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How Are F1 Engines So Efficient? (Explained)

Modern Formula 1 cars have some of the most powerful and efficient automotive engines on the planet. Not only are they more powerful while using less fuel than previous generations of Formula 1 engines, but they are also smaller. But many fans may still wonder just how F1 engines are so efficient.

F1 engines are so efficient due to the research and development that has been put into them over the years. A complex hybrid system makes them so efficient, as it recovers energy while using less fuel, helping produce 1000+ HP. F1 car engines are some of the most efficient engines on the planet.

These incredibly efficient engines came about with the 2014 engine regulation changes. In the article below, we’ll discuss how F1 engine have become so efficient and what we can expect in the next decade of Formula 1.

How Efficient Are F1 Engines?

F1 engines are said to be around 50% efficient in terms of thermal efficiency. The current F1 engines are not only the most efficient in the sport’s history, but they are also some of the most powerful, with the hybrid system helping them produce more than 1000 horsepower.

In the previous engine regulations when the cars still used V8 engines, the fuel tanks were nearly double the size of what they are now. Modern Formula 1 cars have a 30-gallon fuel tank and can use no more than 110 kilograms of fuel in order to complete the race distance of around 190 miles.

In the past, F1 cars used twice as much fuel to complete the same distance. Getting 190 miles on 30 gallons of fuel might not sound like much when you compare it to your average road car, but it’s important to remember these drivers do not drive their cars efficiently. Instead, they drive them as fast as possible to get the best result in the race.

One way to measure the efficiency of an engine is through measuring its thermal efficiency. A higher thermal efficiency indicates the engine wastes little heat and fuel. The current generation of Formula 1 cars have around 50% thermal efficiency, whereas the V8 Formula 1 engines of the past had a thermal efficiency of closer to 29%.

Are F1 Engines More Efficient Than Road Cars?

Modern F1 engines are more efficient than road cars. If we compare the thermal efficiency of an F1 car’s engine to that of the average road car, F1 engines are sometimes twice as efficient. F1 engines are equipped with very high performance hybrid technology to reach this efficiency.

Thermal Efficiency vs Fuel Efficiency

If we’re looking at thermal efficiency, we find the average road car is even worse than the previous generation of Formula 1 cars. The average road car has a thermal efficiency of just 20%, significantly less than the 50% or so of modern Formula 1 cars. Thermal efficiency is basically a measure of how much power the engine can put out for a given amount of energy put into it.

In terms of distance, the average road car can drive much farther than a Formula 1 car in direct comparison. However, F1 cars are built purely for speed and performance, so fuel efficiency is not as much of a concern. The faster you drive, the more fuel you consume. If a road car was to be driven flat out, it would struggle to make the 190-mile race distance on 30 gallons of fuel!

Are F1 Engines The Most Efficient?

F1 engines are the most efficient combustion engines used in cars. While F1 engines aren’t built to be the most fuel-efficient engines on the planet, they are highly thermally efficient. This is largely due to their hybrid nature, and so they are not pure combustion engines.

Why Are F1 Engines So Efficient?

F1 engines are so efficient because of their hybrid systems. The hybrid system was introduced to the cars in 2014 through strict regulations, and it has helped F1 engines become more efficient and powerful. Lots of money and research has gone into making these engines so efficient.

The ERS system in F1 had been around for a few years before 2014. This system was initially used to give the cars more power. However, as the cars started using them, they realized these systems could make the engines more efficient, and they were adopted by many teams.

Formula 1 cars use this hybrid system to help their engines use less fuel. The ERS system is complex, and it uses electrical energy to help the engine produce more horsepower, and ultimately this means the combustion engine component of the power unit does less work.

What Is ERS?

The ERS, or Energy Recovery System, is split into two major parts. The ERS system as a whole is used to charge up a battery, called the energy store, in the car. The battery can send electrical power to the wheels alongside the engine, giving the car a horsepower boost. This electrical boost is where teams find their extra engine power and efficiency.

This ultimately means there is less fuel being consumed by the combustion engine, even though the power unit as a whole is producing more power and covering the same distance.

The ERS is made up two parts. The MGU-K on one side uses kinetic energy harvested from braking to charge the battery. The other side of the ERS is the MGU-H, which uses waste energy from the exhaust gases to charge the battery or spin the turbocharger. This means that the car is effectively generating power for itself to use in the form of battery charge.

Downsides To ERS

The problem with ERS is that there are a lot of parts involved. This means that there is a higher probability of something going wrong. The higher number of components also brings about major costs, which is why the MGU-H is set to be dropped from the power units in the future. Reliability has improved a lot, but there will always be the risk of an MGU-K or MGU-H system failing on the car.

Will F1 Engines Become More Efficient?

Whether F1 engines will become more thermally efficient or more fuel efficient will depend on the impact of the next set of engine regulations. New engine regulations are brought in every decade or so, and each change comes with its own set of challenges that the engineers need to overcome.

The next set of engine regulations are coming into place in 2026 and will aim to make the current generation of F1 engines even more efficient. The cars will be more reliant on the hybrid systems, with the hybrid components providing even more of the overall power of the car.

The thermal efficiency of the engines will likely grow even higher when these engines are brought into place. However, the fuels used in these cars may be less energy efficient, which could actually decrease the fuel efficiency of future F1 cars.

Renewable Fuels

In addition to the increase in hybrid power in 2026, teams will also need to use 100% renewable fuels in their cars. Formula 1 cars are currently using E10 fuel, which means that 90% of the fuel mix comes from fossil fuels and the other 10% is ethanol.

While this does reduce the overall carbon emissions of the cars, it also makes the engines less efficient. The higher the ethanol content, the less energy the fuel has. This means more fuel is needed to achieve the same amount of power and go the same distance.

Ultimately, the combination of renewable fuel and an increase in hybrid power will lead to a greener and more environmentally friendly motorsport, which is Formula 1’s end goal. However, it will take a lot of work from the engineers to make this happen successfully, and to do so in a way that makes the engines more efficient.

How Are F1 Engines So Powerful?

F1 engines are so powerful because of the way they are built, along with the fact they are turbocharged hybrid engines. The total power output of 1000+ horsepower from an F1 car comes in part from the non-internal combustion engine components like the MGU-K and MGU-H.

The turbocharger on a Formula 1 car’s engine helps to extract even more performance. The hybrid system on a Formula 1 car also allows it to produce an extra 160 horsepower without burning any extra fuel. The power can be supplied to the wheels on demand (within limits), and the car regenerates this power through the exhaust gases and under braking.

Why Are F1 Engines So Small?

F1 engines are so small because using small V6 engines is more relevant in today’s automotive market than V8s or V10s. The world is after smaller, more fuel-efficient engines, rather than noisy V12 engines of the past, and Formula 1 always tries to stay as relevant to the public as possible.

On top of that, the world is also more focused on reducing carbon emissions and being as environmentally friendly as possible. This was the main motivator behind the major engine regulation overhaul we saw in 2014, and it’s the main reason the sport moved towards smaller combustion engines with the aid of hybrid power.

Final Thoughts

F1 engines are some of the most fuel-efficient petrol engines on the planet in large part thanks to the turbo hybrid nature of the power units. The ERS provides an electrical boost of around 160 horsepower for 33 seconds every lap, so the engine uses less fuel while producing more power.