It’s the age of the engine again and no one cares

After the war—the second one to be specific—there was an age of re-start for motor sport and in particular grand prix racing. Men returned from the war and the machine that created wartime products was winding down. The world had been pummeled into peace but only after many lives were lost. Those who survived found themselves facing the future with hope and a sense of rebuilding coupled with a time of leisure filled quickly by hobbies, sport and cultural pastimes. Radio Shack once made a business model out of claiming people’s free time—I’ll let you figure out what happened there.

For builders and drivers, the space frame cars were large, heavy and required serious power to shove them through the air with a pilot white-knuckled and exhibiting the kind of bravery that may have been recently kindled on the battlefront. It was a time of rejoicing as motor sport once again started its engine and shattered the silence that had settled across a war-torn Europe like of blanket of solemnity.

It was the age of shove and the man who built the best engine was the man who could hurl a space frame goliath and driver the fastest through narrow country roads on circuits still pockmarked from the war. The age of the engine was upon us.

Enzo Ferrari has been a man quoted as saying that aerodynamics are for people who can’t build engines and in those nascent days of the resurgence of motor sport, he was most likely speaking the truth as aerodynamics didn’t impose themselves in anger on Formula 1 until the late 1960’s. It was a glorious and golden age of motor sport. Even Americans had fallen in love with the European sports car and would camp all weekend to see a race at the Glen. Halcyon days indeed.

It is not lost on me that we are now in the midst what one would presume is another golden age of engines and yet the new V6 Turbo hybrid power unit is failing to capture the attention of F1 fans let alone demand their respect and support.

Unlike the golden age—which we now mark as beginning of the modern era of F1—these new engines are not accomplishing what the engines of old did for the fan. Standing next to a screaming V16 BRM while the fillings in your teeth rattle free is an otherworldly experience and one that doesn’t purge itself quickly from the deep recesses of the motor sport anorak’s mind.

Why is that?

Perhaps some of the lack of magic is the absence of sound and the unawareness of the casual fan as to what, if anything, is actually compelling the current F1 car to perform as astoundingly as it does. It is moving quickly but what portion of the engine is doing the shoving? Is it the electric motor? Is it the V6 turbo? It’s both? How do I know that and is it equally both or is one shoving more than the other? I’m lost and I have to assume others are as well.

Today’s modern F1 engine is an engineering marvel that makes the 1950’s era engines look like a 3 hp Briggs & Stratton on your dad’s 1978 lawnmower. The amount of detail and pure engineering genius that has gone into the current engines is something that is far beyond anything in motor sport to date. The only thing close would be the WEC hybrid technology and while some would say that those are equal or better, the engine folks I’ve spoken to are not in agreement. They admit they are close but F1’s new engine format takes all comers.

So why are we not clamoring over these new engines much like the fans and pundits did back in the 1950’s and 1960’s when shove was the earmark of F1 and one thing that set the cars apart from anything else in the world? We salivated over the DFV and Ferrari engines. The technology was cutting edge just like it is today.

Today’s engines aren’t shoving a space frame car through the air, these are purpose built reverse airfoils that are nearly painted on the track’s surface and the performance is truly astounding coupled with these new engines. Maybe that’s the point?

I’m not completely convinced that today’s F1 fan has the same interest in motor sport’s engines like it did in the 50’s and 60’s. How can that be given the younger generation’s proclivity toward technology? These new engines are the pinnacle of technology so why wouldn’t the STEM culture and Tesla worshipping, Elon Musk praising Gen Y’s be salivating over the full-blown tech in these bad boys?

I do not claim to have the answer but my hunch is that it is technology that isn’t consumer oriented and tangible for them. I reckon that the younger generation values genuineness over constructs and in the end, they see the overall picture of F1 as a tactical chess match at 180mph, not a entertainment outlet that brings them the latest app or technology they can order from Amazon and look good with in a pair of skinny jeans and an amped up attitude of authenticity.

Are they impressed with the new engines? Sure. Do they feel like using 30% less fuel is the culturally and ecologically sensible thing to do? Most likely. After all this is the first generation to ever conserve, save, protect their environment, serve the under-served, have a baby, feel love, show emotion, communicate, work and experience everything in life. Every move is a world’s first. Apparently the rest of us chumps were tabula rasa for most of our lives…but I digress.

The age of the engine is here again and we’ve met it with a markedly different reaction than the F1 fans in post-war leisure. Perhaps our hasty reaction to the sound of one hand clapping is to increase horsepower and throw 1980’s constructs back on the cars in order to re-live the halcyon days. Before we guffaw at that notion, you have to admit that the younger generation is nostalgic and loves to replicate an age of beards, mobility and mono crest logos. Who knows? It might work if we put a bird on it or a mustache on the end of the lollipop in pit lane.

The engines of old had fans clamoring to the circuit. When BRM announced its V16, the British press hailed it as a world-beater and rubbed their hands together at the thought of taking it to Ferrari and Alfa Romeo. Today…crickets. It’s not for a lack of trying. The press have all but shoved this new formula so far up our backsides we can taste it but it still isn’t having the desired impact the series or car makers would want.

Before we blame us crusty old curmudgeons for souring the new F1 milk, keep in mind that we’re half the size of this generation. We are surely not as loud of a voice in the new and revolutionizing world of social media where, once again, the young generation will remind us how more important mobility, social ads and social media are than fire, the wheel, the lever, Penicillin, the aqueducts or the space shuttle …not to mention the Chia Pet and the Sham Wow.

No, F1 was looking for support…they were attempting to lure new manufacturers and a younger generation with new technology intent on giving the planet a break from the use of fossil fuels as well as dump a heap of technology genius onto a technology-worshipping culture. Crickets. The reality is, these engines are an epic financial burden on teams. The technology expense has grown to eclipse the percent-to-revenue that the old days would have experienced.

In the 1950’s, F1 was trying to race and men were trying to beat other men and use massive engines to do it and while all that was going on, 200,000 people showed up to watch it and as odd as this may sound, not one person tweeted a moment of it. Imagine that.

I’ll leave you with a quote from our old friend Neil, “art as expression, not as market campaign will still capture our imagination given the same state of integrity”. I know us old people have never done or discovered anything first but I can tell you one thing you may have missed in your Google search : F1 was once an art.

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No one wants a 1.0 L engine anymore than they want a 1 inch dick!


I definitely want a 1 litre engine much more than I want a 1 inch dick.
But I don’t believe in the ‘no replacement for displacement’ mantra, to my thinking if a 1 litre turbo makes a much power and more torque than a 1.6 n.a unit, and uses less fuel, its a better engine.


Hi Todd, good article I’m not sure how I overlooked it previously – possibly during the changes to the webhost? Yep, engines in previous eras were brilliantly exciting – I loved it when BMW were leading the charge to 20,000 naturally aspirated rpm! As you say the current technology doesn’t seem to raise the same excitement amongst the wider fan base, but I’m not sure its the powerunits that are the problem with F1. I suspect it is more to do with the way F1 is presenting itself in chasing a larger audience, it doesn’t know what it is or… Read more »