F1 Rumors - news ahead of the headlines

25th June, 1999

Engines - from V8 to V12 via V10

Why today's V10s might become tomorrows V8 or V12...

by Joel Wilkens

The present state of Formula One engine development is likely to change with the onset of the millennium. Currently all teams employ the standard V10 configuration, and have done so for long enough that the inevitable plateau in design innovation has been reached. Technology has its limits, and those boundaries are what the F1 engineer tries to push. Often with great success, up to a point.

Having reached the outside of the design envelope, McLaren has sought improvement inside their present engine formula by using exotic materials, such as aluminium-beryllium, exploiting the extraordinary characteristics of these metals. AM 162 (the aluminium-beryllium alloy used in F1) has exceptional strength in proportion to itís mass, which results in lighter parts producing less rotational inertia. This allows for higher RPMs and an overall reduction in the weight of the engine.

For all the benefits associated with beryllium, there are equally as many drawbacks. AM 162 is expensive in comparison to some of the standard materials being used. Over the course of a season, taking in to account the vast number of pistons and liners consumed, the cost over their conventional counterparts can escalate into the millions of pounds. In addition, to fully appreciate the benefits of the material, engineers need to re-design the engine around the properties of the alloy. Simply changing pistons and liners will not show much effect in performance without modifying the other components to compliment these new elements.

Perhaps more important than the economics involved, are the health issues. Beryllium has been shown to produce cancer in humans after prolonged exposure to air-borne particulates. Manufacturing aluminium-beryllium requires special facilities, as there are serious safety concerns surrounding the fine particles produced in the machining process. It has also been argued that using AM 162 on engine internals (specifically reciprocating and rotating parts) could introduce beryllium into the air, if not through normal engine wear, then certainly through catastrophic engine failure.

These are the main issues surrounding the debate over banning AM 162. Oddly, Ferrari has been at the forefront of opposition to the alloy, considering they were the first to utilize aluminium-beryllium back in 1996 for brake calipers. However, after several meetings by all the teams regarding technical regulations, it seems there is almost unanimous agreement towards the banning of AM 162, with the notable exception of McLaren. They have invested a great deal of resources towards developing their present engine, and are not willing to forfeit their performance advantage. Under the Concorde Agreement, unanimous agreement is necessary to modify any existing technical regulations, and in opposing the ban, McLaren has come under a great deal of pressure from the other teams to change their position on the matter.

To further confuse the situation, Ferrari started development of their own aluminium-beryllium engine amidst their fight to ban itís use. This is the 048 evolution 2 V10 used at Canada in the qualifying session, and later to be used as the primary race unit once reliability issues have been solved.

The debate on AM 162 spans further than just beryllium. Assuming the ban is successful, it is safe to assume that there will be another exotic substance waiting to take its place. There are several promising materials being developed for engine use, any one of which could easily fill the void left by AM 162. While the verbal debate may be centred around beryllium, the real question is that of material properties. If a ban were imposed, for it to play any realistic role in engine design, it would need to be a ban on specific element properties such as its stiffness and density.

This ban, whichever way it goes, will have a profound effect on the standard engine layout. When the technical regulations reducing engine displacement from 3.5 to 3.0 litres were imposed, the best compromise of weight and power, given the current materials at that time, was a V10. If exotic materials are not banned, the return of the V8 is imminent. The use of ultra-stiff, extremely light components will negate the disadvantages experienced in previous years, resulting in a compact, efficient package. Larger piston bores will facilitate the use of larger valves for fuel intake and mixture, along with fewer moving parts and a decreased surface area of friction.

However, if there is a ban imposed, the opposite will be true. The V12 will be the layout of choice due to the small size of the rotating components, which are less affected by the increased weight of conventional materials. Awaiting an outcome of this discussion to develop an engine would be to late for any F1 team to be competitive next season. The fact that there are several manufacturers presently developing V12s for next year may be an indication as to the decision the ban will end with. It is either that, or a presumptuous guess that will backfire, leaving these teams uncompetitive. There is no certainty as to when or how this debate will find closure, only that it will change the current power plant configuration. At present, the future of the Formula One engine is the hands of McLaren, giving them a distinct advantage in preparation for the following season.

Article is written by and copyright (c) 1999 Joel Wilkens and F1 Rumors.
Joel Wilkens is a Chassis Engineering consultant who, in his free time, works to provide free design services to under funded or "grass-roots" racing teams.

[an error occurred while processing this directive] [an error occurred while processing this directive]