The sight of white smoke coming from behind a Formula 1 car has been rare in the last five years. With the V8’s proving to be tough old girls in seemingly any type of conditions that were thrown at them in their latter years of usage, many thought that a change to the 1.6 litre V6’s in 2014 would cause chaos for the teams, with engines going ‘pop’ every other lap.
But as it happens in Formula 1 – where some of the brightest minds are able to congregate – we have had few engine failures. Of course what you define as “engine” in F1 nowadays is much like some of the sporting regulations, very grey.
Predictably we’ve had Motor Generator Unit failures in 2014, with Sebastien Vettel claiming the first failure of 2014 in a race back in Australia. Both Lotus’ also suffered MGU problems that weekend, then in Bahrain we saw both McLaren’s retire with the same issue. But we’ve only had two other drivers with actual internal combustion engine failures, both of them being Lotus’ Pastor Maldonado and Sauber’s Adrian Sutil in China.
This weekend in Monaco however we saw a total of five cars withdraw from the race with Power Unit problems. I say Power Unit because they were mixed. Pastor Maldonado had issues with his MGU unit, as did Sebastien Vettel whose turbo – referred to as the ‘MGU-H’ by the teams – failed in the end. But the other three were all down to engine failures, two of which were the Renault-powered Toro Rosso’s of Daniil Kvyat and Jean-Eric Vergne and the other being the Mercedes-powered Williams of Valterri Bottas.
We know Renault have had their issues at the start of the season, namely with their MGU units. But for a Mercedes engine to go bang in the spectacular fashion that it did, speaks volumes about how these new engines are having to cope with the track conditions.
In Monaco everything is quite closely crammed, so to be able to cool the engine is perhaps more of a challenge, particularly when there is an elevation change of 187.2 ft, which adds further stress to the engine. Chances are we will see more of this at tracks such as Singapore where the humidity is notoriously high, the barriers are quite close like Monaco, and its intensity on the brakes being quite high. Its also the longest race of the year.
Speaking to Autosport, Renault Sport F1’s Remi Taffin said in regards to running in Monaco that “the main challenge will be exploring some new areas in the engine,” adding “We’re going to be running outside the normal scope – low revs and stuff like that. This will affect driveability and that will be challenging because driveability will be key – we need to make sure the driver is trusting his car managing the torque.”
So engine manufacturers like Renault will be learning from what happened in Monaco, so they can make their “reliability enhancements” which double as performance gains for their Power Units. But with the next track being Canada where engine stress can also be quite high and the barriers are quite close, we could see a repeat of the type of failures the teams experienced throughout the race weekend.