Formula 1 cars have always been the epitome of four-wheeled technology, from aerodynamics and chassis to materials and engines. The engines have undergone continuous evolution over the years, along with the starting system of F1 single-seaters. Let’s explore how these systems have evolved.
The cars from the early 1950s used in the category we all know as F1 had engines derived from road cars. Unlike today’s engines, the motors of the early seasons of the top tier did not have an electric starter that initiated the endothermic engine.
However, to start the car and be able to race, mechanics used a lever that, when rotated, set the machine in motion. This lever was inserted at the front of the car into a hole that provided access to the starting gear of the vehicle, and after a few rotations, the single-seater was ready to race. A system decidedly energy-consuming and one that could also end the race if the car stalled.
Over the years, the tools behind the ignition of these symbolic vehicles of technical excellence have also evolved. The method that allowed these cars to start has shifted from human initiation to instrumental initiation, with many similarities to those of the early years.
Through an externally powered tool, mechanics were able to start the cars and send them onto the track. This tool consisted of a long rod with the end equipped with teeth capable of “engaging” with the starting gears. Once inserted, the force with which it rotated set the engine of the vehicles in motion. This solution became a standard and remained in use until just a few years ago.
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With the advent of power units, i.e., hybrid engines equipped with both thermal and electric components, external starting has almost fallen out of use. This is due to the complex design architecture of power units.
In current engines, the electric motor MGU-K is housed in the lower part of the 6-cylinder base, and its output is directly keyed with the distribution gears. With this arrangement, the electric motor can perform two functions. The first is power; through its rotation, it allows the single-seater to rev up more quickly and unleash the horsepower to the fullest.
The second function is motion generation, just as the name of the motor suggests (Motor Generation Unit – Kinetic). Being directly powered by the battery, the stored energy allows the axial motor to impart a rotation capable of starting the V6. A system capable of starting the car even outside the pit box, in case the drivers are forced to turn it off due to any anomalies.