Energy flow: it was talked about in the 70s – Formula 1

The 2026 power unit regulations will give Formula 1 an important change on the engine front, not only as regards the technical content of the engines, but also for the regulatory approach by the Federation. In fact, on current engines the power of the combustion unit is limited by the double flow meter, which measures that the instantaneous flow rate in mass of fuel is below the maximum limit set at 100 kg / h from 10500 rpm and up. From 2026, on the other hand, thanks to the advent of new generation fuels, the limit to the mass flow rate will be replaced by that to the energy flow.

In fact, in order to encourage research, the next technical regulation provides for ample freedom on methodologies and sources for the production of fuels, consisting of a mixture of bio-components and synthetic gasolines. Thus preventing the use of gasolines with a different energy content, between 38 and 41 MJ / kg, the Federation will no longer impose a limit on the mass flow rate of fuel, but to the flow of energy, which cannot exceed 3000 MJ / h. As told on the pages of FormulaPassion.it by Claudio Lombardi, former director of the Maranello engine department, this is an approach that animated the discussions in the paddock already fifty years ago: “Personally I have always been an advocate, for this regulation born in 2014, of the flow meter as regards the development of the internal combustion engine, because it is the right concept. An instant flow meter is supplied, of which a maximum value is imposed, and if the engineer is skilled and efficient he is able to release more power than the others. It is a point we were talking about already in the 70s: in 1977/1978 I was not in Formula 1, I was still working in Lancia, but I went to see the Grand Prix and being in the lap I had access to the pits, also considering that there were no restrictions now. At the time I met Keith Duckworth, the legendary designer of Cosworth, with whom we discussed what the ideal regulation might be. Duckworth came up with this concept that fascinated me and to which I even added not simply to measure the instantaneous flow rate of gasoline, but of heat, of energy, so that it was open to any type of fuel ”.

A similar approach has been introduced on current hybrid power-units, for which there is a limit to the mass flow rate of fuel. As underlined by Lombardi, the need for engine engineers to increase efficiency to make the most of the fuel granted has led to tangible technological advances: “After being proposed several times, it never went through for various reasons. I therefore really liked that it was introduced as a concept in the 2026 regulation and in fact in the recent period it has given advantages. The last aspirated ones I worked on in Ferrari, the 12 cylinders, had an efficiency of the internal combustion engine that was 30-32%, as well as the last aspirated eight cylinders of which I later had some data. With these motors, it has been shown that an efficiency of 50% can be approached. It is the first time that without hypocrisy it can be said that racing engines have had an impact on research for series production and on the knowledge of manufacturers ”.

The approach will be refined in 2026, effectively addressing some gaps in the current regulation. In fact, in 2015 Enrico Benzing was already writing on the pages of FormulaPassion.it how the control on the mass flow rate did not take into account the density and the conversion of the flow itself into volume, leaving room for discrepancies between the engineers in the energy actually entering the engine: “The norm that today I consider the most deplorable, is that – already much discussed – relating to fuel. I do not find it “correct” to impose a quantity of fuel based on weight (100 kilograms per Grand Prix), with a capacity of 100kg / hour, measured in liters by means of a mass flow meter and translated into kilograms, without declaring the value of the specific weight of the petrol used. This means that at any time it is possible to change the indices from liters to kilograms… Why is this value kept secret?“. Hence, from 2026, the flow of energy entering the engine will be directly regulated, with the FIA ​​measuring the mass flow rate and carrying out the conversion using the energy density values ​​of the fuel measured by the samples provided by the teams. By limiting the energy flow, the Federation will act on the instantaneous power, but Formula 1 is considering whether to introduce a further standard on the total energy that can be used in the race, which in that case would also intervene on the average power.


FP | Carlo Platella


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About Eric Wilson

The variety offered by video games never ceases to amaze him. He loves OutRun's drifting as well as the contemplative walks of Dear Esther. Immersing himself in other worlds is an incomparable feeling for him: he understood it by playing for the first time in Shenmue.

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