How many engines are F1 teams allowed in a season?

Lewis Hamilton was handed a five-place grid penalty at the Brazilian GP last weekend

Alex Pattle
Wednesday 17 November 2021 16:34
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Lewis Hamilton celebrates after winning Brazil GP

Lewis Hamilton’s remarkable triumph at the Brazilian Grand Prix last weekend came in spite of two penalties.

The first was handed to the Briton due to his Mercedes failing to meet DRS regulations, forcing the defending champion to start Saturday’s sprint race at the back of the grid.

Hamilton fought to an impressive fifth-placed finish in the sprint, yet he was required to line up 10th for Sunday’s grand prix due to his second penalty of the weekend.

That was a penalty for using a fifth engine – or ‘power unit’ – element of the season in his vehicle, more than the permitted number.

Modern hybrid power units in Formula 1 cars consist of six main elements: the internal combustion engine (ICE); turbocharger; energy store; control electronics; and two motor generator units – the heat-related MGU-H and kinetic-related MGU-K.

In an F1 season, each vehicle is allowed to use three ICEs, three MGU-Hs and MGU-Ks, and three turbochargers. Two energy stores and two control electronics systems are also permitted throughout the year.

Per the rules of the sport, the first time an extra engine element is used, the driver will receive a 10-place grid penalty. The next time an extra element of the same kind is used, the driver will drop five spots on the grid.

This explains why Hamilton received a 10-place grid penalty at the Turkish GP, when he used a fourth ICE this season, and just a five-place penalty at last weekend’s Brazilian GP, when he used a fifth ICE this year.

In spite of Hamilton’s most recent penalty, as well as the DRS-related one that affected him ahead of Saturday’s sprint race, the seven-time champion won the Brazilian GP to narrow the gap to title rival Max Verstappen to 14 points.

There are three races left this season, with Sunday’s Qatar GP giving way to events in Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, and Hamilton has been tipped to take another engine penalty in this weekend’s race.

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