Formula One cars are technological marvels, with the 2022 cars reaching an average speed exceeding 112 mph and a top speed nudging at 248 mph.
With these high speeds, there must be a lot of power under the chassis.
Coupled with the aerodynamic design of F1 cars, it is no surprise that Formula One is the fastest motorsport in the world.
The engines that power these cars are specially designed for Formula One racing, but how much power does a Formula One car’s engine really have?
Keep reading to find out the horsepower hidden in these single-seater cars and everything else about the power unit of Formula One vehicles.
F1 Horsepower Explained
As of 2014, Formula One cars use a hybrid fuel and electric motor known as the V6 turbo-hybrid era.
The cars make use of a combination of the following two power sources:
- V6 combustion engine
- Energy Recovery System (ERS)
We won’t go into details about the combustion engine, but what are energy recovery systems?
While F1 cars run on the track, they lose energy through heat (turbochargers) and braking (kinetic energy).
The ERS is able to harvest this energy in two ways:
- Motor Generator Unit-Kinetic (MGU-K)
- Motor Generator Unit-Heat (MGU-H)
The energy harvested by these two systems is then stored in the Energy Store (ES), which can provide the car with more power at any point in the race.
There are restrictions, though.
The ERS is restricted to 163 horsepower (HP) for 33.3 seconds over the course of a single lap.
This means that if a car has 1000 HP, the engine will contribute 837 HP and the ERS the rest.
How Much Horsepower Does an F1 Car Have?
Yes, Formula One cars are fast, but Grand Prix races are not just all about speed.
The governing body of Formula One, the FIA, implements restrictions and regulations to ensure the cars remain safe.
These regulations include the power, safety considerations, and cost of designing the cars.
The engine manufacturer must also stick to certain restrictions:
- The power unit must be a four-stroke V6 engine
- The crankshaft rotational speed must be less than 15,000 revolutions per minute (RPM)
- The engine must have a capacity of 1.6 liters.
So, what is the horsepower of a V6 turbocharged Formula 1 engine?
Well, according to experts, these cars can produce around 1,050 HP.
To reach top speeds, teams must consider the power of the engine (including the power-to-weight ratio, as heavier engines need more power) as well as the car’s aerodynamic configuration.
F1 cars are constantly pushing the limits to achieve higher speeds, but with strict FIA regulations in place to even the playing field between teams, teams must get creative to push limits within these regulations.
Racing teams spend millions of dollars on developing engines each year, and the success of their research can be measured in horsepower.
Of the 1050 HP generated by the power units, the ERS stores some of that energy while the car is driving.
This extra power can then be utilized during the race at critical moments to increase the top straight-line speed and overtake another car.
The horsepower of the engine does not equal the performance of the car.
There are plenty of other things to consider.
How do Formula One Cars Have So Much Power?
Here is some more information on how F1 cars are able to produce that much power.
Let’s begin with the basics.
If you have ever driven a street car, you may have noticed a meter on the dashboard that shows the revolutions per minute (RPM) of your car.
This is called the tachometer.
A street car’s tachometer usually shows revolutions in single digits which must be multiplied by 1000 to find the RPM.
Where your car usually hangs at around 2,000 – 4,000 RPM, F1 engines can produce RPM ranging between 15,000 and 22,000; however, the current engines have an RPM limit of 15,000.
It is this high RPM that further enhances the power of these incredibly fast cars.
Current Engine Regulations
As we mentioned, there are FIA-imposed engine regulations that ensure the safety of the drivers.
The main regulation is that the F1 car must be powered by a four-stroke V6 1.6-liter engine, which consists of a turbocharger and a hybrid electrical power producer.
Secondly, the RPM is limited to 15,000.
The current engine regulations are set to remain in place until 2025, and the FIA is already discussing new rules to be implemented from 2026.
Engine Component Usage Regulations
Apart from the main regulations, there are further regulations that limit the usage of each of the engine components so that none of the racing teams have an unfair advantage.
Here are the engine component usage allowances for the current year (if these are exceeded, the drivers will be penalized by dropping down the starting grid):
- Each driver can have three internal combustion engines.
- Each driver can have three turbochargers.
- Each driver can have two ES.
- Each driver has three MGU-H.
- Each driver has three MGU-K.
- Each driver can have two control electronics.
Although each driver is assigned a certain amount of components, it is actually related to the car.
This means that should two drivers switch places, they inherit the component usage figures of the car they will be driving.
Should a new driver be introduced in the middle of the season, then the driver does not start afresh but rather inherits the engine components of the car they are driving.
As we mentioned, these components can be interchanged throughout the season, but should the drivers exceed their imposed limits, they will face a grid penalty – which means they will drop down the starting grid by a set amount of positions, no matter where they qualified.
Highest Recorded Power in an F1 Car: Benetton B186
Okay, so we have covered all the basics about power units and horsepower, so let’s get into the fun facts: what is the highest recorded power in an F1 car?
With the latest teams pumping in more money than ever into their cars, trying to better their cars each year, you probably assume that the V6 turbo-hybrid era delivers the highest horsepower.
Well, not quite.
Enter the Benetton B186.
During the 1980s, the Benetton B186, the Brabham BT52 and BT55, the Arrows A9, and other BMW engines were some of the most awe-inspiring F1 cars ever manufactured.
The Benetton B186 was the fiercest of them all, producing in excess of 1,350 HP during qualifying when the car was constantly pushed to perform and 900 HP during the race.
The Benetton B186 was the first car manufactured and raced by Benneton and was used in the race for World Champ in 1986.
Benetton purchased the Toleman racing team in 1985, and with little time to produce a new car, they were still able to construct three B186s in time for the 1986 March Formula One World Championship race.
The chassis was called the Toleman TG186, but the Benetton team replaced the previously used Hart415T engines with a BMW engine to complete the BT186’s design.
The BMW engine was the BMW M12/13/1.
This made the BT186 an incredibly strong car, with a maximum speed of 219 mph reached by driver Gerhard Berger at Monza in 1986.
The second fastest driver was Teo Fabi, who was also behind the steering wheel of a B186.
At the start of the season, the B186 cars were not very competitive, as the BMW engine struggled with delivering power.
The team was further limited by a lack of spare parts, and the Toleman TG186 chassis struggled to keep up with the BWM engine’s horsepower.
Furthermore, Benetton had a partnership with Pirelli for tires, while the other teams were all supported by Goodyear.
At the time, Pirelli and Benetton had not done a lot of testing together, which means Benetton had to rely on results from the Ligier racing team.
Through learning and tweaking, the Benetton team was able to produce a car that could fight against its competitors by the middle of the 1986 season.
The team had to modify the aerodynamics of the car, such as changing the front and rear wings and underbody of the car.
They also adapted the car’s suspension and strengthened the chassis to handle the power of the new engine.
The car reached its peak performance during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix when a new rear wing was used.
All these modifications meant that the B186 was now the car with the most horsepower and speed.
The car continued to improve its performance during the season, despite 19 retirements across the season.
The Pirelli tires were also improving, becoming more dependable and slower to degrade when compared to the Goodyear tires.
This was evident during the Mexican Grand Prix, where Berger clinched first place in the B186 as he had to make fewer pit stops than the rest of the field.
Further evidence of the power of the B186 was witnessed during qualifying at Monzo (also known as “The Temple of Speed”).
Berger reached 218.23 mph, and the second-fastest speed was achieved by Fabi (also in a B186) at 217.38 mph.
For the original turbo era, Berger’s top speed is second only to Nelson Piquet’s Williams (powered by a Honda engine) who reached 218.807 mph at Monza in 1987.
Although other teams did perform better than Benetton and scored more points during the 1986 season, such as the Ligier racing team with their Renault engines, Benetton was able to outperform and outscore the other teams making use of BWM engines (Brabham and Arrows).
Benetton was also the fastest car on Pirelli tires during the 1986 season.
This shook the F1 world, which expected the Brabham BT55 of Gordon Murray to be the best-performing BMW and Pirelli client.
Benetton replaced the BMW B186 in 1987 with a Ford turbo-powered B187.
What is the most powerful engine ever designed in Formula One?
The most powerful engine produced is the BMW M12/13/1, which was used during the 1986 season.
This engine was used by Benetton, Brabham and Arrows, and averaged at 1,100 HP, although Benetton was able to draw 1,350 HP from the engine.
Were these cars the fastest on the track?
Sadly, the power of the engine is not the only factor that determines the speed of the car.
The design and weight of the car will also influence the speed.
The record for the fastest time that was ever set on track was done by Valterri Bottas in 2016, making use of a V6 1.6-liter engine.
Why did F1 ban turbo engines?
The previous turbo-era started in 1977 when Renault introduced the turbo engine.
This era ended in 1988.
Turbo engines were banned after 1988 due to the power they produced.
These engines were considered to be too powerful, expensive, and unsafe.
What is the fastest F1 car ever made?
There have been many fast F1 cars since the start of this motorsport, but the fastest of all is the Ferrari SF70H.
This iconic car was designed by Scuderia Ferrari and used during the 2017 racing season, and driven by Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen.
Formula One is a highly competitive racing sport, with cars constantly undergoing changes to make them faster, more powerful, and more aerodynamic.
While the existing power units are going to remain until 2025, the FIA is discussing new regulations and limitations on engine designs for 2026 onwards.
That means there is plenty to look forward to in the years to come!
Now that you know that the horsepower of F1 cars comes in at 1,050 HP for the 2022 season, you can share your new knowledge with your friends and family at your next F1 viewing party!