Everything from 175 to 1500 hp was included
Formula 1 has continued to develop over 71 years – including the drives. It’s hard to imagine that a 175-hp engine was once used.
But Formula 1 is currently content with around 1000 hp. This horsepower comes from a 1.6-liter V6 turbo. With the small motors, this is only possible thanks to additional electrical power, the energy of which is obtained during braking and from the exhaust system. No question about it: modern Formula 1 engines are a marvel of technology. It wasn’t always like this: in 1952 the engines did not even produce 200 hp on the asphalt.
Formula 1 with less than 200 hp
Juan Manuel Fangio in his Alfa Romeo 1951
© Alfa Romeo
It all started with the 1950 World Cup. At that time, Alfa Romeo had the best racing car. First Giuseppe Farina, then in 1951 Juan Manuel Fangio won the title. Alfa Romeo was only so dominant because there was no real competition. The engine was an in-line eight-cylinder with a displacement of 1.5 liters, charged by a compressor. In 1951 he mobilized up to 425 hp. In 1937, however, the Mercedes engine brought over 600 hp to the asphalt in GP races.
When Alfa Romeo left Formula 1 at the end of 1951 and other manufacturers followed suit, the Formula 2 cars were updated for the World Cup for two years. The world champion Ferrari got just 175 to 190 hp out of a 2-liter four-cylinder.
A new engine concept came from 1954 to 1960: engines with a maximum displacement of 2.5 liters were now permitted. The Mercedes engine (an in-line eight-cylinder), with which Fangio could again become world champion in 1954 and 1955, was the most powerful unit of this era with almost 300 hp. More and more, it was not just the engine power that played a role, but also the car. In 1959, when Cooper no longer installed the engine in the front but behind the driver for better road holding, the title was secure despite a 60 hp deficit in the inline four-cylinder engine from engine manufacturer Climax.
The 3.0 liter era began in 1966
From 1966 everything was allowed. Four, six, eight, ten and twelve cylinders. BRM even built an engine with 16 cylinders. Lotus had a gas turbine built for Formula 1 at Pratt & Whitney, but only brought it to the track for a few races. The limit was only set by the displacement: 3.0 liters maximum, with supercharging even only 1.5 liters.
Of course, the Formula 1 engines got more powerful with this open format. Ferrari’s V12 engine produced 520 hp in 1977. But the horsepower figures did not increase really rapidly, which was also due to the fact that in 1977 only very few manufacturers built engines at all. The majority of the teams drove with the Ford-Cosworth DFV engine. If you wanted to win, you had to optimize the car’s aerodynamics.
Turbo era lit a horsepower fireworks display
Ferrari engines from 1996, 2004 and 2006
In the mid-1980s, the BMW turbo is said to have achieved 1,500 hp despite a four-cylinder concept and only 1.5 liters of displacement. It was the era that Gerhard Berger had spoken of. Nobody knows the exact performance: the boost pressure was initially free, but could not be tested on the engine test benches. Therefore, the full engine power was only developed in qualifying, in the race the manufacturers turned down the boost pressure and thus the horsepower figures.
The insane performance of the engines was a thorn in the side of the security guards. First the fuel was limited more and more – up to 150 liters in 1988. Then the boost pressure was also reduced – here too with a minimum in the 1988 season of 2.5 bar. In 1989 the turbos were completely banned from Formula 1. As a result, the power sank again to below 700 hp.
More and more bans
But the manufacturers caught up with the performance. Ferrari mobilized over 800 hp again in 1994 with the V12 engine. In 1995 the displacement limit was reduced from 3.5 liters since 1987 to 3.0 liters. At the end of the 1990s, the number of cylinders was limited to ten, and from 2006 to eight. But the speeds shot up to over 20,000 revolutions per minute – and with it the performance. 2005 was the wedding with over 900, almost 1000 hp. The most powerful engines had BMW and Honda.
In 2006 the engines were castrated again: a maximum of 18,000 revolutions per minute, a maximum of 2.4 liters displacement, from 2008 even a development stop. This frozen the power to around 800 hp for years. From 2009 and from 2011 the teams were allowed to install an energy recovery system on the brakes (KERS), with which around 80 hp could be mobilized for 6.7 seconds, on top of the combustion performance.
The current engines have been used since 2014. Since then, the power has increased from a little over 800 hp to over 1000 horsepower.