that is relevant to the automotive industry, then ideally the rapid prototyping and innovation that competitive motorsport excels at, develops that technology to the point where it can be productionised.
20% increase in p.u efficiency, that’s going to keep fossil fueled vehicles relevant a heck of a lot longer than 18, 000rpm V12’s (even if they would sound better).

charlie white

The timing for all this is rather suspicious. I smell an April Fools’ joke.

Max Johnson

I feel that as well, but I don’t think Autosport will stoop to that level.

Salvu Borg

I believe that it is real and not to do with 1st April.

Roger Flerity

The real bet is that the 2021 formula will not be radically different. In 4 more years, the least expensive formula will be to build around the current spec, making 1150+ combined total HP by turning 15,000 RPM – enabled by a higher fuel flow limit and a small increase in fuel load commiserate. This is attainable with minimal further development, especially if they continue to allow development to occur between now and then to allow manufacturers (new and old) to make progress toward the new spec parallel to the intervening four seasons of racing. THAT will create a better… Read more »

Salvu Borg

“the real bet is that the 2021 formula will not be radically different”.
Exact same opinion here.
As long as the road car manufacturers are active it is their product relevance that counts, they are the big spenders, and big spenders will want their playing field to gathers for their needs.

Salvu Borg

A note about the present mandated fuel flow maximum limit.
The present mandated maximum fuel flow limit of 100kg/h at 10.5k RPM is actually slightly higher than what the last 2.4l NA V8 was using.


I sincerely hope this is no April 1 joke. Quite frankly, I’ve always thought the DTM series would be a natural fit for “road relevant” technology. F1 is (or should be) pure, unadlterated RACING with little to do with technology used for manufacturers to place on their road cars. The pinnacle of Motorsport should be able to offer the most exciting racing in the world without energy recovery systems, DRS (snooze), or hybrid engines (oh, sorry, Power Unit). They don’t call it PU for nothing…


My issue with all this is there is no incentive to innovate- if you want to encourage innovation and competition, why not simply set a fuel load (including a battery capacity charge), and that is it- go for it. Further, why not reduce the fuel allowance by (to pick a number) 5 litres each season…
Aerodynamics- single plane wings, and continuous edge on the bodywork- wil look racey, can duck dive whatever- but- must be continuous…
There- fixed it!, You’re welcome….

Salvu Borg

Re the forthcoming 2021 new engine formula whose talks have started in preparation for. As was the norm of doing things during the last onehalfthecancerofF1 rule of the sports an attempt at moving the PU goalposts during the agreed upon formula period was attempted. Instead the aero rules goal posts were moved, burdening the sports with about 30% more aero down force instead of less down force. This aero change of goal posts moving has turned the F1 car from one being power topped to aero topped (underpowered). Because of this maneuvering with the playing field goal posts moving the… Read more »


If Ross Brawn and Liberty Media are just kicking off the ‘what’s the long term vision for F1?’ discussion, is this FIA initiative part of that debate or the start of a turf war?


Ya know, I guess I really don’t care what they do. But they’d better redirect from FIA’s 2014 declaration that F1 is all about “efficiency, efficiency, efficiency,” which is in print and on the record. FIA knew full well what the several adverse implications of “efficiency” would be, but they put a happy face on it anyway and went straight into the breech. I loved F1 until 2013, but sad to say there are now several motorsport series that are much more compelling and demonstrate actual flat out competitive racing with a visceral resonance: the sound, the circuits, and the… Read more »