In 2023, Formula 1 will begin its second year of a power unit freeze, which means engine performance will be fixed. However, teams and manufacturers can still find ways to improve their performance.
Though it may not result in significant advancements, as the performance of the four manufacturers is relatively similar, there are still opportunities for improvement. These opportunities, though not drastic, could still be meaningful.
While it is not possible to directly enhance the performance of the engine, small improvements can be made through better “packaging” of the power unit, as explained by Bruno Famin, Executive Director of Alpine and head of the Renault power unit production base in Viry-Chatillon, France.
In the current F1 rules cycle, which runs until the end of 2025, certain parts of the power unit and related components are not allowed to be changed. These nine frozen parts include the V6 engine, turbocharger, MGU-H, MGU-K, energy store, control electronics, exhaust system, fuel, and engine oil. The final specifications for these parts were established in March and September of last year, and they cannot be altered for the remainder of the rules cycle.
“There is no real room for improvement when it comes to the power unit as the rules prohibit any enhancement of the engine’s performance,” said Famin when asked about the potential for power unit improvement.
“While we cannot directly improve the performance of the engine, we can focus on enhancing the overall performance of the car through better packaging, which is still allowed within the current regulations,” said Famin.
“For example, we can look at modifying the inlet and exhaust lines to create more opportunities for our colleagues at Enstone to improve the aerodynamics of the car,” said Famin.
“This is where we are focusing our efforts. We are working to optimize the energy management, but the opportunities here are limited as we are only allowed to use one software version per year. We are doing our best, but it is more about improving the car’s drivability,” said Famin.
“We are exploring ways to make progress, but the opportunities are small. It is not about pure performance improvement, but rather, focusing on improving the car’s drivability and making gains in integration and aerodynamics,” Famin said.
The regulations also permit minimal incidental changes in seven specific areas, but these are closely monitored and can only be made “for car installation purposes”.
These minimal incidental changes are allowed in the following areas: wiring, exhaust system (as long as the key defining parameters remain unchanged), the position of the turbo-compressor (within 20mm of its original location relative to the internal combustion engine), turbo clocking and supports, the position of wastegates and associated pipes and housings, the position of the pop-off valves and their associated pipes and housings, and minor adjustments to the air inlet system.
Although these changes may not make a significant impact, they can be utilized to make small adjustments to the power unit’s packaging to potentially achieve marginal performance improvements.
Another way to improve engine performance is by increasing its reliability. This not only reduces the risk of retirements or issues during the race weekends, but it also allows the power unit to be operated more aggressively.
Regulations allow for modifications to power unit parts that have been approved for use, as long as they are made only for the sake of improving reliability, safety, and cost efficiency, as well as minimal, accidental changes.
In order to make modifications to these parts, the manufacturer must submit a written request to the FIA technical department, along with supporting documentation such as evidence of any failures and details about the planned changes. The rivals of the manufacturer will be informed of these changes.
Last year, Renault, Ferrari, Mercedes, and Red Bull (using Honda engines) all submitted multiple requests to make changes to their power unit parts. Additionally, Alpine made changes to its water pump after Fernando Alonso’s retirement in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, but the problem was not fully resolved, which the team hopes to fix this year.
Famin believes that the FIA will be less inclined to approve changes for reliability reasons in 2023, and stresses that these types of changes can result in improved performance in how the parts are used.
When asked by The Race about the possibility of teams making changes under the guise of reliability, but actually for performance gains, Famin stated: “What is a pure, genuine reliability issue?”. expressing concerns about teams taking advantage of the rule.
Famin also added “Then, behind the reliability issue, you often have a potential performance gain, of course. The limit is not always clear.” implying that it can be difficult to determine whether a change is being made for reliability or performance reasons.
Famin explained that some reliability issues are clear cut, such as the water pump issue they faced in 2022, stating “If you have a water pump issue, as we had in ‘22, it’s quite clear it’s a pure reliability issue, there is nothing to gain in having a better or different water pump.”
When discussing the issue of determining the line between reliability and performance changes, Famin said, “If you need to change the material of the piston rings, OK, you will be able to have something stronger to have more performance, then where is the limit? It’s not obvious.” highlighting the difficulty of determining which changes are for reliability and which are for performance.
Famin praised the process of making changes to power unit parts in 2022, stating, “The process in 2022 with the FIA and the other PU manufacturers has been quite good, it has been transparent at least in that everybody was aware of the request and this is very good. It has been well-managed by the FIA.”
Famin expects the FIA to take a more strict approach in the future regarding changes for reliability reasons. He acknowledged that in 2022 the FIA was more tolerant, due to the high number of requests from manufacturers due to reliability issues, but now he believes that the FIA should be stricter.
Famin stated that he expects the FIA to take a stronger stance in the future, but he does not have any new information about the FIA’s plans.
Although all power unit manufacturers have certain aspects of their power unit package that they would like to improve, Alpine believes that the design of the Renault E-Tech engine is already well-optimized.
According to Alpine’s Technical Director Matt Harman, the well-optimized design of the Renault E-Tech engine gives the team more opportunities to improve the overall aerodynamic performance of the car, and it is a reflection of the big strides the team has made in integrating the power unit. As one of only three full-blown works teams in F1, this is an important advantage.
The well-optimized design of the Renault E-Tech engine also rewards the team for being bold with the specifications of their 2022 power unit, as they needed to make gains. This includes the adoption of the split turbo concept, which was first used in F1 by Mercedes in 2014. Like all manufacturers, Alpine focused on extracting as much performance as possible, while also recognizing that any reliability issues could be fixed later.
When asked by The Race if there were any limitations in the power unit architecture that the team would like to change, Harman replied, “There are some very minor things,” but he also mentioned that the team worked on that architecture very early on and that he was clear on what they needed from it.
Harman explained that the team managed to deliver on everything they needed from the power unit architecture, and that is why they decided to prioritize performance over reliability.
Harman said that the team’s success with the power unit architecture has given them the freedom and flexibility to continue to improve their car’s performance in the coming years.
Harman explained that the team’s success with the power unit architecture has allowed them to make improvements in multiple areas, including heat rejection, volumetric packaging, and stiffness, which they have been working on in recent years.
Harman praised Viry team, who designed the power unit, for their work, saying that they have done an outstanding job in achieving the architectural step change, which was a significant one. He added that by comparing the new power unit to the previous one, it is clear to see the extent of the improvement. He stated that Viry team really have done a fantastic job.
Alpine is wary of its competitors in F1 due to their engine improvements Alpine is wary of its competitors in F1 due to their engine improvements Alpine is wary of its competitors in F1 due to their engine improvements Alpine is wary of its competitors in F1 due to their engine improvements
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|2023 F1 Car Launches|
|Red Bull||RB19||03 February|
|Alfa Romeo||C43||07 February|
|Aston Martin||AMR23||13 February|
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