It is generally believed that a three liter, normally aspirated Formula One engine makes in excess of 800 horsepower. Since Formula One engines are generally ten cylinders (a v-ten configuration), they are putting out roughly 267 horsepower for each liter of displacement, and for each three and one-third cylinders.
The point of this discussion is speculation about the four-stroke motorcycle Grand Prix engines currently under development, including the three-cylinder engine reportedly being developed by Sauber, a Formula One participant.
With a 990cc capacity limit, and a significant weight advantage for two and three-cylinder machines, I personally expected to see the major Japanese manufacturers develop three-cylinder engines for GP. This, of course, has not proven to be the case with Honda (a five-cylinder) and Yamaha (a four-cylinder).
With approximately 200 horsepower being the maximum current motorcycle tire technology can handle at the rear wheel (and last for an entire road race), why build a motor with more than three cylinders? A three-cylinder, 990cc engine should be able to achieve a reliable 200 horsepower under the new GP prototype rules.
One would think that engines with fewer cylinders will also find better traction and be easier on tires due to the nature of their power delivery (think of how the v-twins have these advantages over the in-line fours in WSB). Is Sauber smarter than Honda and Yamaha? Probably not, but Sauber, unlike Honda and Yamaha, is not constrained by a needed tie-in to street bike sales with similar configurations. Have Honda and Yamaha knowingly abandoned a simple, in-line three-cylinder configuration (despite its advantages) in favor of engine configurations they can more readily sell in street bikes? Is it worth it to Yamaha to market its next R1 by claiming that the motor (an in-line four) is directly derived from the GP engine? Is Honda planning a future VFR with a v-five engine? Something to think about.