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MODERN FORMULA 1 is anything but traditional Formula Libre. In 1934–1937, for instance, regulations did little more than limit car weight to a maximum 750 kg (roughly 1650 lb). By contrast, 2023 Formula 1 Technical Regulations issued by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile run 183 densely packed pages.

Today’s Formula 1 engines are examples of dutifully followed—no, make that “deftly exploited”—regulations: They’re the displacement of a small car’s,  yet produce 1000 hp. They operate at efficiencies approaching 50 percent (typical production engines operate at perhaps 30 percent). Formula 1 engines are engineering par excellence.

These tidbits are gleaned from Nico Demattia’s “Here’s How F1 Engines Make 1000 HP From Just 1.6 Liters.” And for a deeper dive, see “How Tiny Formula 1 Engines Make 1000 HP!” one of an informative (and entertaining) YouTube series, Engineering Explained, from Jason Fenske. For more information about Jason, check out Bret Berk’s “New Faces of Automotive Enthusiasm: Jason Fenske, Engineering Explained,” Car and Driver, September 28, 2019. 

The Regs. F.I.A. got environmentally conscious in 2009 with Formula 1’s KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System), regenerative braking. In 2014, it went whole-hybrid with both kinetic as well as heat energy recovery units: MGU-K, Motor Generator Unit-Kinetic, and MGU-H, Motor Generator Unit-Heat.

These two concepts enhance power from strictly defined engines: 1600-cc internal-combustion four-stroke reciprocating 90-degree V-6s with circular cylinders of 80-mm bore. (Note, no Wankel rotaries, no Honda motorcycle trick oval cylinders). Two intake valves and two exhaust valves per cylinder are required; also, unlike many production engines, variable valve timing is prohibited. 

A “sole single-stage compressor” may be fitted. This device gets its drive from exhaust heat (i.e., like a turbocharger) with added mechanical drive (i.e., like a traditional supercharger) from the MGU-H. 

Above, image from the F.I.A.’s 2023 Formula 1 Technical Regulations. I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Formula Libre anymore. Below, Jason Fenske’s take on the technology. This and the following images from his “How Tiny Formula 1 Engines Make 1000 HP!”

Fuel Flow Regs. “Fuel mass flow,” the regs say, “must not exceed 100 kg/h,” with other complexities depending upon engine speed and load. Formula 1 cars carry 110 kg of fuel for the entire race. For a long time, F1 fuel stops were part of the strategy, but safety concerns and logistics eliminated them. 

Hurrah for Honda CVCC. As described by both Nico Demattia and Jason Fenske, F1 engines exploit a lean but efficient combustion by means of pre-chamber ignition of compressed air and direct-injected rich fuel. 

Back in 1975, Honda introduced its CVCC, Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion on its Civic model. Its purpose at the time was to meet U.S. emissions regulations without a catalytic converter. As described by Wikipedia, “The engine innovatively used a secondary, smaller auxiliary inlet valve to feed a richer air-fuel mixture to the combustion around the spark plug, while the standard inlet valve fed a leaner air-fuel mixture to the remainder of the chamber, creating a more efficient and complete combustion.”

Other Formula 1 Tidbits From Jason. Fenske describes the difference between geometric compression ratio (no higher than 18:1 by the regs) and effective expansion ratio (extracting more power and avoiding knock through clever valve timing). Also, the fuel flow of 100 kg/h is elegantly analyzed: 36.8 gal. of fuel at 50 percent efficiency yields 620 kW, plus 120 kW from the MGU-K, totals  740 kW or about 1000 hp.

Neat-o. Were Jason one of my Freshman profs, I might well have majored in Mech Eng and not fled to Mathematics. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2023


  1. Mike Scott
    May 15, 2023

    Thanks for this. Jason would indeed make a most encouraging prof. Today’s Formula One engines have rigid guidelines, and not quite as exotic as some of us thought, given their lack of variable valve timing. In that respect, akin to an extremely sophisticated NASCAR, serving chiefly as entertainment.
    But being able to spin over 20,000 rpm thanks to pneumatic valve springs (compressed air belows) is remarkable.

    Watching any motor race, no thanks. But the technology is interesting, whether late ’30s or today.

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