Why Do F1 Cars Have Small Engines?

Formula 1 cars have been known for having massive engines in the past. From massive V12s to screaming V10s, the sport has been at the peak of producing incredible engines that push the boundaries of technological advancements. But modern F1 cars have comparatively small engines.

F1 engines are so small because the 2014 engine regulations made them that size. The current 1.6 liter turbocharged V6 engines are the smallest ever used in F1, but they are also some of the most powerful. Some of this power, however, comes from the hybrid system connected to the car’s battery.

These rule changes have been controversial ever since the 2014 season, with many fans and drivers complaining about the noise, or rather the lack of noise, coming from the new engines, compared to previous generations. But let’s take a closer look to understand why F1 engines are so small.

How Big Are F1 Engines?

Modern day Formula 1 engines are 1.6 liter V6 turbo hybrid engines. There engines are incredibly small compared to previous editions such as the V12s, V10s and V8s. This came as great disappointment to many Formula 1 fans.

The argument from fans and drivers is that with Formula 1 being the pinnacle of motorsport, the sport should be pushing the boundaries and using engines that are as big and powerful as possible, and switching over to V6 engines was seen by many as a downgrade.

The other complaint that Formula 1 received about the new engines was that the engine noise was not great. With fans and drivers being used to the loud and brutal V8 engines, switching to the V6 engines was a big difference, and many people didn’t like it, claiming that it went against the ‘DNA of the sport’.

Formula 1 Engine Size Comparison

You might be trying to think of some road cars that have a similar size of engine as the modern Formula 1 cars to get a better perspective of just how small they have become. When you think about Formula 1, you might think about the massive engines used in Ferrari and Lamborghinis. However, modern Formula 1 cars are very different.

Some examples of modern road cars that use V6 turbo engines are Kia Stingers, Infiniti Q50 Red Sports, and the Ford F-150 Raptor. Some of the most notable V6 turbo engines are the Nissan GTR R35, Mercedes C43 AMG, and the Ford GT.

However, none of these compare to a Formula 1 engine, even though they have the same number and arrangement of cylinders. So how did Formula 1 engineers manage to extract so much power out of such a tiny engine, and what does that mean for the future of the automotive industry?

Formula 1 Engine Specifications

The minimum weight of the Formula 1 engine is 145 kilograms (319 lbs). Each team will come close to this weight to try and save as much weight as possible on their car, making it lighter and faster. The average weight of a V6 turbo engine on a road car is between 300 and 450 lbs, so building a powerful engine this light is already an impressive feat.

The engine is banked 90 degrees, and the maximum RPM of the engine is 15,000. This number has gone down significantly due to FIA rules, and gone are the days of seeing 20,000 RPM from a Formula 1 engine. However, this is still double or even triple what you’ll find in some of the fastest road cars.

Hybrid Components

F1 engines also have two energy recovery systems (MGU-H and the MGU-K), both of which charge a battery by harvesting energy from the brakes and the turbo.

These components are fairly heavy themselves, but as usual the engineers try to make them as small and as light as they can, within the regulations. They should definitely be factored into any discussion about engine size, but they also play a key role in terms of why the engines can be so small yet produce so much power.

Why Are F1 Engines So Small?

Many people have complained about the current generation of Formula 1 engines being too small, but there are some very good reasons for the changes. The FIA changed the engines rules in part following backlash from climate change activists.

The aim was to reduce the impact of the powerful gas guzzling engines on the environment. With the reduction of carbon emissions as the top priority, Formula 1 was challenged with bringing in smaller engines that produced the same amount of horsepower as the previous ones.

The result was a massive success, with Formula 1 cars becoming more fuel efficient and more powerful with smaller engines. This is thanks to the endless hours of work put in by Formula 1 engineers who spent years developing the technology for Formula 1 engines.

Technological Development

Formula 1 is always challenging its teams to push the boundaries of engineering. The challenge with the smaller engines was to make them more efficient and produce more horsepower without using massive engines.

Of course, the more power you have, the more fuel your engine will use. However, using the hybrid technology, made up of the energy recovery systems mentioned above, teams were able to build cars that produce 1000 horsepower – more than many of the larger engines used before – yet use less fuel than the previous generations of engines.

This has helped to further develop the technology used by road car manufacturers, allowing them to create engines that are smaller, lighter and improve the fuel economy of your average road car, not just those used in F1. Hybrid systems are now implemented in many road cars, in part thanks to the research and development in F1 engines.

Net Zero Carbon Project

Formula 1 recently announced an ambitious plan of going carbon neutral by the year 2030. This means that the entire sport will be completely sustainably run, from the cars to the logistics, and even the events themselves.

Downsizing the cars’ engines is a big step towards achieving this goal. Although the engines are not carbon neutral yet, future rules will be implemented to ensure that they are. In 2026 the cars are set to run on 100% sustainable fuels.

This is part of a project to develop the necessary technology to reduce carbon emissions all around the world. The goal is that eventually this technology will make its way into the global automotive industry thanks to Formula 1’s development of smaller, more efficient engines.

Budget Cap Rules

Another reason Formula 1 downsized the engines is the introduction of the budget cap rules. Formula One already implemented budget caps in 2021, but in 2022 and 2023 they become stricter, limiting teams even further.

Engine development is also frozen from the start of the 2022 season for several years, possibly until 2026, in order to help teams to stick to the budget cap. With the 2026 rule changes, an engine specific budget cap will be implemented too. Using smaller V6 engines helps the teams save money and stick to their budgets.

Bigger engines are not only more expensive and complicated to build, but they are also more expensive to maintain and run. They use a lot more fuel, making them more expensive to run, and they put a lot of strain on the internal components of the car, making them more expensive to maintain.

How Are F1 Engines So Powerful When They’re So Small?

Modern day Formula 1 engines may be small, but they pack a powerful punch. The engines on the current grid produce over 1000 horsepower. This is a massive amount of power to extract from a little 1.6 V6 engine.

Most previous generations of engines produced under 1000 horsepower, even during the faster eras of Formula 1 such as the early 2000s when Ferrari and Michael Schumacher dominated the sport. These cars still hold some lap records on some tracks, after all.

The only time when Formula 1 cars produced 1000 horsepower is when they were allowed to run massive V12 engines. But with a much smaller engine, how do they still manage to extract so much power?

Engine Development

The engines have been developed massively since they were first introduced in 2014. The engines that were used in the 2014 season were slightly down on power compared to what they are now. The engines back then were producing less than 1000 horsepower.

However, over the years and throughout the seasons, Formula 1 teams always develop their engines in small ways to get the edge over their competition and stay within the ever-changing engine regulations, assuming that there is no engine freeze in place. The result is engines that are faster and more reliable than the year before.

Over years of developing these engines, the teams have managed to squeeze every last drop of power out of them. Constant upgrades and rebuilds have resulted in these engines becoming powerful enough to put out 1000 horsepower.

Hybrid Power

But the power doesn’t just come from the relatively small 1.6 liter V6 combustion engine. The engine is helped by the hybrid system that harvests some of the energy that is lost and converts it back into horsepower to drive the wheels.

This is done using two different systems. The first is the MGU-K which harvests energy from the brakes, and the other is the MGU-H, which harvests energy from the turbocharger. Together, these two systems power a battery that can boost the horsepower of the engine at the push of a button.

Currently, the battery is limited (by the rules) to produce a maximum of 161 horsepower. In 2026 this limit will be increased to around 470 horsepower, which is nearly triple the current limit. We could therefore see even faster and more powerful cars from 2026 onwards!

Final Thoughts

F1 cars have small engines as a result of the 2014 engine regulation changes. The main aim was to reduce carbon emissions and build an engine that is more efficient and more powerful than those used in the past. The current engines are 1.6 liter V6 turbo hybrid engines.