Formula 1 has been the leader in auto development ever since its inception in the 1950s. Technology that was developed in the sport was constantly carried over to the public automotive industry, and the engines are no different. But the engines have changed since the days of the V8s, V10s and V12s.
F1 is unlikely to ever move back to V8 or V10 engines because the sport is pushing for sustainability and efficiency. The only way the sport could ever move back to V8, V10 or even V12 engines is if renewable, eco-friendly fuels are developed that massively reduce the engines’ carbon emissions.
While there have been rumors of the larger engines coming back in some form, when sustainable fuels are developed, the V6 turbo hybrid engines are here to stay for the near term anyway. But below we consider the possibilities of F1 returning to the V8, V10 and V12 engines of the past.
Why Did F1 Change To V6 Engines?
F1 changed to V6 engines because, in 2014, Formula One brought in a massive regulation change to become more sustainable. The sport would move from V8 engines to 1.6 liter turbo hybrid engines. It was a big change that was extremely controversial between teams, drivers and fans.
The rule change was criticized by many for several different reasons. The first and main complaint was about the sound that the engines produced, or lack thereof. The V8 engines had a mighty roar that would cause your entire seat to vibrate when the cars drove past your grandstand.
The Lack Of Sound
However, the V6 engines in comparison sounded very different. Many people complained that they sounded like “vacuum cleaners” rather than the cars that are meant to be part of the pinnacle of motorsport that Formula 1 is.
The other complaint was that the 1.6 liter V6 engines were too small and wouldn’t be able to produce enough power to make Formula 1 cars faster. The aim is always to improve the sport and keep the cars pushing the boundaries of technological advancement, and this rule change seemed to be going against that. However, the opposite was true.
The Reason Behind The Rule Changes
Formula 1’s V8 engines were gas guzzlers. The engines produced an insane amount of horsepower and speed, but they also used a lot of fuel and that in turn produced more emissions, which at the time put Formula 1 in the spotlight because of the shifting global view on carbon emissions.
The 2014 rule changes aimed to reduce the carbon footprint of the cars. The 1.6 liter V6 turbo hybrids would use less fuel not only because they were smaller engines, but also because they had electrical elements that would be used to boost the engine’s power output, allowing it to become more fuel efficient while still remaining powerful.
The Hybrid Systems
The 2014 1.6 liter V6 engines were (and still are) equipped with two hybrid systems that are used to provide the engine with more horsepower. These are the MGU-K and the MGU-H. Both of these serve the same function but collect their electrical energy (or charge) from different parts on the car.
The MGU-K charges the battery from the energy that is lost during braking (the ‘K’ suffix refers to kinetic energy). On the other hand, the MGU-H charges the battery when the turbo spools up (the ‘H’ suffix refers to heat).
More Power From A Smaller Engine?
This hybrid system allowed Formula 1 engineers to build 1.6 liter V6 turbo engines that are capable of producing more than 1000 horsepower. That’s right, 1000 horsepower from an engine close to the size of one you can find in your average Renault Clio or Volkswagen Golf!
So how do Formula 1 teams manage to build these incredibly powerful – yet fairly small – engines? Well, the truth is that the engine itself only produces about three quarters of the total power. The cars get the rest of the power, around 150/200 HP, from the hybrid system.
The batteries can inject huge amounts of horsepower for between 30 and 35 seconds every lap. The duration of this boost is limited by the FIA rules to make it equal for all cars, so the boost could make the cars even faster without regulations. This goes against the argument that these engines would be less powerful of course, while also still pushing the boundaries of technology.
Not Just For Power
Not only did the brand new, smaller engines produce more power, but they were also much more fuel efficient than the massive V8 engines the previous generation of Formula 1 cars had been using between 2006 and 2013.
Since the refueling ban in 2009, Formula 1 cars had to increase the size of their fuel tank to 55 gallons just to be able to finish the race. Even so, the majority of cars had to save fuel during the race to make it to the end.
However, since the 1.6 liter V6 turbo hybrid engines have been introduced, Formula 1 cars have been using smaller fuel tanks. The fuel tanks of the cars have nearly halved in size down to 30 gallons, yet they still run the same race distance. This is mainly due to the hybrid components making the engines significantly more efficient than before.
This idea of fuel efficiency is key in the argument against V8/V10/V12 engines, but when were each of these types of engines used in F1?
When Did F1 Have V12 Engines?
F1 first had V12 engines in the 1950 season, and various F1 teams used V12 engines throughout the 1950s and 1960s. V12s and “flat” 12 cylinder engines were used on and off from this period by various teams until Ferrari entered the last V12 F1 car for the 1995 season, and they were banned in 2000.
Unlike in modern Formula One, engine regulations weren’t quite as tight in the early days. It was not uncommon to see V8s and V12s on the same grid! That may be unthinkable now, but back then the teams had more freedom to choose what size and what layout of engine to use. This led to V12s making various appearances from the 1950s through to the 1990s.
In the 80s the V12 engine took a short sabbatical as teams found lighter and faster engines by strapping turbochargers to V6 engines (essentially what people had expected from the 2014 engines). These engines were faster because of the reduced weight on the car, and the turbocharger made up for the deficit in power.
That was until the 1990s, when Formula 1 moved to massive 3.5 liter V12 engines. This era is where the famous Ferrari, Lamborghini and Honda V12 engines were used in Formula 1, and many of the fans loved, drivers and teams loved this era of Formula 1.
True Love Or Simply Nostalgia?
Many of the fans and drivers have been dreaming of Formula 1 making a return to V12 engines. The question is whether they truly want the sport to return to these engines or not. Nostalgia can be powerful, and many people forget about the downsides of the V12 engines.
V12 engines are huge and extremely heavy. Not only does this mean bigger and wider cars, but it also means heavier cars. Modern Formula 1 cars only weight around 1650 lbs including the driver and enough fuel to finish and entire race.
A V12 engine would probably double the weight simply because of how much larger and heavier the engine is. V12 engines were also less reliable than even the V10s and V8s used in the following decades. Unreliability brings in a frustrating element to Formula 1, not just for the teams and drivers, but also the fans, that have championships not decided on skill but on who’s car stays in one piece.
Will F1 Ever Go Back To V12?
F1 is unlikely to ever return to the V12 engines, despite many calls from fans and drivers. This comes down to several important reasons that have shaped modern Formula 1 into what it has become today, with the focus on cutting costs and becoming more environmentally sustainable.
V12 engines are too inefficient and use too much fuel, resulting in a larger carbon footprint. However, it could be argued that teams will be challenged to develop V12 engines that are more efficient as they have done with the current V6 engines, and this could lead to sustainable V12 engines. However, this would undoubtedly be a long time away, if it were to ever happen.
The other factor to consider is that Formula 1 now has budget caps in place to reduce the financial burden both for existing teams and potential new teams. V12 engines would be far too expensive to build, maintain and run when considering the budget caps, and development alone would require significant investment that the teams just cannot currently afford.
When Did F1 Have V10 Engines?
F1 first had V10 engines in 1989, when both Williams and McLaren ran their cars with V10s. The early 1990s saw more teams decide to use V10s instead of massive, unreliable V12s, and they were used by all teams from 1998-2005, but Toro Rosso used a V10 engine in 2006.
These V10 engines were still loved by the Formula 1 community, teams and drivers, even though they were smaller than the old V12s. The sport ran these engines up until the 2005 season, when all teams switched to V8 engines.
V10 engines were brought in for several different reasons. The first was to reduce the complexity of the engines. V12 engines were very complex to build and maintain, which made them much more difficult to construct and it also made them fairly unreliable. Moving to the less complicated V10 engines made the cars more reliable, if only slightly.
Back in those days, teams could run multiple engines per race weekend – unthinkable given that now teams are limited to just 3 per season before penalties kick in! The FIA also wanted to reduce the costs of the sport. Building V10 engines was much cheaper because they were less complicated and used fewer components. This made running, maintaining, and building the engines cheaper.
V10 engines were also brought in to reduce the weight of the cars. Formula 1 cars in the 1990s were heavy, and the sport wanted to move towards a slimmer design and lightweight cars, which the V10 engines helped greatly with.
Finally, the V10 engines were also brought in to make the cars more fuel efficient. This was also a factor that helped to reduce the costs of running these engines. The V12 engines were using a lot of fuel, and a downsizing helped to make them more efficient, running faster and further for longer.
Will F1 Go Back To V10 Engines?
Many Formula 1 drivers and fans would love for the sport to return to the screaming V10 engines of the early 2000s. It was a memorable era made famous by Schumacher, Hakkinen and Alonso. The question is whether it would be feasible or not.
The only way that the sport would return to the beloved V10 engines is if engineers were able to build the engines to be more efficient and reliable than they have been in the past, and importantly more reliable, more efficient and more sustainable than the current V6 engines. This could be done using biofuels and hybrid technology, but this would itself bring massive development costs.
When Did F1 Have V8 Engines?
F1 first had V8 engines in 1952, albeit with only some teams opting to use them over more powerful V12 and V10 engines over the following decades. V8s were favored during turbo and supercharged eras, as they could save weight without losing power. F1 implemented V8 regulations in 2006.
The 2006 season saw all teams use V8 engines (aside from Toro Rosso, with their cars running V10s). The FIA decided that the V10 engines were too powerful and too wasteful. Moving to smaller engines would mean better fuel efficiency and better racing.
Better Reliability & Closer Racing
The aim was also to improve the reliability of the engines, as the early 2000s saw a lot of cars retiring from races due to engine failures. The V8 engines were well received, and most teams had a happy relationship with the new engine rules.
The V8 engine era lasted up until 2014 and it was an era where there wasn’t one manufacturer who dominated in the engine department (like Ferrari in the V10 era, and Mercedes in the V6 era). It was arguably the era with the closest racing, partly helped by a major engine development freeze between 2007 and 2009.
This is illustrated by the fact that, of the 8 seasons that used exclusively V8 engines, 5 different teams won the drivers’ championship, with 4 different constructors winning too. These wins were:
- 2006 – Fernando Alonso (Renault)
- 2007 – Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari)
- 2008 – Lewis Hamilton (McLaren), Ferrari won the constructors’ championship
- 2009 – Jenson Button (Brawn GP)
- 2010-2013 – Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
Will F1 Ever Bring Back V8 Engines?
V8 engines could potentially return in the future if sustainable fuels are introduced. The key would be to make them more efficient and ensure that their carbon footprint remains as small as possible. If teams are not able to do this, there is no way that the V8 engines would come back.
The V8 engines were the least expensive compared to the V10s and V12s, which makes them the more feasible option for a return. This is because of the strict budget cap rules F1 has put in place.
In the future we could see the return of V8 engines, and it’s safe to say that many fans and drivers would love it. However, this all depends on the FIA and what the world looks like when they change the engine regulations again.
2026 F1 Engine Rules
F1 engine rules are set to change again in 2026. Although it’s not going to be as major an overhaul as we saw with the 2014 rule changes, it will influence the sport in a big way. The focus will be on using sustainable fuels and using more electrical power than the current engines use.
Major engine rule changes tend to happen once a decade or so. Although there is no set time frame for when these major engine overhauls happen, the “pattern” has been that they change every 10 years or so.
For example, Formula 1 switched from the V12s to the V10s in 1996. Ten years later, in 2006, they switched from the V10s to the V8s. In 2014 the change was made from the V8 engines to the current V6 engines. So, while not every decade, it’s fairly close, given they’ll change again 12 years after the V6s were first introduced.
What Are The 2026 Engine Rule Changes?
While many fans were expecting (and hoping) for a return to bigger engines such as the V8s, V10s, or even V12s, that will unfortunately not be happening in 2026. The sport will stick with the current 1.6 liter V6 turbo hybrid engines, albeit with more of a focus on the hybrid component.
The FIA have requested that teams “amplify” the sound of their engines to make them louder and bring back the noise that Formula 1 fans have been asking for since the 2014 rule changes first brought the V6 engines into the sport.
However, there are also some other small changes, such as the fact that the MGU-H will now be dropped from the engines. This means that the batteries in the hybrid system will only be charged using the MGU-K rather than the turbo. However, there could obviously be more changes implemented that change these hybrid rules further.
More Hybrid Power
The removal of the MGU-H will not make the cars slower. The power limit on the hybrid system will be increased, meaning that teams can extract more power from the battery than they are currently allowed to.
Drivers will also be able to use the battery power for a longer duration per lap. Currently, the drivers can use their battery for 33 seconds per lap. This duration will be increased with the 2026 rule changes, and we may see even further development of the hybrid system in that it will be even faster to charge up (harvest energy) throughout a lap.
Although many fans were disappointed by the news that the current version of the V6 engine is staying in the sport, there is a little bit of good news for fans of the bigger engines that came with the announcement of 2026 rule changes.
From the 2026 season Formula 1 cars must run on 100% sustainable fuels that produce net zero carbon dioxide emissions. This means that Formula 1 will be developing sustainable fuels in the near future that will significantly reduce the carbon footprint of the combustion engine.
This is good news, because the only way that V8s, V10s or even V12 engines could come back in the future is if they were to use sustainable fuels. This, coupled with better hybrid power, could mean that Formula 1 sees the return of larger engines in the future.
However, the 2026 rule change is still a long way away, and the next engine rule change after that even further, so anything could still happen in that time. Only time will tell what the future holds for Formula 1 engines.
Formula 1 is unlikely to move back to bigger engines any time soon. However, with the planned introduction of 100% sustainable fuels that produce net zero carbon emissions in 2026, we could see the big engines eventually come back, if they were to be even more efficient than the current engines.