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This weekend's Grand Prix will be the final time Albert Park reverberates to the sound of V8 Formula 1 engines. Used since 2006, the V8 will have been in service for eight years by the end of the 2013 season.
Renault Sport F1 deputy managing director, Rob White, discusses the life of the V8, its evolutions and its potential performance, engine freeze notwithstanding.
What have been the key evolutions of the V8 since 2006?The easy thought is to say that there can be no evolutions during an engine freeze! However there have still been several notable changes in the use and requirements for engines in the V8 era. In fact, almost every year there has been a change. The first, for 2007, was homologation or freeze of the major parts and introduction of a rev limit. Then for 2008, the homologation perimeter was extended, the rev limit was reduced from 19,000rpm to 18,000rpm and the limit of 8 engines per driver per season introduced. More recently, we have also had successive clarifications on engine mapping and usage. With F1 being what it is, the challenge has been to produce the best car performance under each new set of constraints.
In parallel, we have had to adapt to a much more complicated engine lifecycle. In previous times, it was possible to fit engines at will: you could fit a new engine for a race and then replace for the next round. This meant you could push it to the absolute limits without taking account of any future usage. The limit of eight engines per season, means some engines must be used for three races. We have therefore learned a lot about increasing engine and component life, without any major technology change or performance penalty. As a result engines can now run for up to 2,500km without any significant power drop off. In the past engine life was just over 350km, so we are running to more than seven times the distance of ten years ago.
Without the engine freeze and limit on rpm, what would these engines be capable of?Without the rev limit we would have continued to pursue greater rpm until we became limited by the physics of the combustion process and diminishing returns due to increased friction with increasing rotational speed. Without any other new regulatory constraint, I imagine we would have reached over 22,000 rpm by now and would have found a further 75 horsepower (ie +10%), equivalent to a lap time gain of around 1.5 sec at Monza.
Without doing the development work, it is difficult to judge the level at which engine performance would have converged at the limit of the technical regulations. The same effects that have been pursued in the frozen era (exhausts, mapping etc) would have been of interest, but the priorities may have been different.
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