The World Motor Sport Council approved the introduction of a new specification engine from 2013, underlining the FIA's commitment to improving sustainability and addressing the needs of the automotive industry. Following dialogue with the engine manufacturers and experts in this field, the power units will be four cylinders, 1.6-litre with high pressure gasoline injection up to 500 bar with a maximum of 12,000rpm.
The engines will deliver a 35% reduction in fuel consumption and will feature extensive energy management and energy recovery systems, while maintaining current levels of performance. In 2013, five engines will be permitted per driver, but each year after that the limit will be four.
Despite there remaining less than two years before chassis designs are frozen ahead of the 2013 season, absolutely nothing has been made public about the FIA's new 'eco' engine formula, save for these two paragraphs, published in the immediate wake of last year's World Motor Sport Council meeting, held in Monaco on December 10.
That an enormous amount of planning had gone into the change became evident last year when meeting after meeting was held, including one squeezed between the Singapore and Japanese flyaways, necessitating the return to Europe (Paris, in fact) of key engine staff who had otherwise planned to remain in Asia.
As outlined last year here and here, the new regulations were not arrived at without a massive struggle - with some motor manufacturers actively campaigning against dropping (on cost grounds) the archaic 2400cc V8 units which had their roots in the 90º V10 engines first used in the last millennium.
Then it does not require a doctorate in rocketry to establish that Ferrari and four cylinders are seldom mentioned in the same breath, unless discussing brake caliper pots, so the new engine formula hardly provides the Italian company with major technology transfer or marketing opportunities. Hence the Scuderia's reported reluctance to endorse the regulations, certainly in the early stages.
However, Gilles Simon, the FIA's director of powertrain and electronics, who joined the sport's governing body from Ferrari at end 2009 (having worked there and at Peugeot with Jean Todt, elected FIA president in October of that year), pushed and pulled every way to ensure a workable set of regulations was available for the final WMSC meeting of 2010.
The FIA's own requirement of a two-year notice period for major technology changes meant that Is needed be dotted and Ts crossed by December 31 for regulations planned for introduction on January 1, 2013, so it was close. A measure of the amount of work which flowed into the regulations is evident from the number of versions drafted before acceptance - nine - while the fact that all four current suppliers (champions Renault, Ferrari, Mercedes and Cosworth) are committed to the formula testifies to their acceptance.
In addition, the Volkswagen Group - through Audi, as argued last year here - is said to be investigating entering on the back of the regulations, while rumours from Asia have a Korean company (Hyundai) considering the same, with at least one Japanese car company (Honda) allegedly poised to make a return.
All well and good, but the FIA's announcement contained very little 'meat', and with version nine of the 2013 Formula 1 engine regulations not available on loan, or otherwise, at public libraries, little is known about their specifics.
However, information is gradually trickling out (although this column's sources, speaking during the recent tests, were careful to stress full disclosure of the regulations was the sole prerogative of the governing body), while engine directors are obviously reluctant to spill the beans lest they provide competitive information.
However, what is clear from what was shared is that there is a fundamental shift in engine philosophy from brute power at high revs to one where efficiency and, by extension, fuel consumption, become paramount.
This is best illustrated by a comment made by Renault engine director Rob White: "There are two mechanisms: First, everybody will have the same quantity of fuel for the race, and that quantity will be less (by between 35% and 40%) than at present."
This will be controlled via a fuel flow limit, providing an instantaneous fuel consumption limit, with White suggesting "the way the (consumption) numbers are established, it's expected the fuel allowance to do the race will not allow you to use the fuel flow limit all the time. So you'll have to manage the performance of the car."
However, two engine directors disclosed last year the technology required for the fuel flow meter does not (yet) exist, with one even doubting that a sufficiently accurate (0.2%) unit could be developed within the time frame.
Teams currently have fuel flow meters delivering such accuracy - half a kilogram of fuel per 160kg tank load - but, says one ED, these are 'the size of a small wardrobe, cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of Euros and weigh hundreds of kilograms'.
Says White: "Of course it's right to say there's no turn-key solution to independently measure the instantaneous fuel flow on a Formula 1 car. That's one of the challenges in the period in front of us. My view is, and I think it's the view of all the engine technical directors, that the only satisfactory solution from a regulatory point of view is to have a spec unit, the same for everybody."
Given the FIA's stated rev limit of 12,000 rpm, does a fuel injection system exist capable of pumping the specified amount of fuel (100 litres per hour is envisaged) at 500 bar? Again, the answer is a resounding 'no', but, that said, all the building blocks exist, so major challenges are expected there.
However, the concept of compound turbo-charging appears to have been dropped, with an exhaust-driven KERS generator taking its place. Thus exiting gasses will provide a double power whammy: not only will they drive a single turbo-charger impeller, but a generator as well, which will in turn provide power directly to the KERS without being routed through power-sapping batteries.
The primary KERS harvester will still, though, be rear-wheel driven, in turn feeding into batteries for which a minimum (25kg) and maximum (30kg) weight is envisaged. So, why not four-wheel KERS, as had been mooted?
"That's the sort of question that's more philosophical than technical," says White. "Clearly there's more energy available on the front axle than on the rear axle. It's more difficult to get on the front axle than on the rear axle and in terms of showcasing technology, it's debatable whether or not it would add anything else.
"It would apply to just to one or two more electrical machines on the car; it would allow us to do more energy recovery, but it would be only an additional layer of the same that we would have at the back as well."
Although the exact KERS parameters have not yet been defined, it is expected allowable energy limits (presently 400 kilojoule, or 81bhp for 6.7 seconds) will be multiplied four or even five times, meaning KERS boost will be available for anything from 30 seconds to a full minute per lap. Then the engines and cars are expected to become increasingly more efficient without substantial loss of lap time - if at all - so it is clear F1 is heading into an era of increased overall efficiency, as evidenced by a reduction in fuel load of around 35%.
Unsaid in the FIA statement is that, in addition to revs and configuration/capacity being fixed, a maximum bore of 88mm has been specified, which, in turn, leads to a fixed stroke given a 1600cc capacity limit. In addition, much like the present formula, which sets a 95kg weight limit for engines, albeit for a smaller perimeter (for which read without ancillaries), a minimum power unit weight of 140kg (including ancillaries) has been set from 2013 onwards.
A direct comparison is impossible due to the different engine philosophies, but a current V8 comes in at around 125kg with all peripherals required to produce an estimated 750bhp, with the full raft of KERS componentry adding another 30-odd for its bursts of 80bhp, thus panning out at 160kg total.
The 140kg limit for 2013 units includes base engine, pressure charging system, electronics, pressure delivery system, KERS, battery and a turbo charger electric motor (see below). On the power front, White estimates the basic output of the engine will be around 530bhp, with an additional 180bhp coming courtesy of KERS, whose delivery is expected to be blended into the fly-by-wire throttle system, rather than activation through a crude steering wheel-mounted button as at present.
As per the current Vee engines, which specify a 90º angle between cylinder axes, a cylinder axis for the 2013 engines has also been specified, namely vertical, meaning engines may not be canted as was the case with 80s turbo-charged fours such as BMW's M12/13 units.
Where existing engines present two mounting faces in, crucially, V-formation, their replacements will offer only one, rather elongated surface, meaning mounting cradles will likely be required - certainly in the early stages - to provide the required torsional rigidity, particularly when both turbo and KERS kick in.
White does not, though, foresee any problems in this, adding: "I guess any problem of that nature is the same for everybody; they [the cradles] remain a possibility."
Nor does he foresee any audience switch-off over the anticipated (lack of) aural qualities of the 2013 engines, stating logically that most superbikes have four cylinder engines (silenced by road-legal mufflers), yet their sound has never turned anybody off.
"When I lie in bed in the morning I sometimes hear motorbikes going past on the fast road two or three kilometres away from my house, and they're doing a lot less than 12,000rpm," he says.
"The missus doesn't like the noise; I like the noise. I think four cylinder engines at 10,000rpm make a nice noise. It's a little like I said before about the weight question: there comes a moment where in order to change something in the ecosystem, you have to accept an evolution elsewhere."
Which brings us neatly to the point: "If we want engines and power units that are more efficient, then there are some penalties, there are some changes that we have to take onboard, that we have to optimise, that we have to deal with," says the man who oversaw development of the current title-winning power units, namely the one fitted to Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull.
"There comes a point when the people who have to do these engineering programmes have to decide where to put their effort, where to put their money, where to put the development priority in order to get the best racing result in the end."