The 2013 Formula One racing season is already underway--and already causing controversy--but from an engineering standpoint much of the focus is already on 2014.
That's because from the start of next season, new engine regulations are set to significantly improve the cars' fuel efficiency, and reduce the sport's environmental impact.
While the regulations will actually raise development costs for teams, it's more about making the sport more relevant, reports The New York Times.
Currently, all teams use 2.4-liter V-8 engines, naturally aspirated. This has already shrunk from 3-liters several years ago, and from 3.5 liters in the mid 1990s. These produce 750 horsepower, developed as high as 18,000 rpm.
From an engineering standpoint, this is fairly incredible--but of limited relevance to real-world engines.
From 2014, all teams will use a 1.6-liter turbocharged V-6 engine. This will put out nearer 550 horsepower and spin to 15,000 rpm. Neither of those figures are typical of 1.6-liter automobile engines, it has to be said, and nor is the V-6 cylinder layout for such a small engine.
However, the improvements they bring in fuel consumption are much more real-world. No F1 engine will match an efficient road car on economy alone, but a 30 percent improvement over today's engines isn't a bad start.
Over a 185-mile race, teams will be limited to 220 pounds of fuel--F1 fuel is measured in weight, rather than volume. That said, 220 pounds is roughly equivalent to 26.4 gallons, so it's possible to calculate MPG at race pace at around 7 mpg.
Other concessions to saving fuel include the Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS) used today, as well as an energy recovery system using heat from the exhaust. The former is as much a performance tool as an energy-saving method, though this too is reflected in recent hypercars like the road-going McLaren P1 and Ferrari LaFerrari.
Taking account of current issues
Those in and around the sport have worried that little of the engineering brilliance on show is relevant to current road cars. Perhaps more pertinently for the carmakers involved, little of that engineering brilliance really has an effect on sales of road vehicles, as few fans really see the correlation between what goes on at the race track and the vehicles on the dealer lot.
That could now change, says Renault Sport president Jean-Michel Jalinier.
"For us, it is very important because you can see in the passenger cars an important trend in downsizing of the engine, reduction of the fuel consumption and less CO2 emissions.
"You cannot have Formula One being your flagship and not take account of the current issues of the car in the street. So we want to put Formula One back in the current issues of the car in the street: So reduction of fuel consumption, downsizing of the engine, better use of the energy through energy recovery."
Rob White, technical director at Renault Sport, says the sport's spectacle won't suffer either.
"The new engines will represent the absolute cutting edge of internal combustion engine technology. They will achieve fuel consumption and performance levels that are much, much better than anything that exists anywhere in motorsport and probably better than anything that exists on the road."
F1 cars will still seem a world away from their road-going equivalents, but there are few better disciplines in which to hone engine development than the pinnacle of motor sport--and one day, those developments could indeed make road cars even more fuel-efficient.