Since 2014 F1 engines have used a 1/3 less fuel, yet produce nearly 1000hp from a 1.6l! this has been possible by some very clever combustion tech

Unsung at the start of the 2014 season, amongst the talk of lack of noise, reliability and ugly noses, F1 cars cut fuel consumption by a third over the winter. While most of us would grab at the chance to find such a gain with our road cars, while also getting more torque for the same power, this narrative was not seized upon by the media at the time.
The FIA brought this reduction with a severe restriction on fuel, by limiting the race fuel load and average fuel flow. This went hand in hand with a reduction in the engine size to just 1.6l, but allowed efficiency improvements by adding a turbo and direct injection. With these changes, the rules made quite an effort to improve F1’s green credentials.
But, there was another innovation introduced, initially by Mercedes AMG, that took the new lean burning F1 power units and applied pre-chamber combustion technology. This raised the Power Unit up to an unprecedented level of efficiency.

Direct Injection set up on a typical F1 IC engine

Direct Injection set up on a typical F1 IC engine

To make power with so little fuel, you cannot simply burn less fuel, the air-fuel ratio would be too lean and the engine would suffer overheating, knock and a lack of power. Mercedes AMG adapted an existing combustion technology known as ‘pre-chamber combustion’ from the start of 2014, that allowed lean combustion, but still lots of power. Ferrari followed in mid-2015 and Renault in mid-2016. Leaving Honda to come on board with this tech in 2017
The technology pre-chamber combustion, inaccurately termed Turbulent Jet Ignition (TJI) by the media, which is a Mahle branded system (www.mahle-powertrain.com/en/experience/mahle-jet-ignition/) used by Ferrari (like calling a pen a biro or a vacuum cleaner a hoover). This is not a new technology, ironically it was actually used on early Honda Civics in the seventies and in different guises by a range of other manufacturers.

Conventional Combustion Chamber Ignition

Conventional Combustion Chamber Ignition

In normal petrol engines, even race car engines, the ‘bang’ happens in the combustion chamber, which is formed inside the cylinder, between the piston crown and the cylinder head. Fuel and air are mixed inside the combustion chamber and ignited by the spark plug. If the fuel and air are mixed correctly there will be full and fast combustion leading to the piston descending on a power stroke. With too little fuel compared to air, you will not see the weak mix fully ignite, creating a less efficiency engine producing less power.
In a modern F1 engine if you run the combustion too lean, i.e. too little fuel to air, you’ll lose power and have all the bad associated results mentioned above. Careful combustion and fuel blends will help relieve some of the problems, but only to a point. It’s been evident Renault and Ferrari have both relied on anti-knock agents in the fuel to improve the situation, tell-tale red ‘rust’ deposits on the inside of the exhaust pipes, show the additive ferrocene is being burnt in the fuel, this is well known ferrous based (i.e. iron) anti knock agent. Even in testing for this season, the Ferrari exhaust smell like paraffin, the sharp acrid fumes leading to watery eyes in the pit lane from the unknown fuel additive.

There are many lean burn combustion technologies in use on both diesel and petrol engines, but the F1 rules preclude a lot of these from the demand for spark ignition and limits of fuel single injectors, bans on compression control and other mapping restrictions. Mercedes AMG found the pre-chamber tech met the rules and were able to adapt it to the needs of F1.

In a pre-chamber set up the fuel is split into two separate combustion chambers for each cylinder. Combustion starts in a small separate chamber inside the cylinder head (hence pre-chamber). Above where the spark plug and direct injector would normally be is a chamber, a rich fuel and air mixture is created in the pre-chamber. Below in the main combustion chamber the space is simultaneously filled with a lean fuel mixture, by the portion of fuel injector spanning the two chambers. Ignition commences with the spark plug, as demanded by the rules, inside the pre-chamber. As the burning fuel and air expand, holes in the bottom of the pre-chamber send jets of these burning gasses down into the main combustion chamber, which fully ignites the weak mixture and creates the power stroke.
With this set up the spark plug is used effectively with the rich fuel air mix and the leaner mix is fully burnt with the multiple jets exiting the pre-chamber. Simple in principal, but difficult to get right with; injector design, fuel blend and ECU control critical to the process. Thus, allowing a strong power output with less fuel overall.

But, this set up can be developed to be tuned for either efficiency or outright power. Which are needed for the race and qualifying, respectively. By varying the ratio of fuel between pre and main chambers, performance can be altered to give either better economy or more power. But to do this the fuel injector and its control must be very complex, as the single injector spans the two combustion chambers, it needs to be able to delivery different amounts of fuel into each of the two combustion chambers, not something usually achieved with a single injector, so the engine effectively needs two injectors formed into one. Mercedes ability to run well in the race and still get a power boost for qualifying shows they have solved this problem, which is an area that Ferrari are focusing on for this year.

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Comments (6)

  • I wish I could just have an hour with an F1 engine, and a technician to answer my questions.

    These things fascinate me sure much, but so little is ever told about them

      4 years ago
  • The level of complexity that the Formula One engines are currently at is only matched by the sheer brilliance exhibited in their optimisation.

    I wonder why these aspects aren't advertised; I'm sure that F1 would be better served by letting the world know about the astounding efficiency gains that they've achieved.

    Brilliant article as always, Craig :)

      4 years ago
  • While they are cool, they are stealing Stanley Meyers 1990 World Patent Design. From the Pulse Train Sequence of the Computer, to the Resonance Cavity. Stanley Developed a Flow through Ultrasonic Vaporizer that was powered by a Frequency Generator. If you know the Story, Seeing THIS is kinda Gross. He died on a Cracker Barrel Floor saying "Ive been Poisoned." He said any company wanting to come out with His Fuel System Can, as Long as there Product is For the Public. Mercedes, Ferrari, Renault, and Haas, all are using this Likely Murdered Inventors Product, and Saying it was Their IDEA. It's the EXACT SAME SYSTEM with a Spark Plug instead of a Laser Beam. Hey. ?

    Here is Stanley Meyers 1990 LASER Water To Hydrogen Fuel Injections System for Vehicles. google.com/patents/WO1992008046A1?cl=un

    LOOK AT THIS PATENT PICTURE. See the Resonant Cavity. IT's the MAIN THING in the Patent. www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10215673268247772&set=p.10215673268247772&type=3&theater

    Ferrari and Mercedes Jet One Systems. www.motorsportmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Mahle.jpg

    Quoting: www.motorsportmagazine.com/opinion/f1/ferraris-formula-1-jet-ignitionSo

    Is the SAME as Meyers 1990 Water too Hydrogen Fuel Injection. i.ytimg.com/vi/OXctY1K4wko/hqdefault.jpg

    They Replaced the Spark Plug Hole, with a Water to Hydrogen System at Ferrari and Mercedes. Same Design as Stanleys without the Laser. The Fuel F1 is suppose to use, isn't water, or the water that comes in the F1 fuel.

      3 years ago
  • Read about the (tji) tech before. But it was a long highly theoretical piece. Now to have the same information in a relative short item, wich even someone without a technical background can understand, is brilliant.

    Keep up the good work Sir.

      3 years ago
  • Brilliant, thanks for the insight.

      4 years ago