F1 V8 vs. V6, Part II: The Other Side of the Coin

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One hyphenated word: self-regulation. Business tycoons and proponents of laissez-faire have been blowing its trumpet for centuries now. If the government or other regulatory bodies could just keep their grubby little fingers out of our business, the world would be a much more efficient place. We can look out for ourselves, alright?!

And so can Formula 1 racing, for that matter. As many of you well know, the FIA is placing new regulations on Formula 1 for the 2014 season, including a mandatory reduction of the engine size from the current 2.4 L V8 to a 1.6 L V6. Such a reduction in size comes with a number of notable side effects, including a cutback on the maximum amount of rpm the engines are capable of producing (which is diminishing from around 18,000 rpm to about 15,000 rpm). But I won’t get into all that business again; check out Part I of my blog on 2014 Formula I engine regulations for a more comprehensive background. These regulations raise the obvious question: are they good for the sport? Well, the FIA certainly thinks so, arguing that they make the sport safer and more environmentally friendly. On the other hand, the trumpet-blowing free-market capitalists have counterarguments of their own as to why they are harmful. Weren’t expecting that plot twist, now were you? Bearing in mind that my first post on the subject outlines more of the FIA’s side of things, I thought I’d provide you with some of the counterarguments in Part II.

Safety first. The FIA thinks that a reduction in engine size will make the sport safer. However, Formula 1 hasn’t experienced a fatal crash involving the death of the driver (knock on wood) since the tragic death of Brazilian racing legend Ayrton Senna in 1994. Granted, this is at least partially due to the FIA’s efforts to improve safety (which were quite extensive and addressed a number of concerns) following Senna’s death. Though the descriptions are somewhat vague, here’s what the FIA has to say about Formula 1 safety improvements following the 1994 tragedy. The last fatality of any nature in Formula 1 occurred in 2001; Graham Beveridge (who was working at the Australian Grand Prix) was killed when a wheel that had detached as a result of a crash struck him. So, it has been nearly two decades since an F1 driver has died in a crash and 12+ years since the last fatality in Formula 1, period.

While I have the utmost respect for the victims of these tragedies, I must say, that’s not a bad safety record in a sport where cars whiz around the track at 190 mph (the top speed ever recorded during an F1 race being around 230 mph).

F1 is as close as we humans will ever get to actual Star Wars style pod racing.

The first mandatory regulations involving the size of the engines weren’t imposed until 2006, five years after the most recent fatality. Therefore, some might argue that regulations regarding engine size are doing little to improve the safety of the sport. Besides, if these new engines have comparable horsepower with the new Energy Recovery Systems (ERS), could they really be that much safer than the V8’s? Imagine the possibilities if such ERS’s were coupled with the V8’s, or even the V10’s of the early 2000’s!

So what about the environment, then? Well, that debate may never be settled. One’s opinion will clearly depend on how much one values motor sports. To put the debate into some perspective, take a look at NASCAR’s impact on the environment, and let’s contextualize it within the big picture in addition to examining how it compares Formula 1 racing.

If you look at how NASCAR emissions stack up against the total amount of global emissions per year, they account for approximately 0.06%. That’s pretty infinitesimal. With Formula 1, on the other hand, the races are much shorter (about 190 mi in comparison to NASCAR’s 500 mi). While F1 cars are slightly less fuel efficient than NASCAR’s stock cars on average (F1’s with about 3 mpg, stock cars with about 5 mpg), this still puts them using less fuel than the average NASCAR. For those of you who detest math, it comes out to about 100 gallons used apiece per race in NASCAR, while F1 cars use about 63 gallons apiece per race. With about 19 races per year in a typical Formula 1 season, and 22 cars per race, that puts the total amount of fuel used by F1 cars in a given year (conservatively) at approximately 26,334 gallons (compared to NASCAR’s 210,000 gallons). At 20 pounds of carbon dioxide emitted per gallon, that puts Formula 1’s yearly contribution at about 526,680 pounds (about 0.008% of total carbon emissions globally).

Its like a 500 mile traffic jam at 200mph.

From that angle, the sport’s impact on the environment seems pretty small. That’s not to say Formula 1 Teams (or any other motor sport for that matter) should neglect the amount of carbon dioxide they are pumping into the air, but perhaps it shouldn’t be their greatest concern. It would be much more effective for manufacturers to focus on making the vehicles outside of the world of motor sports more fuel-efficient, which in turn could give racing engineers more leeway to develop the most competitive engines possible. If you wanna make an omelet, you gotta to break a couple of eggs, right?

Furthermore, Formula 1 already demonstrates a tendency to self-regulate, as was evidenced in the early 2000’s by most teams’ tendency to favor V10’s over V12’s due to their better reliability. Taking these things into account, there doesn’t seem to be much of a reason to compromise the integrity of the sport or the engineers by limiting the size of the engine.

So, there it is. I’ve flipped the coin on Formula 1 engines. Where does it fall for you?


Travis Williams is a Blogger, DJ, Producer and recently woke up in a slightly used Bugatti.

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