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F1 Car Horsepower: How Much Do They Really Have?

F1 cars are known to be some of the fastest vehicles on the planet, and this means they are also some of the most powerful. The technology involved is very advanced, and they manage to squeeze a lot of horsepower out of a relatively small engine. But many fans may wonder how much power F1 cars have.

The horsepower of a Formula 1 car is around 1000 HP. However, how much power an F1 car has varies across the races and across the teams, and there are some key things to take into account. The engine itself normally produces around 850 HP, with 150 HP being provided by the Energy Recovery System.

This value of 1000 HP is a fairly standard average of the maximum horsepower that can be produced by F1 cars. However, there are many different factors that will affect the true value over the course of a race, so let’s look at each of these in more detail below.

What Is Horsepower?

A Definition

Horsepower is a word that is used when describing almost any vehicle. From cruise ships with 50,000 HP or more, to small scooters with just 10. The measurement only arose when Scottish inventor James Watt observed horses pulling weight up a cliff face using pulleys and defined one horsepower to be the equivalent of 33,000 lbs of weight being moved 1 ft in one minute.

Horsepower is essentially how fast something, in most cases an engine, can perform work (which is simply a force acting over a distance). So, horsepower is a measure of how fast something can perform a force over a given distance, and that is why it is so often used to describe car specifications, where speed and acceleration are important.

Acceleration & Top Speed

Horsepower is a good measure of how fast the engine will be able to move the mass of the car. Higher values, quoted in HP or BHP (which stands for brake horsepower), tend to correspond to faster acceleration and higher top speeds, but there are other factors to consider such as the weight and the aerodynamics of the vehicle as well. But this is still a big generalization.

What Does Horsepower Mean For A Car?

An Example

Your average road car may have 100 horsepower, or even less. It might also have a top speed of around 100mph. However, a Bugatti Chiron might have 1500 HP, with a top speed above 250 mph. The Bugatti may weigh twice as much as your road car, but with that much power it can move the mass of the car much faster, and it can reach 60 mph in just a couple of seconds.

But strictly speaking, we should also consider the power-to-weight ratio of the car, or more importantly the torque-to-weight ratio. We have discussed the differences between horsepower and torque here, but torque can be thought of as the twisting force of the engine, and thus horsepower is a measure of how quickly the car can apply this torque.

Low Power, High Torque

A heavy tractor might have a high amount of torque when compared to a race car, but it will tend to have less horsepower. This is because a tractor needs to pull or push heavy loads, and the tractor itself is very heavy. However, it never needs to do much moving very quickly, and is quite suited to moving very heavy loads at a slow, steady speed.

Low Torque, High Power

The race car however has low torque but a lot of horsepower. This allows it to move the relatively low weight of the car very quickly and to a high-top speed. The car becomes slower when it gets heavier, due to the relatively low amount of torque being suited to lower weights. This is why teams try to make their race cars as light as possible, so that they can get the most out of the engine.

F1 cars are very light for the amount of power their engines produce, which means both their torque and power-to-weight ratios are very high. This allows them to accelerate very quickly and sustain high top speeds. But all of this power comes from some very advanced engineering, and the engine itself has many different components that all work together to give it so much power.

What Are The Basic Components Of An F1 Engine?

The Main Components

Aside from the actual engine itself, which is made up of many different smaller components, there are some other key parts that contribute to the overall power of the car. Two of these components are the motor generator units, or MGUs.

The MGU-K is a component that generates electrical power from the deceleration of the rear wheels when the driver lifts his foot off the gas. This power is sent to the Energy Store, or ES. The MGU-H works with the turbocharger to make use of waste exhaust gases, also sending power back to the ES, which can later be used to drive the wheels or the compressor in the turbocharger.

The Turbocharger

The turbocharger itself is another key component of the engine, and this allows more air to be fed into the engine, which means more fuel can be burned and thus more power can be generated. All of these components form the energy recovery system, or ERS, of the F1 car. The ERS is a vital system that allows the engines to provide so much power, but just how much can they produce?

How Much Power Does An F1 Car Have?

An F1 car has around 1000 horsepower. However, it varies across the races and across the teams, and there are key things to take into account. Teams like to keep their power numbers fairly secret, so that they don’t give other teams valuable information. About 160 HP comes from the hybrid system.

The Same Size

All F1 cars use the same style and size of engine, although they come from four different manufacturers. The engines are all 4-stroke, 1.6-liter turbocharged V6s. This is a very small engine when you consider the power it can produce, but the engine itself only produces around 850 of this total of 1000 HP. The rest comes from the energy recovery system.

How Do F1 Cars Produce So Much Power?

F1 cars produce so much power (around 1000 HP) because there is a massive amount of research and development that goes into making the engines. Since 2014, F1 cars have utilized hybrid technology, along with turbochargers, which significantly increase the amount of power the engine can produce.

The ERS, composed of the MGUs and the turbocharger, along with some electrical motors and a battery, produces about 160 extra horsepower for up to 33 seconds every lap. This power is generated and released continuously, which means the cars are capable of breaking the 1000 HP mark at various points throughout each lap.

Difficult To Find

As we have said, the exact numbers are hard to find. GPS tracking was used in 2017 to try to estimate the power of the cars on the track, and it found that the Mercedes engine had around 950 HP, while the Honda engine produced around 881. But in 2019 Renault (now Alpine) confirmed that they had managed to reach 1000 HP with their engine in qualifying modes.

This means that the cars will occasionally reach 1000 HP, but most of the time they will be somewhat below this mark. The main reason is that the MGU-K is limited to offer no more than 160 extra HP, although the MGU-H has no limit. Regulations change every year, and so the exact horsepower figures for F1 cars likely fluctuate each year.

In The Past

Back in the 1980s, the engines were able to produce upwards of 1400 HP, but this was deemed too unsafe and it also meant the cars went through an obscene amount of fuel each race. Teams now spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year to produce a car and engine that work efficiently, while producing as much power as they can. 

What Is The Most Powerful F1 Engine Ever?

The most powerful F1 engine ever was the BMW M12 engine, used between 1982 and 1987. This engine produced more than 1100 horsepower, but a variant of it, the M12/13/1, was said to be capable of producing 1400-1500 horsepower, making it the most powerful engine ever used in F1.

Final Thoughts

F1 engines are now capable of producing around 1000 HP, and this is down to some very efficient engineering and advanced technology. With the help of energy recovery systems and a turbocharger, the cars can produce more horsepower than they could with their small combustion engines alone.