Today’s Formula One cars use 2.4 liter V8 engines, good for over 700 horsepower at their 18,000 RPM redlines. They weigh a minimum of 1,411 pounds, including the driver and fluids. Teams spend thousands of hours testing these cars in wind tunnels and in computer simulations, in hopes of gaining a thousandth of a second advantage over their competitors. Today’s F1 cars are incredibly safe, which is the legacy of too many driver fatalities through the 1990s. In the early days of the sport, cars looked a lot different, and about the only common ground was the use of an internal combustion engine and four wheels. The video below, courtesy of Mercedes Benz, really illustrates how far we’ve come in the past 103 years.
I did the math for you: a 17.3 liters translates to 1,055.7 cubic inches. Each cylinder displaces nearly 264 cubic inches, or 4.3 liters. The pistons must have been the size of dinner plates, and I can’t imagine how rough the engine was at redline. It took some serious stones to pilot these cars, especially when you consider that your only safety equipment was a set of heavy cotton overalls, a leather helmet and a good luck charm. I’d love the opportunity to drive one of these cars, but even I’m not crazy enough to push it beyond 50% or so.