Formula 1 continues along the path of electrification, having recently approved the new hybrid engines regulations for 2026, when the electric power will increase from 120 to 350 kW, resulting in an almost tripled value as compared to the current one. However, there are still some unknowns regarding the possibilities of powering such a powerful electric motor in a constant way, as there are not enough energy sources on board the car.
In fact, there will no longer by an MGU-H, the generator linked to the turbocharger unit, which, by regenerating energy from the exhaust gases, would have allowed to directly power the main electric motor, the MGU-K, or the battery. The accumulator’ charge also cannot drop more than 4 MJ of energy per lap, equal to just 1.1 kWh, underlining the energy shortage that had initially led Formula 1 to evaluate the regeneration of energy under braking also from the front axle.
Claudio Lombardi, an engineer with important past experience in the power unit departments of Ferrari and Lancia, was interviewed by FormulaPassion.it and explained how the complex process of powering the hybrid part on the new engines for a long time: “The power of the MGU-K will be 350 kW, or 476 horsepower. On the battery, however, there is already a limitation not in its capacity, but in the difference between the maximum and minimum energy level on one lap that can exist in the accumulator, which is 1.1 kWh. With this energy storage and 350 kW of power, however, all 1.1 kWh are consumed on a straight like the one in Monza, because with a simple calculation it takes 10 seconds to run out of power.” – Claudio Lombardi explained.
Going into detail, the regulation states that the limit to the maximum electric power decreases at high speeds, dropping from the 350 kW allowed to 300 km / h up to 150 kW from 340 km / h. By doing so, on a straight the MGU-K will be able to deliver the maximum power for times slightly longer than the estimated ten seconds, but the fact remains that, even with regeneration performed under braking, the hybrid system will not have enough power in terms of energy.
Claudio Lombardi therefore foresees that the electric power distribution strategies during the lap will be an even more decisive factor than what is currently happening: “I expect the teams to thrifty develop a particular software for using these 350 kW, a software that will vary from circuit to circuit. On a track with many corners, with the possibility of storing a lot of energy during the lap, the scenario is different and you can have a higher average power output. In the sections where the driver does not need the maximum power from the internal combustion engine, part of this will be used to recharge the battery. The average power per lap will therefore be variable ”.
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Inevitably, the need to manage electric power will make it very difficult to constantly exploit the 1000 peak horsepower. “The internal combustion engine will have a fuel flow rate of around 70 kg / h”, continues Claudio Lombardi. “From the data I have available dating back to 2017, when the capacity limit was 100 kg / h, the power of the internal combustion engine alone was 700 horsepower, which reached efficiencies of 45-46%, while 70 horsepower were added by the MGU-K. According to the information in my possession, from 2016/2017 until now they would have improved these values by 10%. Therefore, if the overall efficiency has been improved by 10%, there will be 770 horsepower with the thermal engine alone. Starting from this, reducing the instantaneous range by 30% at the same efficiency, we go down to 540 horsepower, which with the 476 horsepower of the electric part can instantly reach 1000 combined horsepower, but not as an average power per lap” – he concluded.
In fact, it is no coincidence that the FIA and Formula 1 are studying aerodynamic and chassis solutions capable of reducing fuel consumption and drag while preserving current performance. “The engine regulations in the future will need certain aerodynamic characteristics to have a complete package,” Nikolas Tombazis, FIA Technical Director, explained a few months ago.
“We have already carried out feasibility studies for the aerodynamic part to be sure that the goals we set are realistic and not ambitious. I think we have succeeded, so much so that we have already provided the teams with some initial forms to allow them to carry out checks to make sure they are not on the wrong path ”. However, although the speed performance of the cars may not be affected by the new control strategies of the power units, software development could become an important factor of technical challenge according to Claudio Lombardi: “If all this remains so, the software will have a considerable importance for the distribution of electrical and thermal power in terms of lap time, which may vary from circuit to circuit. This could become a determining factor and if they do not impose a standard software it would lead to significant differences, going against the tide of the goals they have set themselves”, concluded the engineer.