How Do F1 Engine Valves Work? (Simple Explanation)

Formula 1 cars are the pinnacle of engineering. They use some of the most powerful, efficient, and reliable engines on the planet. Years of research and development have gone into creating these engines, but you might be wondering how the valves in an F1 engine work.

F1 engine valves are pneumatic, meaning they are operated by air pressure. This allows for faster and more precise control of the valve timing. They are also lighter and more compact than mechanical valves, making them ideal for a sport where keeping things lightweight is key.

F1 engines are incredibly complex pieces of machinery. Even something as seemingly small as a valve can take on a new level of importance and complexity in the world’s fastest motorsport. We take a closer look at how F1 engine valves work below.

What Kind Of Valves Do F1 Engines Use?

Formula 1 cars use pneumatic engine valves. These are different from mechanical engine valves. Mechanical valves are operated (actuated) by the camshaft that pushes directly on the valve stems. The camshaft is driven by the engine’s crankshaft, and the timing is set by something known as a cam lobe. Their shape and size determines the timing of the engine valves.

Mechanical engine valves are most commonly used in road cars because they are simple, reliable, and durable. These are all qualities that are critical in road cars, which is why these are more commonly used by road car manufacturers to reduce the risk of engine issues over time and extensive daily use.

Formula 1 cars on the other hand use pneumatic valves. These are more complex and expensive than mechanical valves, and they require more maintenance and servicing due to the additional components involved. They’re also not as reliable as mechanical valves, as the compressed air system can be affected by leaks, pressure fluctuations, and other issues.

However, pneumatic valves can be much lighter and faster than mechanical valves, which can mean improved engine performance, something that’s critical in Formula 1. There is no direct mechanical contact between the camshaft and the valve stems, allowing the engine to run smoother, which is another performance benefit.

F1 Pneumatic Engine Valves Explained

Although less common than mechanical engine valves, pneumatic valves are sometimes used in road cars. However, they are the preferred type of valve in Formula 1 cars and other high performance vehicles. So, you won’t find pneumatic engine valves in your Ford Fiesta, but you might see them used in a Ferrari.

Pneumatic valves can offer a number of benefits over mechanical valves, including improved fuel efficiency, reduced emissions, and improved power output. However, they are more complex, require more maintenance, and are generally more expensive than mechanical valves.

With Formula 1 engines being incredibly high performance and extremely fuel efficient, it’s important for them to use pneumatic engine valves rather than mechanical engine valves. 

Formula 1 teams build their own parts, but there are currently only four engine manufacturers on the grid. Each manufacturer will build their engine in a unique way, which means that one manufacturer could take a different approach to their pneumatic valve system compared to another engine manufacturer.


• F1 cars use pneumatic engine valves rather than mechanical ones

• These are more expensive, less reliable, but also much lighter than mechanical ones

• F1 is all about things as light as possible while keeping performance levels as high as possible

Unique Engine Valve Requirements For F1

Pneumatic valves are commonly used in a variety of industries, including automotive, aerospace, chemical processing, and even in food and beverage production. However, in Formula 1 these valves are unique as they have some strict requirements that they need to meet in order to survive in such a high-pressure, fast-paced environment.


The first requirement that Formula 1 engine valves need to meet is that they need to maximize performance. Pneumatic engine valves already have an advantage over mechanical engine valves, but they do come with some caveats. For example, pneumatic engine valves can sometimes be affected by leaks and pressure fluctuations.

This is not ideal in Formula 1, a sport in which every tenth of a second makes a huge difference. Each Formula 1 engine manufacturer works hard to perfect the parts that they use and the way that their pneumatic valves work to try and minimize these effects, and maximize the engine’s performance.


Formula 1 has incredibly strict rules that every single team needs to follow. The FIA has a set of regulations specifically for the engines, and the engine valves are also an important factor to consider in the rulebook. From the size and shape of the valves to their timing, the FIA enforces rules regarding how these valves work and how they are actuated


One of the advantages of having mechanical valves on an engine is that they are more reliable and durable than pneumatic valves. In terms of maintenance and cost, this is not a big issue for Formula 1 teams (as long as they stay within the budget cap). However, the main concern is reliability during races and throughout the season.

Formula 1 teams only get three engines per car, per season (although the limits vary for the specific engine components). They need to make these engines last because every engine they take over this threshold results in a penalty. In other words, reliability and durability is critical in Formula 1, and that’s one of the areas where pneumatic valves have a weakness.

Formula 1 teams have found ways to make their engines more reliable despite the hard work that the machines need to put in every race weekend. Even with the pneumatic valves in their engines, Formula 1 cars can still make it through the majority of a season on just three engines.


Formula 1 cars also need to be lightweight. Every extra 10 kilograms (22 lbs) could cost a driver three tenths of a second per lap. In a sport where the difference between winning and losing can be decided by a thousandth of a second, it’s crucial to shave as much weight off the car as possible.

Using the pneumatic valve system helps to reduce the engine’s weight. As the engine is one of the heaviest parts of the car, it’s important for the engineers to try and bring it down wherever they can. This takes pressure off the rest of the mechanics and engineers when it comes to saving weight elsewhere on the car.

Final Thoughts

Formula 1 engines use pneumatic valves because they are lighter, offer better power output, and they are more efficient. All of these factors are crucial in Formula 1, which is why heavier mechanical engine valves are not an option in the sport.