Turbo-hybrid F1 engines: In defence of the 'quiet' beasts

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Arguments over the halo have quietened down after some high-profile accidents, but Formula 1’s V6 turbo-hybrid engines still get some flak. The points of attack usually concern the sound (‘they’re too quiet’), the cost, or the argument that everything is going towards electric so what’s the point of keeping a formula that includes an internal combustion engine as part of the equation.

Let’s deal with the first one. The cars really aren’t that quiet. They’re not as loud as the V8s that preceded them but those 2.4-litre engines weren’t actually that nice to listen to. And you have half a chance of holding a conversation at the track during a grand prix now, which was not the case before.

The V10s of the pre-2006 era – and, of course, the V12s that ran before that – did sound magnificent and would get our vote in terms of the audio sensation. But the current cars are reminiscent of the first F1 turbo era of the 1980s and there aren’t too many fans who criticise that period for the sound of the machines.

The cost of the engines was certainly high when the hybrids replaced the V8s for 2014. Given the direction of the automotive industry away from the traditional internal combustion engine, F1 probably had to go that way. Allowing F1 to fall further behind would have resulted in decreasing manufacturer interest and, eventually, increasing calls for it to cease due to social/environmental concerns.

The delay of F1’s new chassis/aero rules, cost cap and the engine freeze also show that F1 has finally responded to escalating budgets. In other words, the big expense has already happened.

Red Bull Racing RB16B rear detail

Red Bull Racing RB16B rear detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

As for the need to go all-electric argument, at least in the short-medium term, Formula E (and Extreme E) is there already and it is too early to commit to one solution. Hydrogen power and, more relevant to F1’s case, synthetic fuels are also avenues worth pursuing for wider society.

“There’s a fantastic opportunity for renewable and sustainable fuels to be applied in all forms of racing, reducing carbon emissions, and to show the world that there is an alternative alongside electrification that deals with all the cars that are out there now” Steve Sapsford

PLUS: How Extreme E’s charging solution could transform motorsport

“We’ve heard lots of talk about moving to fully electric road vehicles,” said SCE managing director and former Ricardo engineer Steve Sapsford in one of ASI Connect’s forums last month. “That’s fine and we’re heading in the right direction, but one of the things none of this deals with is the cars that are on the road already.”

He pointed to the 34 million cars with traditional engines in the UK alone and added: “There’s a fantastic opportunity for renewable and sustainable fuels to be applied in all forms of racing, reducing carbon emissions, and to show the world that there is an alternative alongside electrification that deals with all the cars that are out there now.”

When it comes to competitiveness, there’s no doubt the introduction of the turbo-hybrid units spread out the F1 field, and helped Mercedes steal a march that has yet to be overcome.

But the 2022 regulations aim to address that, the current engines are the most fuel-efficient in history, and they provide an opportunity for F1 to stay relevant in the coming years. Are they really all that bad?!

Lance Stroll, Racing Point RP19, returns to the pits without an engine cover in FP1

Lance Stroll, Racing Point RP19, returns to the pits without an engine cover in FP1

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

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