Formula 1, it’s been said, is the pinnacle of motorsport. Many people expect these cars to have the biggest and loudest engines in the world. Even though a V6 engine is not exactly the biggest and loudest engine in the world, it’s a technological marvel and it’s very important in modern F1.
F1 cars use V6 engines because of engine rules created by the FIA. Although they’re not to everyone’s liking, the V6 engines are designed to reduce costs and become more efficient, which overall would lead to Formula 1 becoming a more environmentally friendly sport in the future.
Nevertheless, there’s still something spectacular about these small engines that F1 teams have developed over the past few years. The tiny V6 F1 engines can produce an incredible 1000 horsepower with the help of their ERS devices. We’ll go over everything about F1 V6 engines in the article below.
When Did F1 Cars Start Using V6 Engines?
The current V6 hybrid engines were brought in with the 2014 rule changes. The cars moved from naturally aspirated V8 engines down to turbo hybrid V6 engines. It was a big change for the sport and not many drivers and fans were happy with the results, but they are very efficient.
For both the drivers and the fans, the exhaust notes were the main talking points. The V6 engines were noticeably quieter than any of the previous generation of engines. However, on the other hand, many were hoping that the engines would be reminiscent of those used in the 1980s.
Drivers and teams also had their concerns about the power output of the engines. Smaller engines would naturally struggle to achieve the power output that the V8s were capable of. However, this was not the case because the turbo hybrid system pushed the engines’ power output north of 1000 horsepower, far more than the naturally aspirated V8 engines.
Even before the V6 engines had been in use for a couple of months, many were already calling for the sport to backtrack to bigger engines. However, these requests were constantly denied by the FIA, and the V6 turbo hybrid engine is still used in F1 today.
Has F1 Used V6 Engines In The Past?
F1 has used V6 engines in the past. The V6 engines were popular in the 1970s and 1980s because they were lighter and cheaper to manufacture than the V10 and V12 engines. Despite the lack of power in the V6 engines, teams increased the power output by adding turbochargers.
However, turbochargers were banned by the FIA in 1989, leaving the cars with naturally aspirated options only. As a result, many teams made the switch to V8 and V12 engines that were heavier but made up for the lack of power the V6 engines produced without their turbochargers.
F1 V6 Engine Explained
The modern F1 V6 engine is divided into 6 main parts, with the entire assembly being referred to as the “power unit.” The combustion engine has six cylinders and is built in a “V” configuration at 90 degrees. This internal combustion engine (known as the ICE) works as a normal combustion engine would and runs on E10 fuel, which is 10% renewable biofuel and 90% fossil fuels.
The next main element in the power unit is the turbocharger, which is combined with the MGU-H part of the hybrid system. The turbocharger helps increase the combustion engine’s power output by forcing more oxygen into the engine, which allows it to burn fuel faster and work harder.
The Energy Recovery System (ERS) is made up of a few components. This system uses kinetic energy generated under deceleration in the MGU-K and via waste exhaust gases in the MGU-H and stores it in a battery. The battery can then be used to give the driver extra power, up to another 160 horsepower for up to 33 seconds every lap.
The battery depletes whenever it’s used, and the driver needs to recharge it to use it again. However, they can use it more conservatively if they wish, which would give them a more consistent stream of power rather than longer bursts that require the battery to be recharged more often.
While each constituent part is obviously made up of lots of smaller parts, the 6 main parts of an F1 engine are the:
- Internal Combustion Engine (ICE)
- Motor Generator Unit – Kinetic (MGU-K)
- Motor Generator Unit – Heat (MGU-H)
- Energy Store (ES)
- Control Electronics (CE)
Why So Many Different Parts?
The current V6 turbo hybrid engines have been criticized for being too complex. The engineers often spend many hours fixing small gremlins in the power unit. However, there is a good reason as to why these relatively tiny V6 engines have become so complicated compared to past engines.
These engines need to have all these extra elements in order to produce more horsepower. The combustion engine can produce around 850-900 horsepower, which is a lot of power from a tiny engine. In comparison, some of the most powerful turbocharged V6 engines on road cars can reach about 700 horsepower.
In addition, the extra 160 horsepower from the ERS hybrid system helps to push the engine’s power capacity over 1000 horsepower. This means F1 cars have a positive power to weight ratio – outputting a higher number of horsepower than the car weighs in kilograms (about 900 when fully loaded with driver and fuel).
Advantages Of V6 Engines
While they’re not everyone’s favorite, there are some advantages to the V6 engines. Ever since 2014, teams have experienced some hiccups when it comes to developing these engines and, for the most part, Mercedes have had the upper hand over the rest of the grid.
However, the FIA had a clear goal in mind for these V6 turbo hybrid engines, and that was to progress certain aspects of the sport. Overall, these engines have come a very long way since the initial power units we saw during the 2014 season.
Over seven years of research and development and countless hours of hard work have been poured into creating the power units that we see today. Having reached the goal they set out to achieve, the FIA aims to push these engines even further in the future.
The first advantage that the V6 engines have is that they are lighter than previous engines. Weight was never truly a problem with the V8 engines of the previous era, but when you scale up to V12, you add a lot of weight to the car. Even with the added power, F1 cars are meant to be lightweight and nimble.
Lighter cars are easier to drive, and they have better maneuverability, which is one of the standout factors that sets Formula 1 apart from other motorsport series. Using V6 engines was a further step in the direction of speed and nimble quickness fans love to watch.
Lighter engines also mean the teams can implement more safety features on their F1 cars, such as beefing up the chassis and the survival cell. These features add more weight to the car, but the lighter engines keep the overall weight of the car down.
One of the main goals the FIA and F1 set out to achieve was to increase the fuel efficiency of the cars. Refueling during the race was banned in 2010, and many cars were struggling to complete the 190-mile race distance. Introducing the hybrid-powered V6 engines would allow the teams to make their cars more fuel efficient than ever before.
In fact, these engines have become some of the most fuel efficient in the world. With incredible hybrid technology, the current power units have more than 50% thermal efficiency. Compared to the average road car’s 20% thermal efficiency, that’s a staggering difference.
F1’s V6 hybrid engines have become so efficient that they can now complete the same race distance as their V8 counterparts on half the amount of fuel. This shows just how far the engines have come due to being developed by Formula 1 engineers in the name of fuel efficiency.
Despite the engines becoming smaller than ever before, the FIA had the goal of making them more powerful than ever before. Thanks to the way that Formula 1 power units are built, they are now able to produce more than 1000 horsepower, something the naturally aspirated V8s could never achieve.
This increase in power has shown in the race results, with the current crop of cars setting new lap records that have stood since the early 2000s. These cars have also set records for the fastest-ever speeds achieved during an official Grand Prix weekend.
In other words, contrary to what everyone believed and anticipated, these engines have made the cars the fastest in the history of the sport. That’s something few would have bet on during the 2014 season, when everyone was disappointed by their introduction and had a bleak outlook on the future of the sport.
With 1000+ horsepower, the power-to-weight ratio of the cars is incredible, and it allows them to nimbly dance around corners at speeds that no other cars are capable of achieving. These cars are also incredibly fast in a straight line, especially when it comes to acceleration.
Disadvantages Of V6 Engines
While there have been many great aspects to these V6 turbo hybrid power units, there have also been some disadvantages. Despite all the technological marvel and advancements that Formula 1 teams have made, these little gremlins persist in the engines today.
Many of the problems the V6 engines have shown have been improved massively, but they still come with some disadvantages that are important to consider. With that being said, these disadvantages don’t outweigh the advantages of the V6 power units.
Overall, the FIA, and the F1 teams have been happy with the progress made in the power units. However, there are still some fans and drivers who are not happy with the direction that Formula 1 has taken in terms of the engines.
The first, and probably the most controversial disadvantage, is engine noise. The V6 engines are noticeably quieter, and they have a much more “vacuum cleaner like” tone to them, which many fans and drivers dislike. They recall the sounds of the sport in the past and want to hear them again.
One of the biggest attractions of F1 in the past had been the incredible engine noise the fans experienced at the track. Whether it’s the brutal V8s or the screaming V10s, a fly by from a Formula 1 car on a hot lap would make the grandstand seats shake.
However, this is no longer the case with the V6 engines, which seem to some to be a huge step down for their previous generations. This is perhaps the main reason many dislike the V6 engines, and Formula 1 has resorted to placing a microphone directly next to the exhaust to improve the sound for TV viewers.
For the engineers, there’s another big disadvantage to having the V6 turbo hybrid engines installed on the cars. Because there are many more moving parts, such as the turbo and the hybrid system, there’s a lot more complexity in the design of the engine.
This not only affects the maintenance and the building of the engine, but it also has an impact on the design of the entire car. The chassis needs to be adjusted to fit the different components and some of the bodywork needs to be altered in order to accommodate the unique design of the engine.
These design aspects of the V6 engine mean cars take longer to manufacture and put together. There’s also a much more complex maintenance and repair factor that engineers need to go through if the engine is giving them any trouble.
Repairs on the V6 hybrid power units are not rare either. Reliability issues is one of the biggest disadvantages that the teams face with these V6 engines. Engine reliability was especially poor when these power units were first introduced.
The reason these engines have so many reliability issues is because of all the added moving parts. With a naturally aspirated engine, there’s a lot less that could go wrong. With the turbo hybrid power units though, the car can lose performance if just one of the power unit elements causes difficulties.
Over the years, we’ve seen power units fail on many different occasions and many drivers hope for simpler engines to make a return. However, the reliability of the engines has improved since the 2014 season, and many of the engine manufacturers have become better at building these sophisticated power units.
While we still see many reliability issues with the power units today, they are much less frequent than they were in the past. It took some time to research and develop the technology behind the new power units, but it seems to have finally paid off.
Finally, the V6 engines are much more expensive to build and maintain than the engines that were used in Formula 1. Due to the size of the engine, teams need to spend more money to extract more power from it. In addition, the turbo and ERS add more costs that teams need to cope with. Even taking proper care to maintain and repair these different elements becomes more expensive for the teams.
The FIA have combated this aspect by limiting the number of engines that the teams can use throughout the season. The teams can only use three of each engine element during the season and will be penalized if they take more power unit elements.
With a budget cap also in place, teams are extra cautious with their engines, and we’re likely to see them taking less risks. This means that the cars could be retired, or drivers could sit out in practice in order to preserve their engine’s life.
Why Doesn’t F1 Use Inline Engines?
F1 constructors use the V engine configuration rather than a straight engine because an inline V6 engine takes up more space and would require the cars to be longer. Longer cars are less stable and lose their nimbleness and cornering ability, which is what makes Formula 1 cars so unique.
Formula 1 cars are bigger than ever before, and this is not a good thing. Overall, the smaller the cars, the better it is for F1. Using inline V6 engines would make them even longer than they currently are, and with teams aiming to extract as much performance from their cars as possible, this would simply make their jobs harder.
Are V6 F1 Engines More Powerful Than V8s?
The current V6 turbo hybrid engines are more powerful than the V8 engines that were used up to 2013. The old V8 engines could produce just under 800 horsepower, but today’s V6 engines can produce more than 1000 horsepower. The current engines are some of the most powerful the sport has ever seen.
This is because the V8 engines were naturally aspirated, and all the power came from the combustion engine alone. However, the V6 engines have the help of the turbo, which forces more air into the engine and allows it to burn more fuel in order to work harder.
The new engines also get help from the battery, which can produce around 160 horsepower for up to 33 seconds per lap. With all these elements in place, the engine can put out an incredible amount of horsepower at well over 1000 hp. However, even without the hybrid system, the V6 engine with the turbocharger alone is still more powerful than the V8 engines.
Why Are F1 Cars Hybrid?
F1 cars are hybrid because the sport wanted to become more environmentally friendly. The development of the hybrid system has been crucial in Formula 1, and it’s had an impact on the wider world too. The hybrid engines used in F1 cars are some of the most efficient in the world.
Ultimately, Formula 1 doesn’t want to go fully electric because that already exists in Formula E. Another fully electric series is not the goal, but the hybrid technology that Formula 1 currently uses has been massively advantageous to the sport, and it’s helped to propel the sport into the future.
The first reason Formula 1 uses hybrid power is because it allows the engineers to beef up the engines. Moving to smaller V6 engines was a concern for many people. Much of the Formula 1 community were not convinced that smaller engines were the answer.
However, when the first hybrid power units hit the track, it was clear that power would not be a concern. The engines didn’t produce 1000 horsepower at first, but after a couple of seasons in the hybrid era, every engine manufacturer was comfortably above the 1000 horsepower mark. This is all thanks to the hybrid system, which can boost the engine’s power output by an incredible 160 horsepower.
This concept is the future of sport, as well the automotive industry as a whole. This is why it’s so important that it was developed in Formula 1. Thanks to countless hours of research and development, Formula 1 has fast tracked this technology into modern road cars.
One of the main goals that Formula 1 has is to reduce its impact on the environment. It’s been a huge talking point for many years, with critics and environmental activists targeting the sport.
All of this has been happening even though one full year of racing Formula 1 cars burns less fuel than a Boeing 747’s flight over the Atlantic. Nevertheless, it was clear that Formula 1 had to take the leap, and the sport that is notoriously resistant to change finally caved in and went half electric in 2014.
Since Liberty Media took over F1 in 2017, the sport has modernized very quickly. Massive changes were implemented, and among them was a plan for the entire sport to become net carbon zero by the year 2030, an ambitious but achievable goal to strive for.
It’s hard to believe that racing cars and burning fossil fuels can be done with a net zero impact on the environment. However, Formula 1 has a clear plan in place in order to make it work, and it can be argued that implementing hybrid power was the first step in the right direction.
Formula 1 has always valued being relevant to the real world. It’s one of the reasons we see real automotive manufacturers on the grid, like Mercedes and Ferrari. It’s always been an important part of the sport, especially because many inventions that are crucial for the automotive industry have been developed in Formula 1.
The basic safety features we’ve come to expect on our average road cars, like traction control and ABS, were heavily developed in F1. The same is true for hybrid power today. Hybrid power has been developed in F1 through fierce competition among teams, and now Mercedes have implemented what they’ve learned into their road cars.
These advancements in technology are important in our society. Road cars can now use hybrid power to improve their efficiency. Not only do you get better mileage from your car, but you’re also doing less damage to the environment. It’s a win-win for everyone, and F1’s continued development of these technologies has had a ripple effect across the automotive world.
Will F1 Ever Go Back To V10 Or V12 Engines?
F1 will probably not go back to the V10 or V12 engines anytime soon. The FIA has already outlined their plans for the next major engine regulation overhaul, and it doesn’t include either of these engines. For the foreseeable future, F1 will stick with the V6 hybrid engines.
However, Formula 1 does understand the importance of the spectacle, which is why there is still some belief that the sport might eventually go back to these incredible engines. The reality, though, is that it will depend entirely on what the future holds in terms of development and technological advancements.
It’s clear that Formula 1 will not go electric. This is not in the best interest of the sport, especially while Formula E exists. However, there is a small sliver of hope at the end of the tunnel for those fans and drivers who are hoping for the sport to make a return to the “good old days.”
That hope lies in the next big regulation changes that the FIA have outlined. Even though these regulations don’t give us the engines that some are hoping for, it does give us a clue as to what the sport will be focusing on next: Biofuels. If Formula 1 can develop biofuels that don’t harm to the environment, there’s no reason the sport can’t make a return to big, noisy engines.
2026 Engine Regulation Changes
For the most part, the internal combustion engines will remain the same. The 1.6-liter, V6 turbo hybrid system will remain in place, but there will be some key differences that will make the 2026 rule changes crucially important both for F1 teams and the outside world.
The biggest difference is that the cars will need to run on 100% renewable fuels. That means no fossil fuels will be used, which also means no carbon footprint from the engines. The cars are currently running E10 fuel (10% renewable fuel), and we’ve already seen the headaches it’s caused for some teams. IndyCar are currently running E85 (85% ethanol), so it’s possible in F1 as well.
The other major change is in the hybrid system. From 2026 onward, the battery will be able to store more power than before. This means the cars will get more horsepower from their battery for a longer duration. It’s currently estimated that teams will get a mind-blowing 475 horsepower from the new batteries. This will increase their power output and fuel efficiency.
Finally, the FIA wants the cars to be louder again, so engine manufacturers will need to work out a way to make their exhaust notes stand out again. There will also be an engine cost cap introduced, which will prevent teams from running away in terms of power unit development, like Mercedes did in 2014.
F1 uses the 1.6-liter, V6 turbo hybrid engine because it’s a technological marvel that can produce over 1000 horsepower, thanks to the hybrid system and the turbocharger attached to it. The small V6 engines used today are some of the most power the sport has ever produced.