Tech Showdown

F1 vs. F1

A Formula 1 car is one of the most technologically advanced road-going machines created by man. Capable of speeds of nearly 200 mph, the engines that propel the F1 car bear little resemblance to the engine under the hood of your car.

On the other hand, the Saturn V rockets with their five F1 engines on the first stage propelled man to one of his greatest achievements…walking on the moon. A rocket motor, it is nothing like the engine in your car.

This leads us to the most logical question — how do they compare?

Power: The power of a rocket engine is usually not discussed, since it is a thrust device. However, there is a correlation between power and thrust. Knowing that each F1 rocket motor on the Saturn V produced about 1.5 million pounds of thrust, the calculated brake horsepower of each F1 rocket motor is about 36 million horsepower.

A modern F1 race engine is limited to 2.4L and 8 cylinders. This engine configuration was chosen by Formula 1 after the 3L V10 engines began exceeding 1000 bhp. Today’s 2.4L engine produces around 800 bhp.

Mileage: The amount of fuel a Formula 1 car consumes varies by the race. For the 2012 season, pitstops were banned, meaning the car had to carry a full load of fuel at the beginning of the race. For instance, the Red Bull cars burned through about 140L of fuel at the 2012 Australian GP. However, the fuel consumption of a modern F1 engine is estimated to be about 75L per 100km, or 4 mpg.

The F1 rocket engine consumed about 38,700 gallons of RP-1 during its 2.5 minute burn. Buzz Aldrin once calculated that, based on the altitude at the end of the Stage 1 burn, the F1 rocket engine gets about 1 foot per gallon.

Durability: A Formula 1 race engine must be used for two Grand Prix weekends, including all practice and qualifying. Over a 20 race season, teams are only allowed 8 engines. Therefore, a Formula 1 engine actually must be used more than two GP weekends.

The F1 rockets on a Saturn V last the 2.5 minute burn and then the first stage is ejected and burns up in the atmosphere.

Fuel: The Formula 1 engine burns gasoline very similar to high octane pump gas. F1 has stringent rules about what the teams may and may not do with the fuel, and samples are collected from each team at every race.

The F1 rocket engine ran on a 2.27:1 mixture of liquid oxygen (LOX) to kerosene (RP-1).

Acceleration: While acceleration is a function of more than just the engine, it is interesting to compare the two. The Saturn V first stage, with five F1 rocket engines, would propel the rocket to 6,164 miles per hour in its 2.5 minute burn. While the acceleration of a rocket is non-linear, this represents a 0-60 time of about 1.5 seconds.

A Formula 1 car will accelerate to 60 mph in about 2.5 seconds in race trim.

[Image Credits:; Jud McRanie]

  • The Professor

    You know, I've never once considered comparing an F1 race car engine to an F1 rocket engine. It seems so obvious now…

  • FЯeeMan

    You know, I never really though about just how much time & effort went into developing and building an engine that would be used for 2.5 minutes then be totally and completely destroyed. Much more significant levels of destruction than that crazy cash-for-clunkers thing a while back.

    Also, at times, F1 is a soap opera with racing thrown in.

  • I started to wonder how the F1 automobile engine would do if you could measure its ability to gain altitude (which you could) and then I remembered the Rocket Sled, which is a rocket motor going horizontally. Personally, this is the more entertaining of the two. A brief but distracting survey of the internet found that a rocket sled is capable of accelerating from 0 to 6400 MPH (!) in 6 seconds. (The link was to a website called 46tg, which I take to be the operators of the Holloman High Speed Test Track, the 46th Test Group of the USAF, but it was a broken link)

    Then there's Colonel John Paul Stapp…

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    …who had the singular job of riding the rocket sled. "John Stapp was subjected to 15 g for 0.6 second and a peak of 22 g during a 19 March 1954 rocket sled test. He would eventually survive a peak of more than 46 g, with more than 25 g for 1.1 sec."

    In comparison, an internal combustion dragster can hope to hit 6 g. Now I'm off to look up Richard Hammond's exciting day in the 10,000 hp 'Vampire' external combustion dragster.

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