The history of turbochargers in Formula 1 is pretty fascinating. Turbochargers were initially introduced in 1905, applied to large diesel engines in the 1920’s and found their way into commercial automobiles in 1938. However, it took a few more decades for the turbochargers to be used in Formula 1 car racing.
When Renault decided to enter the sport in 1977, they started their engines based on the novel turbocharger concept. As one would expect, their first design suffered from constant reliability problems through all the races it competed in. As Renault focused their development entirely on the engine, the car’s aerodynamics worsened; it suffered a huge turbolag under acceleration, and when the boost finally triggered the tires were not able to handle it . “So the engine broke and made everyone one laugh”, Jean-Pierre Jabouille, the driver, admitted in an interview. At the time, everyone was looking at the turbo engines as something that no one would ever hear about again.
It is very interesting to take a look at how gas turbine technology has made its way into aircraft propulsion and improved over time. When the idea of a turbojet was introduced by Frank Whittle and others in the 1920s, no one could have guessed that it would change the future of air propulsion. The Committee on Gas Turbines from the National Academy of Sciences reported (1940): “In its present state … the gas turbine engine could hardly be considered a feasible application to airplanes mainly because of the difficulty in complying with stringent weight requirements imposed by aeronautics” . This puts into perspective the immense advancement that gas turbine development has made to be an integrated part of aircraft propulsion today.
A quick look at the engine characteristics reveals the great advancement in design and manufacturing of jet engines from the early turbojets to the most advanced turbofans today. For instance, General Electric’s J31, with an overall pressure ratio of 3.8:1 and maximum thrust of 1,650 lbf, was one of the first manufactured jet engines in the United States . Nowadays, Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 has achieved a maximum thrust of 78,000 lbf with an overall pressure ratio of more than 50:1 . Without a doubt, gas turbine technology has made a huge impact on aircraft propulsion and there will be more to come in future.