Insider's Guide To Formula 1 Engine Rules: Master The Rules


Image Source: F1

Regarding F1, power units and gearboxes are always hot topics as the season progresses. Each driver has a set number of these parts, and going over the limit means grid penalties. It is good to know the ins and outs of F1 power units and gearboxes and how many drivers can use them over the 23-race season without getting penalized. So, here's the lowdown on these crucial parts for the 2023 F1 season.


The Components of an F1 Power Unit

First, what we used to call an engine is now a "power unit" because it's a hybrid. It has a petrol internal combustion engine and electric motors powered by an Energy Recovery System (ERS). These hybrids have been around since 2014, and while they don't have the same roar as the old V8 and V10 engines, they're some of the most powerful and efficient in F1 history. Back in the day, there were no limits on engine use, and teams would spend a fortune on particular "qualifying spec" engines that were super powerful but only lasted a few laps. Now, to keep costs down, there's a limit on how many power units a driver can use in a season. Each driver can use up to:


  • Eight sets of engine exhaust systems
  • Two control electronics
  • Two energy stores
  • Three MGU-K
  • Three MGU-H
  • Three turbochargers'
  • Three engines

Teams can use more than their allocated number, but they'll be penalized by the grid each time they do. So, modern power units are built to be tougher than the ones from the past.


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Energy Recovery System (ERS)


ERS Energy Flow Chart

Image Source: Formula 1 Dictionary

The Energy Recovery System (ERS) grabs energy from the exhaust and brakes, turns it into electricity, and either uses it to power electric motors immediately or stores it in a battery for an extra boost. The MGU-K (Motor Generator Unit - Kinetic) is hooked to the engine crankshaft. When it's in regenerative mode, it acts like a generator, slowing the car down through 'engine braking' (so you don't have to use the regular brakes as much) and creating electricity to charge the battery. In drive mode, it turns into a motor, using that electricity to accelerate the wheels. There's a cap on how much energy the system can generate per lap around 33 seconds of max power boost but it can hold twice that amount. So, teams get to be clever and decide when to save and when to use the energy.


Then there's the MGU-H (Motor Generator Unit - Heat), which is a bit trickier. It works with the turbo, which uses exhaust gases to spin a turbine and pressurize the engine. As a generator, the MGU-H slows down the turbo to keep it from over-boosting at high power and converts that energy into electricity for the battery. As a motor, it keeps the turbo spinning when the drivers are off the throttle, cutting down turbo lag and making the power delivery smoother and way more efficient than fuel. The electricity the MGU-H produces can also power the MGU-K directly, adding to that 33-second limit of stored energy you can use each lap. So, the more juice teams can get from the MGU-H, the longer they can keep that electric power boost going. Altogether, the system, with all its bits and pieces, has to weigh at least 150kg, with the storage part being about 20-25kg of that.


The Dangers of The Electric Motor

The ERS is pretty high voltage up to 1000Vso yeah, it can give a nasty shock. To keep things safer, those high-voltage cables are orange and have an unplugged cut-off. The primary energy storage, MGU-H, MGU-K, and all high-voltage boxes have warning signs. You can shut down the ERS in a few ways, and it has status lights on top of the airbox that shows green when it's safe and red when it's not. In 2019, after bailing from the Bahrain Grand Prix, Daniel Ricciardo had to jump out of his car without touching it because the red light came on, and his team said it was "electrically unsafe." Thankfully, that's rare.


The MGU-K can crank out a maximum of 120kW, about 160bhp. But to avoid crazy electric-powered starts, it's limited until the car hits 100km/h. The MGU-K has to weigh at least 7kg and can spin up to 50,000rpm, with a max torque of 200Nm. The MGU-H can be 3kg lighter and spin up to 125,000 rpm. The team needs to hook up an external starter to start the petrol engine in the garage, pit lane, or on the grid. The engines have anti-stall systems to keep them running if the driver loses control. The power is controlled by both the driver and the onboard computer. Teams create engine maps to deliver electric power in different ways, so the drivers pick one and let the car handle it.


The Horsepower of an F1 Power Unit

The combined power from the petrol and electric components is about 1,000bhp, which is way more than a regular car. The petrol engine hits 15,000rpm and is way more than a road car. This lets an F1 car go from 0-60mph in about 2.6 seconds and reach around 230mph, depending on the drag. When BAR (which became Mercedes through Honda and Brawn GP) minimized drag, it hit 246.9mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 2006. The fuel used in these cars is made from compounds found in commercial fuels, with no special power-boosting chemicals. At least 10 percent of the fuel must be advanced sustainable ethanol. They use about 135 liters of fuel during a race, about a third less than the older, thirstier V8 engines.


The Engine that the Power Unit Operates On

The engine is a four-stroke 1.6-liter turbo V6. It has strict size and material limits, with the cylinders set up in a 90-degree V shape and two inlet and exhaust valves per cylinder. The turbocharger uses a compressor to boost the engine, powered by the car's exhaust airflow through a turbine connected to the outlet system. For engine geeks, each cylinder's compression ratio can't be higher than 18, the fuel pressure in the injectors is 500barG or less, and the fuel mass flow is no more than 100kg/h, scaling down at lower revs. The fuel mass flow is crucial because it limits the fuel entering the engine, restricts revs and power, and pushes teams to make more efficient engines.


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Rules Enforced by FIA



Image Source: Planet F1

To reduce cheating, the FIA uses electrical DC sensors from their chosen suppliers on different parts of the ERS and a torque sensor on the MGU-K. Every car has the same high-pressure fuel pump from a single supplier picked by the FIA World Motor Sport Council and two fuel flow meters in the fuel tank to check flow rates. The power output shaft and each driveshaft have certified torque measurement systems for the petrol engine, and there are pressure and temperature sensors for the fuel injectors.



These current units will only last for a while since F1 is already planning the next generation. These designs are frozen now, so teams can't develop them anymore. This saves time and money for a new, more industry-relevant hybrid engine set for 2025. The new rules will focus on high environmental sustainability, using fully sustainable fuels and simplifying the design to cut costs.