How Many Engines Can F1 Use?

Editorial credit: motorsports Photographer /

Before 2014, Formula 1 cars used  V8 engines which were normally aspirated and had no turbos. In 2014 Formula 1 entered the Turbo-Hybrid era. Gone were emotive sounds of V8-powered cars racing around the track. The latest powertrain consists of a 1.6l engine; two electricity generators called  MGU-K, MGU-H, one of which (MGU-K) doubles as an electric motor. Speed and acceleration are not affected, but the emotive sound of screaming V8 3.2 Litre engines is gone.  

Under the new rules, only three engines are allowed per car per season. These rules limit the combination of replaceable parts. Engines, designed to last a maximum of eight races (including practice and qualifying sessions), put huge pressure on teams.

It is interesting to consider what motivated these changes, what parts are limited, and how it affects teams. We will also investigate what the future holds for F1 racing.

The F1 Engine

The Turbo-Electric era began with the 2014 season.

The new engines represent the most technological advancement yet.

  1. The number of cylinders used has been reduced to six
  2. The power train utilizes two power sources, namely a six-cylinder  V6 forced induction internal combustion engine (ICE) plus an electric generator/motor (MGU-K, MGU-H)
  3. The internal combustion components use recovered exhaust gasses to power the turbo induction unit.
  4. This system consists of two parts.

MGU-H (Motor Generator Unit – Heat)

The MGU-H attaches to the turbine shaft of the turbocharger and is used to convert heat energy from the exhaust gasses to electricity. This energy can be sent to the MGU-K unit for immediate use, or if required later, to the battery for storage.

MGU-K (Motor Generator Unit – Kinetic)

The MGU-K attaches to the crankshaft. The MGU-K operates as a generator during braking, recovering some of the dissipated kinetic energy.

When required, it switches its role to an electric motor using the energy it has previously stored in the battery and the energy produced by the MGU-H. Rules limit the amount of power available from these two parts to 120kw.

The Reasons Motivating The Technology Change

Five factors motivated the change from a V8 naturally aspirated engine to the new units.

It’s A Natural Technological Progression

By its very nature, F1 is constantly growing and pushing technological boundaries. Each engine era has had specific goals, whether they be weight savings, fuel economy, or switching to different energy sources and size reductions, as demonstrated in the current Turbo-Hybrid engine.

It Is Necessary To Advance The Technology

In line with passenger cars at the time, the move was made to a mix of traditional, internal combustion, and advanced technologies, Hybrid- Electric.

The goal may be to move to total electrical power eventually. What’s that jeering I hear from the crowds?

The simple fact is that in 2014, and even in 2022 when Formal One changes to the next era,  pure electric technology is not mature or robust enough.

Therefore, a new racing code, Formula-E, has been added. This is being used as a platform to “Guinea pig” pure electric power. Not only is the new tech being evaluated, but also the fans’ and sponsors’ reactions.

F1 Cares About The Environment

With global climate change occurring, it was necessary for F1 to demonstrate a commitment to caring for the environment.

The shift to the Hybrid-Electric units supports improved fuel economy and lower emissions. The Hybrid-Electric car is the most fuel-efficient F1 race car ever.

It’s One Of The Most Powerful F1 Engines Of All Time

Despite revving at lower levels and having fewer cylinders and smaller capacity, this is one of the most powerful engine eras of F1.

Fans consider it quieter and less emotive, but the truth is that the power produced by this unit exceeds even the previous generation of V8 3.2l power units. It compares with the turbocharged engines of the 1980s

Technology Competition

To attract motor manufacturers to participate in F1 means staying ahead of the technological curve. Doing this challenges manufacturers and allows them to showcase their skills base and resources.

Why Does F1 Limit the Number of Engines Per Season?

The total distance of all the races in 2021 is 7018 km. Therefore, the three engines used by each team must last, on average, 2300km for the whole season.

This is a tall ask. These engines operate with very tight tolerances and endure incredibly high stresses. The engines idle at 5,000 rpm (compared to a regular sedan which idles at 1,500 to 1,800 rpm) and have a peak operating rpm of 15,000.

A comparison would be an Olympic champion runner, e.g., Elaine Thompson-Herah, who, in 2021, set the 100m record at 10.61 seconds.

If it were possible to run 10 km, which is 100 times longer than the 100m she set the time in, she would damage her body.

The stresses of operating at the maximum limit for long periods are not sustainable, and breakdowns will occur.

Editorial credit: Ev. Safronov /

Are Engine Swaps Inevitable In F1?

F1 engines are very expensive to design and manufacture

Over the last few eras, F1 has been trying to reduce the cost for teams to level the playing fields between them.

In the 2021 season, there are just four engine manufacturers. (Mercedes, Ferrari, Honda, and Renault). All other teams purchase engines from these manufacturers.

The wealth and size of each team differ hugely. Mercedes, Red Bull, and Ferrari are the dominant players.

Previously, the richer teams could use an unlimited number of engines, which was reflected in their successes on the track.

Restricting the number of engines aims to equalize the resources of all the teams.

Reducing the number of engines is a controversial point. Although a penalty will be given to teams who exceed the number of allowed engines, the new power unit will be noticeably more powerful than the older engine. The cost versus benefit analysis favors the power benefits provided by the new engine over the cost of a penalty.

A case in point was Louis Hamilton (Mercedes), who took a new engine for the race at the Autódromo José Carlos Pace track in Brazil in 2021 – this was his fifth for the season. Hamilton was penalized and had to start at the back of the grid. The new engine had so much power that, combined with his skill level,  he rapidly moved through the grid and ended up winning the race.

What Happens If Teams Exceed the Number of Engines?

So, what happens if the number of engines limit is exceeded in a  season?

Teams are allowed three Internal Combustion Engines (ICEs), three Turbochargers, three MGU-Hs, three MGU-Ks, two Energy Stores, two Control Electronics, and eight Exhausts.

The first time an additional power unit element is used, the driver incurs a 10-place grid penalty. The next time another element of the same type is used, the driver will drop five places.

If additional parts of the power unit are changed during the same weekend, the combined penalty for each part is added up. So, if a driver is fitted with an MGU-H and turbocharger, they will drop a total of 15 places.

Finally, if this causes a driver to incur more than 15 grid place penalties, he has to start in last position, irrespective of where he qualifies.


The intention behind limiting the number of engines to three and related parts was valid. However, it has not had the desired result, and teams are still very unequal.

In 2022  the sport is now imposing a financial cap, which has been set at US$140 million for each team.

The aim of this is twofold:

  1. To equalize the strengths of the teams (an extension of the previous engine limit)
  2. Protect smaller teams’ financial viability

The goal is to improve the competition for both spectators and sponsors. Hopefully, this will have the desired effect and keep die-hard racing fans glued to their televisions in 2022.


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