1986 marked the first only time before the 2014 season when Formula 1 went all-turbo. Except that the '86 cars went to top fuel dragster territory when it came to specific engine output. Stay on track and try not to explode.
It is widely debated which has been the greatest era of Formula 1. Some people say the initial roadster era where engine power was everything. Other people would suggest delicate mid-engine cigars ruled, requiring dedicated finesse. You could bring up crazy aerofoils, mad engines revving to hell, all sorts of technological nuances.
There are some symbolic seasons sticking out, though, that are unrepeatable. Such as the 1967 season, which was the second year of the restored 3-litre formula, the last season before sponsorship pitches and - more importantly - aerodynamics. Also it was the debut year of the Cosworth DFV engine that would determine the shape of F1 for the next two decades.
Such a magical year was 1986, too - the first time when Formula 1 was mandated to be all-turbo and the last time these engines roared unrestricted of turbocharging.
Engine displacement for forced induction engines was limited at 1.5 litres and some of these motors - reportedly - produced close to 1,500hp in qualifying trim, which is awfully close to nitromethane-powered 3.6-second quarter-milers, leaving a huge puff of smoke behind every time the turbo kicked in.
All this came around a few years after the total ban of of ground effects, the regulatory body's first ever serious attempt to slow cars down for the first time in the sport's history. The teams' answer was even more power and the Scalectrix cars running on rails turned into raving dogs on ice. Especially in qualifying where blown up engines were collateral damage.
Of course, qualifying means not much of a longer run than a quarter of a mile, therefore these power units didn't last any longer than the end of the hour-long session. And with qualifying trim came a completely different engine, with a different turbocharger, qualifying exhaust systems and setups.
[Sir Jackie Stewart shows you the qualifying bits on the Lotus-Renault, wonderful commentating on the qualifying session by Murray Walker and James Hunt]
These cars were nowhere near as fast as in any other era, but it's worth comparing some of the pole position qualifying times with the next all-turbo era on the same tracks with little or no alterations in the layout.
Circuit de Monaco
- 1986 - Alain Prost / McLaren-TAG // 1:22.627
- 2014 - Nico Rosberg / Mercedes // 1:15.989
Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps
- 1986 - Nelson Piquet / Williams-Honda // 1:54.331
- 2014 - (fastest lap during race, Qualifying ran under wet conditions) Nico Rosberg / Mercedes // 1:50:511
Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
- 1986 - Nigel Mansell / Williams-Honda // 1:24.118
- 2014 - Nico Rosberg / Mercedes // 1:14.874
Autodromo Nazionale Monza
- 1986 - Teo Fabi / Benetton-BMW // 1:24.078
- 2014 - Lewis Hamilton / Mercedes // 1:24.109
It is apparent that on the both brake and steering-heavy circuits the electricity-aided modern F1 cars beat the the old turbo-monsters fair and square, but at Monza (with a slight alteration to the first chicane), they ran the same times. It is also worth thinking into that despite current F1 cars are much heavier and lack a fair amount of power compared to their 30 year-old counterparts, they run at the same average speeds at the most all-speed no-brake circuit of them all.
It's also worth mentioning how many engine suppliers were involved during the season: TAG-Porsche, Renault, Honda, BMW, Hart, Zakspeed, Alfa Romeo, "Motor Moderni" and Ferrari.
Probably the most famous engine of the era was the 4-cylinder BMW M12 engine in the Brabham with its then-quarter of a century-old M10 stock block, treated rather interestingly. According to the legend these blocks were taken out of old cars, stripped down, thrown out in the rain to let them rust and the engineers made it a habit to urinate on them.
With the deal made by Bernie Ecclestone back in the day, the formerly self-combusting engine (bolted in the chassis with a tilt) turned out to be the most powerful unit Formula 1 has ever seen), top speeds reaching way over 350kph.
From 1987, turbochargers' boost was limited mechanically and naturally aspirated engines returned for the first time and became exclusive from 1989 to 2013.
The new turbocharging era is vastly different, it's primary purpose is to use a lot less fuel during races with the aid the the energy recovering and storing systems. It is not necessarily a bad step forward, but racing needs some lunacy from time to time.
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