Explained: What are F1’s current power unit engine rules?

Mercedes' F1 engine on display. engine rules

Mercedes' F1 engine on display.

F1’s hybrid power units are the most technologically advanced engines in the world, boasting astonishing levels of efficiency and power output.

Formula 1’s current engine regulations dictate that each team must be powered by a four-stroke 1.6 litre V6 engine, which includes a turbocharger and hybrid electric ancillaries, and sees a maximum permitted RPM of 15,000.

The technical details of these engines are highly prescribed, as laid out in the current Technical Regulations.

The current engine formula was introduced for the 2014 season, with the rate of progress since then seeing the manufacturers achieve incredible efficiency and remarkable power output.

The current rules will remain in place until, at least, the 2025 season, with talks currently underway to decide upon the next generation rules set to be rolled out for 2026.

Who makes the current F1 engines?

There are currently four manufacturers of homologated power units for use in Formula 1.

  • Mercedes: Based in Brixworth and manufactured by Mercedes High-Performance Powertrains, these engines are used by the Mercedes factory team, and customer teams McLaren, Williams, and Aston Martin.
  • Ferrari: Manufactured from Ferrari’s base in Maranello, the factory team are just one of three teams using these engines. Joining them are customers Alfa Romeo, and Haas.
  • Honda: While officially withdrawn from Formula 1 as a factory effort, the Japanese manufacturer’s engines are still manufactured from their base in Sakura, and shipped to Red Bull and AlphaTauri for use in the 2022 season. Red Bull’s new engine department, branded as Red Bull Powertrains, will eventually take over the manufacturing of their own engines.
  • Renault: Based in Viry-Chatillon, the current Renault power unit is only used by the factory Alpine (owned by Groupe Renault) outfit.

How powerful are F1’s 2022 engines?

F1’s 2022 engines produce over 1000bhp, with all of the manufacturers achieving similar figures. Exact figures are not offered by the manufacturers, meaning that calculating the most powerful is down to educated guesswork, rather than any measurable public metric.

Despite this incredible output, the power units only use around 130 litres of fuel for a Grand Prix distance of 300 kilometres.

The power output means that F1 cars accelerate from 0-100 kilometres per hour in around 2.6 seconds and achieve speeds of around 380 km/h in the lowest downforce configurations the teams will use during the season – the top speed could be far higher if the downforce is reduced further, although this would be dangerous for use outside of very exact circumstances.

F1’s incredible hybrid engines

With the old normally aspirated V8 engines discarded at the conclusion of the 2013 season, the hybrid era resulted in a whole new approach to how F1 cars are powered.

No longer merely an ‘ICE’ (Internal Combustion Engine), F1’s ‘power units’ are comprised of various components that have the ICE at their heart.

  • Internal Combustion Engine (ICE): The ICE refers to the 1.6 litre V6 that develops around 700 horsepower all by itself.
  • Turbocharger (TC): The turbocharger is attached to the ICE, and boasts the same technology as can be found on any road-going turbocharged car. The turbo increases the density of the air the engines takes in, which increases the power output. The turbo is powered by a turbine from the exhaust, creating more power from the heat energy from the engine.

These mechanical parts are ably backed up by the ERS (Energy Recovery System), which forms the hybrid section of the power unit.

The ERS works to harness energy produced by the car while driving on track, stores that energy, and is then able to re-deploy that energy as part of the power unit’s output. The ERS alone accounts for about 160bhp, and is usable for 33 seconds of a lap.

The main energy harvesting components on the ERS are the MGU-H and MGU-K, with the captured energy sent for storage in the Energy Store.

  • Energy Store (ES): In layman’s terms, this is the battery of the car, albeit slightly more complicated than one you’d find in a road car. Any energy generated by the ERS is sent to this battery for storage, until it’s needed for redeployment. The batteries can store up to 4 megajoules of energy per lap, with this amount also the amount permitted for redeployment during a lap.
  • MGU-H (Motor Generator Unit-Heat): This is driven by exhaust gasses. With energy, in the form of heat, dissipating through the exhaust system, the MGU-H captures that energy to turn it into electrical power. As the revs of the engine and turbo go up as a driver accelerates, the MGU-H captures the energy and sends the harnessed electricity into the ES.
  • MGU-K (Motor Generator Unit-Kinetic): This is an electric generator and motor that is connected to the ICE. Capturing energy under braking, including the heat from the brakes, this energy is redeployed as power under acceleration.
  • Control Electronics (CE): This component is the controlling ‘computer’ of the ERS, ensuring that all the systems talk to each other correctly to interact with the mechanical components of the power unit.

Every single one of these components are crucially important for a car’s outright performance. A failure in the ERS doesn’t necessarily mean a car can no longer drive, but the resulting loss of power can trigger cascading car issues, slower lap times, increased fuel consumption and, for all intents and purposes, means the car is likely to be retired.

However, a famous example of a driver overcoming ERS issues was Daniel Ricciardo’s infamous Monaco victory in 2018 where, despite a failed MGU-K, he was able to massage his hobbled Red Bull home in front.

F1 has strict power unit component usage rules

F1 manufacturers can’t simply throw new components at their cars as they wish to, with every part expected to last a certain amount of time.

Here are the component allowances for 2022.

  • ICE: Each driver is permitted three internal combustion engines.
  • TC: Each driver is permitted three turbochargers.
  • ES: Each driver is permitted two Energy Stores.
  • MGU-H: Each driver is permitted three Motor Generator Units-Heat.
  • MGU-K: Each driver is permitted three Motor Generator Units-Kinetic.
  • CE: Each driver is permitted two Control Electronics.

Should a driver change team mid-season, they will inherit the power unit usage figures for the car they’re climbing into. So, for example, if Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc swapped seats at any point, Hamilton would switch to Leclerc’s figures, while Leclerc would switch to Hamilton’s figures.

If a new driver is introduced at any point during the season, they’ll inherit the power unit components of the car they’re getting into. For example, if Oscar Piastri climbed into Daniel Ricciardo‘s McLaren at any point, he’d be subject to Ricciardo’s usage figures.

These power unit components can be swapped out and interchanged as much as a team requires in order to keep their car running, but the introduction of new components from outside the allowance results in a grid penalty.

The first time a new component outside the allowance is used, that driver will serve a 10-place grid penalty. However, they’ll only serve a five-place grid penalty for each subsequent introduction of that same component.

It’s not possible for a team to stockpile parts by introducing several of the same component during a single Grand Prix weekend, and still only serving a single penalty. To close off this potential loophole, if a team introduces, for example, three out-of-allowance MGU-Ks in one weekend, only the last-introduced one is permitted for use without penalty at a future Grand Prix.

F1’s engine freeze for 2022 explained

The regulations for the engines were tweaked for 2022, in order to allow for the introduction of a more sustainable E10 fuel, which consists of 10% sustainable ethanol alongside the fossil fuel 90%).

However, a key change for 2022 is the introduction of an ‘engine freeze’. The manufacturers were required to submit a final design of their power units by the start of this season, with no further performance-related development permitted.

Manufacturers are still permitted to make changes to allow for reliability or safety updates, but there is a strict process in place for this. The rulebook has been tightened up to ensure manufacturers can’t go down the route of simply pretending to be unreliable in order to introduce changes.

If a manufacturer wishes to make changes to the architecture of their engine, they can submit a request to the FIA’s Technical Department to explain why they’re making the request. Evidence of research into the issue, as well as proof of concept is required, with the FIA then handing out this request and documentation to the other manufacturers.

If the other manufacturers agree that the request is justified, and the concept for the change is proven as logical, then permission will be granted. However, the changes permitted are still quite minor.