By Stefan Kristensen
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July 25, 2022
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F1 Car Horsepower 

Introduction

Formula 1 cars are well known for being some of the fastest, most powerful cars today. With top speeds of over 200 mph and the ability to go 0-60 in 2.6 seconds, they need as much power as possible. But how much horsepower does an F1 car have?

As of 2021, Formula 1 cars can produce approximately 1,050 horsepower. The power is produced by a hybrid, turbocharged V6 engine. However, a significant amount of power also comes from the Energy Recovery System, about 160hp for 33 seconds.

This new system, now known as the power system, thinks of the engine as the heart. But, in order for the system to perform best, all the components must be kept in top condition. So how does this system work? Why do F1 cars need so much power? Read on to find out!

Formula 1 Car Horsepower

A 2021 Formula 1 engine can produce approximately 1,050 horsepower. This power comes from the hybrid, turbocharged V6 engine. This engine was implemented back in 2014 and replaced the previous V8 and V10 engines.

But, modern cars aren’t necessarily the ones with the most power! Those V8 and V10 engines could really pack a punch. But, they couldn’t sustain that power for long. In addition, producing that amount of energy, even for a short time, often destroys the engine in the process.

Formula 1 Cars With The Most Horsepower

Historically, the fastest Grand Prix cars are those with BMW engines from 1983 to 1986. Of these, the Benetton B186 had the most power. During qualifying races, this car could produce 1,300+ horsepower! But, in standard race trim, the engine was capped at about 900 horsepower.

This decrease in power is partially because it was common practice to create a beefy engine for qualifying but a more efficient engine for the actual race. That way, the car starts the race in a higher grid position but can use an engine designed more for longevity than power.

Unfortunately, this process was incredibly wasteful and expensive. So in 2014, Formula 1 changed the regulations surrounding how many components can be replaced on an engine in a given season.

Where Do F1 Cars Get Their Power?

Formula 1 cars get their power from the engine. As of 2021, four manufacturers supply engines to the different racing teams. The suppliers are Honda, Ferrari, Renault, and Mercedes. These manufacturers must follow strict Formula 1 guidelines in order to compete.

Formula 1 implemented the current engine type back in 2014. The turbocharged, hybrid V6 replaced the old V8 engine. In addition, teams will focus more on the car’s “power system” rather than just the engine itself. This power system includes the Energy Recovery System or ERS.

The ERS is responsible for storing power. It takes the power that the car generates on the track, stores it, and then adds it back in later. It can add approximately 160hp for about 33 seconds. That may not sound like a lot, but that extra power could make a lot of difference in a close race!

Why Do F1 Cars Need So Much Power?

Formula 1 cars need a lot of horsepowers to reach their top speeds of 223mph. They can even go 0-60mph in 2.6 seconds! With rates that high, the track time is also relatively short. The average lap time changes depending on the track, but it’s usually around 1:20 seconds.

These cars must exert a lot of power in a very short amount of time in order to outcompete their peers. So being able to produce and store energy efficiently is crucial to success. But, in order to keep things fair, Formula 1 places strict rules on how often engine parts are replaced.

This new rule incentivizes teams to prioritize the longevity of the engine over total power output. A team must find a balance between maneuverability, fuel efficiency, and the power system in order to be successful. This new approach starkly contrasts the previous one.

Power Unit Usage Rules

Previously, it was common for a team to fit an engine for a qualifying race that had much more power than it needed. That way, the driver could max out the car’s top speed to qualify higher. Then, when the actual race was about to start, the team would switch that engine for a more efficient one.

The new engine would be designed for efficiency. It could use less fuel, but it also produced slightly less power. Now, however, F1 has strict guidelines on how many power units a team can use in a year. This is the breakdown of the number of components that can be used in 2021.

  • Three internal combustion engines
  • 3 Motor Generator Units - Heat
  • Three turbochargers
  • 3 Motor Generator Units - Kinetic
  • Two energy stores
  • Two control electronics

These are the replacement pieces the teams are allowed to use in a given season. This is because previously, they would build a powerful engine that would basically fall apart after qualifying and replace it with another for the race. But this method is expensive and wasteful.

Teams are allowed to use more components than what is allocated. However, going over the limit can result in penalties. A car could lose its grid position if it exceeds the limit, so teams do whatever they can to make the components last.

Conclusion

While the old engines may have been able to produce more power, the amount they produced wasn’t sustainable. Those engines were often unusable after qualifying races and had to be switched for new ones.

The new system aims to find common ground between power, efficiency, and sustainability. Teams are incentivized to take care of their systems to conserve parts. This creates a new form of competition: who can be the fastest without destroying the engine?

This new, fascinating form of competition will be around until at least 2025, when Formula 1 will most likely re-evaluate the regulations. Until then, teams must continue to find creative ways to balance maximum power with the longevity of their equipment.

Written by Stefan Kristensen
Passionate about motorsports ever since I was a little boy. Back then, I cheered on the racing cars simply based on their colors. Later I fell in love with the many stories behind racing that make it so interesting.
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