A Formula One car is a single-seat, open cockpit, open-wheel racing car with substantial front and rear wings, and an engine positioned behind the driver, intended to be used in competition at Formula One racing events. The regulations governing the cars are unique to the championship. The Formula One regulations specify that cars must be constructed by the racing teams themselves, though the design and manufacture can be outsourced.
The modern-day Formula One cars are constructed from composites of carbon fibre and similar ultra-lightweight materials. The minimum weight permissible is 702 kg (1,548 lb) including the driver but not fuel. Cars are weighed with dry-weather tyres fitted. Prior to the 2014 F1 season, cars often weighed in under this limit so teams added ballast in order to add weight to the car. The advantage of using ballast is that it can be placed anywhere in the car to provide ideal weight distribution. This can help lower the car’s centre of gravity to improve stability and also allows the team to fine-tune the weight distribution of the car to suit individual circuits.
The 2006 Formula One season saw the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) introduce a then-new engine formula, which mandated cars to be powered by 2.4-litre naturally aspirated engines in the V8 engine configuration, with no more than four valves per cylinder. Further technical restrictions, such as a ban on variable intake trumpets, have also been introduced with the new 2.4 L V8 formula to prevent the teams from achieving higher RPM and horsepower too quickly. The 2009 season limited engines to 18,000 rpm in order to improve engine reliability and cut costs.
For a decade, F1 cars had run with 3.0-litre naturally aspirated V10 engines; however, development had led to these engines producing between 980 and 1,000 hp (730 and 750 kW), and the cars reaching top speeds of 375 km/h (233 mph) (Jacques Villeneuve with Sauber-Ferrari) on the Monza circuit. Teams started to use exotic alloys in the late 1990s, leading to the FIA banning the use of exotic materials in engine construction, with only aluminium, titanium and iron alloys being allowed for the pistons, cylinders, connecting rods and crankshafts. The FIA has continually enforced material and design restrictions to limit power. Even with the restrictions, the V10s in the 2005 season were reputed to develop 980 hp (730 kW), power levels not seen since the ban on turbo-charged engines in 1989.
As of the 2014 season, all F1 cars have been equipped with turbocharged 1.6-litre V6 engines. Turbochargers have been banned since 1988. This change may give an improvement of up to 29% fuel efficiency. One of the many reasons that Mercedes dominated the season early, was due to the placement of the turbocharger’s compressor at one side of the engine, and the turbine at the other; both were then linked by a shaft travelling through the vee of the engine. The benefit is that air is not traveling through as much pipework, in turn reducing turbo lag and increases efficiency of the car. In addition, it means that the air moving through the compressor is much cooler as it is further away from the hot turbine section.