Then and Now – Engine Life

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When Grand Prix racing started cars were built as a complete unit, chassis, engine, gearbox etc. with the expectation that this unit would see out its racing life together.  This approach persisted post war and in the early years of the Formula 1 World Championship.  Yes engines were rebuilt during the season (changing bearings and pistons as required, but this certainly wasn’t done every race.  This is why cars of the period when sold now will attract more money if the engine and chassis numbers ‘match’ i.e. they were originally paired during the car’s racing life.  It also explains how for some particularly collectable cars there are occasionally more cars in existence now than were ever built by the factory (an original engine is housed in a replacement chassis during restoration as the original chassis is considered too damaged, followed by some enterprising soul restoring the chassis and putting in a replacement engine).

As the engine formula changed, the engines became more developed and needed rebuilding more often.  By the late 1960’s / early 1970’s the Cosworth DFV was being rebuilt for every race.  However in researching this article it became apparent that engine numbers recorded at the time may not have been wholly representative of the units actually being used.  Teams may have bought ten engines from Cosworth, but had applied for the necessary customs paperwork for only four, so suitable ‘engine numbers’ on aluminium plates were stamped out and glued onto the engine block to match the customs carnet.

Once the turbo engines came in in the late 1970’s development really took off, and this is where qualifying engines come into their own.  With added boost and capable of lasting only a few laps, teams were changing engines before each session.  Once established this practice continued even after the turbos had been banned.  In the 1990’s it wasn’t uncommon for a team to use eight engines in a single GP weekend, and as a cost saving measure longer life components were required.  In 2005 each engine had to last for two complete GP weekends, and the life of the engines was gradually increased, so that last season each driver had eight engines to last the entire season.

For 2014 each driver will only have five power units to last the 19 races of the season.  While the power unit is divided into several components:

Internal Combustion Engine;
Turbocharger;
Energy Store;
Motor Generator Unit – Kinetic;
Motor Generator Unit – Heat.

These components can be mixed and matched within the total of five complete Powere Uniits available to each driver, the implication is that each of the items must be capable of lasting for a fifth of the total mileage of the season.  Article 5.3 of the sporting regulations states:

 ‘The distance of all races, from the start signal referred to in Article 38.9 to the chequered flag, shall be equal to the least number of complete laps which exceed a distance of 305 km (Monaco 260km’)

the total distance travelled over a race weekend is much further taking into account the free practice sessions and qualifying.  The maximum number of laps travelled by a single driver in each race weekend, and the total travelled by the winning driver are shown in the following table:

GP

race laps

max laps

max distance km

winners laps

winners distance km

Australia

58

152

806

152

806

Malaysia

56

146

809

137

759

China

56

147

801

128

697

Bahrain

57

149

806

133

719

Spain

66

170

791

148

688

Monaco

78

208

694

208

694

Canada

70

180

784

168

732

Great Britain

52

135

795

118

695

Germany

60

165

849

152

782

Hungary

70

174

762

174

762

Belgium

44

129

903

115

805

Italy

53

159

920

151

874

Singapore

61

153

774

140

708

Korea

55

142

797

135

757

Japan

53

148

859

133

752

India

60

163

835

147

753

Abu Dhabi

55

158

877

139

771

USA

56

158

870

138

760

Brazil

71

150

646

125

538

Total

15,378

14,052

 

So if we assume that the drivers will complete a similar distance this season as last season, each power unit will need to last somewhere between 14,052/5 and 15,378/5 km, that is between 2,810 and 3,075 km.

So far, in winter testing teams have completed the following distance:

TeamEngineJerez kmBahrain kmtotal km
MercedesMercedes

1368.252

1704.78

3073.032

McLarenMercedes

1084.86

1601.952

2686.812

FerrariFerrari

1111.428

1553.244

2664.672

WilliamsMercedes

774.9

1748.076

2522.976

SauberFerrari

721.764

1298.88

2020.644

Force IndiaMercedes

646.488

1152.756

1799.244

CaterhamRenault

336.528

1369.236

1705.764

Toro RossoRenault

239.112

752.268

991.38

Red BullRenault

92.988

627.792

720.78

LotusRenault

0

600.732

600.732

MarussiaFerrari

132.84

156.948

289.788

 

So only Mercedes has come close to the distance each power unit needs to cover (and then only if they haven’t had to change any of the components).  The Ferrari team should be able to complete the necessary distance during the remaining four days at Bahrain, but any of the Renault teams may struggle, with only Caterham looking anywhere near capable of putting in the necessary laps to give confidence that the Power Unit may last the distance.   The Homologation deadline for these Power Units is Friday this week, so there isn’t really time to confirm if any changes made before then have actually increased the reliability enough.   We could see a lot of penalties for Power Unit changes come the end of this season.

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