Formula One Turbo Revolution

April 21st, 2014:


How seemingly simple engineering advances will impact racing and production automobiles for many years to come.

Mercedes formula one team this year made a small but significant change to the turbocharger on their Formula one cars.  You’re thinking why do I care?  What do formula one race cars have to do with me?  Well the implications of this technology may very well change the performance and efficiency of the average automobile in the not so distant future.

The turbocharger was patented in 1905 as a way to harness the expelled exhaust gasses of an internal combustion engine.  The exhaust gasses are used to spin a turbine that is connected to an air compressor.  This compressor then forces pressurized air into the intake of the engine.  For an internal combustion engine more air means more fuel can be burned yielding significant increases in power output.  They also increase efficiency because they are not constantly forcing additional intake air through alternate means of control.  One unfortunate and counterproductive side effect of the turbine and compressor are large amounts of heat generation.  Heat is counter productive to the production of increased power.  While the benefits are substantial the presence of a turbo charger has many tradeoffs.

Mercedes has taken the typical turbo charger and split its turbine and compressor to opposite sides of the engine using a central shaft running through the engine.  This has some very profound effects on the ability of the device to increase power and efficiency.  The gains in efficiency and power are from the many small benefits reaped from the layout of this turbo.  The first effect is because of the much cooler temperature of the compressor, separating this section from the 950 degree C exhaust gases allows the compressor to provide a greater volume of dense air to the engine at lower speeds.  Next the intercoolers that cool the compressed intake charge are smaller because of the lower starting temp and compressor location.  This allows for a more aerodynamic and smaller exposed cross section.  The intercooler is also lighter weight because of its decreased size.  The culmination of this simple engineering change lead to a lighter weight, more compact, more powerful and more efficient internal combustion engine.  Mercedes F1 cars own all of the fastest laps of the season and thus far have won every race by a comfortable margin. 

So why do you care?  Well if you would like your next car to be more fuel efficient and powerful at the same time this technology will help achieve that.  Applying this technology to street cars is likely years away.  When this technology coupled with a hybrid system does arrive it will likely achieve a level of efficiency previously thought unattainable.  Combine that with adequate or better performance and this simple engineering change could be revolutionary to the auto industry.  Something this simple could provide a drastic decrease to fuel consumption all over the modern world.

For an excellent video that breaks down the implications of the engineering and design behind this check out this fantastic video from Sky Sports F1

- Corey Smigelski, Vice President of Business Development