Michael Fernie profile picture Michael Fernie 6 years ago

5 Reasons Why You Can't Put An F1 Engine In A Road Car

It would be an incredible feat of engineering to shoehorn an F1 engine into a road car, but the logistics behind this form of engine swap just wouldn't match up

Remind me later
5 Reasons Why You Can't Put An F1 Engine In A Road Car - Blog

We recently covered the phenomenon of F1-derived powertrains in past road cars, a rare combination that not only takes a serious amount of engineering and development but the R&D budget to go with it. The likes of the E60 BMW M5 and the Porsche Carrera GT were lucky enough to acquire engines with roots in Formula 1, but as with any motorsport-derived engine, numerous changes had to be made to make the engines road-worthy.

This is mostly down to the extreme nature of the engines placed within the highly-strung F1 cars of today, and here are the reasons why it would be impossible to daily drive a road car with a Formula 1 powertrain under the bonnet.

They are notoriously difficult to start

Formula 1 engines are designed to push the boundaries of what internal combustion is capable of. In doing so, they can only be brought to life and operate well in precise conditions. First of all, the engine has to be preheated - there is no such thing as a cold-started F1 car! An external water and oil pump is used to send coolant and lubricant of around 80 degrees centigrade around the engine’s inner passages.

This is because the tiny tolerances that these engines are manufactured to mean that the pistons are seized solid in the cylinders at anything below 60 degrees centigrade.The starting procedure also needs what is effectively a large drill to crank the engine into life. So on a wintery January morning, you wouldn’t stand a chance of jumping in, fastening your seatbelt and pressing a starter button.

They're not cheap

5 Reasons Why You Can't Put An F1 Engine In A Road Car - Blog

Believe it or not, the average F1 powertrain sets a team back around £6.3 million ($7.7 million). Even the wealthiest of manufacturers and coachbuilders simply would not be able to justify forking out this much money on an engine for a road car. The sheer cost comes from the tiny tolerances that the engines are machined to, eking out every last morsel of power that can be found within the six cylinders.

The high-tech pneumatic valvetrains in these engines also add to the price. To keep up with the demands of an engine reciprocating upwards of 15,000rpm, pressurised nitrogen is used to snap the engine valves shut after the camshaft lobes have opened them.

Fortunately for the money man, the F1 teams of today have to reach certain criteria in terms of reliability to meet the engine limitations for a season. Back in the day, F1 teams would use a new engine for every race, meaning an individual power unit would only last around 250 miles. A doff of the cap to whoever was paying that bill!


5 Reasons Why You Can't Put An F1 Engine In A Road Car - Blog

If you decide to install Lewis Hamilton’s 1.6-litre V6 into your daily, you should probably take the cooling system along with it to avoid having to do any serious engineering calculations for radiator sizing. A front-mounted radiator found in most road cars simply wouldn’t be capable of keeping a Formula 1 power unit from overheating due to its high horsepower output at such high engine speeds. The volume of heat energy created by these thoroughbreds needs heat exchangers with large surface areas to interact with as much incoming cool air as possible.

This is why the radiators found on F1 cars are angled downwards and situated in huge side pods that form air ducts. The angled radiators result in a large heat exchanger only taking up a small amount of space on the side of the car, reducing drag while enhancing cooling efficiency. Unless you are willing to add a rather adventurous ducting bodykit onto the list of mods, I’d give one of these engines a miss.

That fuel bill though...

5 Reasons Why You Can't Put An F1 Engine In A Road Car - Blog

The rules dictate that an F1 car cannot burn through more than 100 litres of petrol per hour of driving. So a half-hour daily commute (admittedly at race speed) would amount to a casual 50 litres of fuel being burned! Considering the maximum amount of fuel an F1 car can carry is around 225 litres, you’d spend your life at the local petrol station. And that’s only if you run it using normal petrol.

Although F1 teams have to use fuel fairly close to the chemical makeup of the juice we use day-to-day, there can be slight modifications made. For example, after every race, the engine oil is tested for up to 15 different types of metal to source any probable concentrations of wear. This data is then relayed to the fuel supplier to dictate the level of cleaning and friction reduction additives to be integrated into the next batch of fuel. So after each drive in your F1-engined road car, it would be advisable for a hired chemical engineer to test your car and supply you with some custom fuel especially for your engine.

The lifespan is tiny

Formula 1 engines experience huge stresses throughout their reciprocation, with the combination of combustion and frequency of revolution making for some staggering stats. An unlimited F1 engine can spin as high as 20,000rpm due to the relatively small stroke and wide bore. This equates to the pistons moving up and down an eye-watering 300 times every second. Consider the weight of the components performing this crazy movement, and the pistons can experience up to 10,600g, or 10,600 times the weight of gravity.

The internal pressure within a cylinder can also reach upwards of 1500psi every second. This is then spread throughout every upper engine component in one massive brawl between air and fuel. So it’s no surprise these powertrains only last 1000 kilometres at most before they have to be completely stripped and cared for, simply due to the stress that each part is subjected to. Do you fancy an engine rebuild six to 10 times a year? I didn’t think so.

For me, the V10 era produced the greatest soundtracks

Not even taking into account engine placement, the transmission, tyres and suspension, it doesn’t take much to conclude that a highly-strung piece of engineering like an F1 engine simply isn’t suited for what we class as a road car. Ferdinand Porsche once said “the perfect racing car crosses the finish line first and subsequently falls into its component parts”, so it wouldn’t be anywhere close to feasible to swap a powertrain from the peak of automotive engineering into a road vehicle previously built for over 100,000 miles of low-revving motoring.

Although basic engine blocks have been used in both F1 and road cars, there is very little DNA shared between their respective powertrains. On the contrary, I do feel we need more V10s in production cars and if they’re derived from the F1 engines from the noughties, I don’t think many of us will be complaining.