THIS F1 LIFE

WHAT NEXT FOR THE FORCES THAT POWER F1?

F1 Racing - - CONTENTS - PAT SY­MONDS @F1Rac­ing_­mag face­book.com/ f1rac­ing­mag

Pat Sy­monds on PUs of the fu­ture

Once again we have come to that point in the reg­u­la­tory cy­cle when thoughts turn to the next power unit. The pre­vi­ous nat­u­rally as­pi­rated V8 had a life­span that ran from 2006 un­til the end of 2013. Eight years seems a rea­son­able life for an en­gine de­sign, so now it is time to con­sider what will re­place to­day’s highly so­phis­ti­cated hy­brids.

Var­i­ous fac­tors, not least the ex­piry of cur­rent com­mer­cial agree­ments at the end of 2020, have de­ter­mined that the next power unit should ap­pear for the 2021 sea­son. Cur­rent en­gines have at­tracted more neg­a­tiv­ity than they de­serve. Yes, they are com­pli­cated, but their so­phis­ti­ca­tion and ef­fi­ciency would not have been pos­si­ble with­out com­plex­ity. The de­ci­sions to down­size the en­gines and bring back the power of the in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gine through tur­bocharg­ing, while adding sig­nif­i­cant hy­brid elec­tri­cal ca­pac­ity, has mir­rored much of what is go­ing on in the auto in­dus­try. While the in­cred­i­ble ef­fi­ciency that has been achieved has per­haps not at­tracted the pub­lic­ity it should have done, I think most fans are aware that the race-fuel con­sump­tion is around two-thirds of what it was in 2013, while main­tain­ing sim­i­lar lev­els of per­for­mance.

There have been fur­ther crit­i­cisms. Much was made of the lack of sound, which wasn’t sur­pris­ing given that this is a low-revving, down­sized tur­bocharged en­gine. Next, the ex­pense of the en­gines be­came a fo­cus. Some of this lat­ter crit­i­cism is un­jus­ti­fied: to­tal en­gine bills have risen, but not for the ob­vi­ous rea­sons. In 2006, the V8 en­gine had a unit cost of just over $700,000 and, over a sea­son, each car used eight of them. Add in the in­evitable cost of sup­port in­clud­ing track­side en­gi­neers and freight, and it’s clear that a typ­i­cal en­gine bill of $20 mil­lion for a two-car team merely cov­ered the in­cre­men­tal cost of sup­ply and sup­port.

The cost of the power unit has since risen to around $1.5m. How­ever, this is off­set by the fact that in 2017 a driver may only use four power units, and, in 2018, this will drop to three. At that point, the hard­ware cost of power units for the rac­ing sea­son is very sim­i­lar to the cost of a sup­ply of the V8 en­gine. Yet even with the co­op­er­a­tion of the power-unit sup­pli­ers, who, at the be­hest of the FIA, have pared back their orig­i­nally con­tracted re­ceipts by sev­eral mil­lion, the cost of sup­ply is still above that of the old V8s.

In or­der to un­der­stand why, we need to ac­cept that the busi­ness model has changed and man­u­fac­tur­ers are no longer pre­pared to ab­sorb all devel­op­ment costs within their own teams while sup­ply­ing cus­tomers at an in­cre­men­tal cost. The new way of do­ing things sees the man­u­fac­tur­ers pass­ing on some of the cost of devel­op­ment of the cur­rent en­gines. The amount passed on ap­pears to vary be­tween the dif­fer­ent man­u­fac­tur­ers and true fig­ures are hard to come by, but for 2018 the reg­u­la­tions dic­tate a price of $24m, a fig­ure that once again ap­proaches in­cre­men­tal cost.

That may seem a huge sum, but F1 is not a cheap sport and for a mid-sized team this rep­re­sents per­haps ten to 12 per cent of its bud­get. The power unit em­bod­ies a sig­nif­i­cant part of the over­all pack­age and per­son­ally I don’t feel that this cost is to­tally un­rea­son­able. In the late 1990s at Benet­ton, our en­gine bill was around $35m and at the end of the sea­son we got an ad­di­tional bill be­cause we had ex­ceeded the agreed test­ing mileage. Of course in those days we might well use one en­gine on Fri­day, two

The high-down­force 2017 cars seem un­der­pow­ered de­spite the en­gines pro­duc­ing in ex­cess of 670kW

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