Tech Talk: Prost on the return of turbo engines

Four-time Formula One world champion Alain Prost on the return of turbo engines in 2014.
Turbo engines under development
Turbo engines under development

With new, more efficient 1.6 litre, turbocharged V6s powering F1 in 2014, The Professor looks back on the previous turbo era and predicts a change in style for the sport.

RB: What was the first turbo era like for the drivers?
Alain Prost: At the start of the 1980s, it was all about response time because there was a lag of two to three seconds. We saw turbo engines improve every year but the driving style was still very different. You had to find the right moment to accelerate – and anticipate when the power would come through.

Getting the timing right depended on a lot of factors: the type of corner, speed, grip, the type of tyres, how worn they were and how much the turbo had been used.

That’s why there could be such big gaps between the cars, as well as drivers becoming tired towards the end of the race. Your brain had to process things differently.

Jean-Pierre Jabouille drives the Renault RS01 at Silverstone in 1977
Renault begin the turbo era in 1977 with the RS01 © DPPI

RB: Will the drivers have to adapt their driving style?
AP: Probably, yes. There will be a tiny lag in response time. I imagine it’ll probably be very small but the drivers will still have to get used to it.

Being quick will no longer be enough

But it’s not just a question of the turbocharger: the interaction between the combustion engine and the electric motors will be very complex. The combustion engine generates around 600bhp and the electric motors around 160bhp, so power management will be much more of an issue.

The power will be used by engineers and drivers in a variety of ways. It’s a return to an era when the driver will need to be strategic and very calculating in how he used his racing car. Just being quick will no longer be enough.

Jean Pierre Jabouille of France in action for Renault Turbo at Silverstone in 1977
Prost: Memories of a turbocharged era ©

RB: Will engines become more significant again in 2014?
As soon as you freeze engine development, the chassis and aerodynamics become more important. In 2014, the situation will be rebalanced. There’ll be a very interesting technical side to the sport. Whoever manages to get the various parts to gel most effectively will benefit the most and innovation will stem from good working relationships between the chassis and engine departments.

RB: Are we about to see the start of a new era in F1?
I think so. Many people watching F1 are disappointed with the racing and the fact there are restrictions this year. In the 1980s, turbo engine years generated interest in F1: everyone was interested in this new technical challenge. It was also a bit of an emotional journey, insofar as huge developments were expected at each race.

RB: Many people are worried about the noise of the new turbo engines. What about you?
It’s an argument against them for some people, but I don’t think it makes sense. You need noise, of course, but there’ll be plenty of it. Personally speaking, I really like the noise of the turbo engines – they’re not diesel engines, that’s for sure! There will always be people who say that it was better before, but the noise levels should be perfectly acceptable!

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