As we enter the second half of the 2021 Formula 1 season, we take a look at the effects engine penalties may have on the final championship.
Gone are the days in F1 where the engine was only expected to last one or two races, and even that would often be a challenge. Now the cars have a limit on engine components for the season, and for most parts, that limit is 3. These include the internal combustion engine (ICE), the motor-generator units (MGU-H and MGU-K), and the turbocharger. The energy store and control electronics are limited to just two for the whole season.
If teams go over this allocation, there is a 10 place grid drop per extra component used, so if the driver qualifies 4th and just replaces the MGU-K, they will start 14th, but if they replace the MGU-K and MGU-H, they will automatically start from the back of the grid.
At this point in the season, most of the cars are on their second engine assembly, with the first occasionally used on less power heavy tracks or in practice sessions. Most teams are expected to bring their third engine into contention at either Spa or Monza as these are both power-heavy tracks, and having a newer engine can give an advantage. In most cases, the teams will have 3 engines to work with for the rest of the season, using the older ones in practice sessions while trying to keep the third relatively new.
There is an issue at teams like Red Bull and Ferrari, where because of recent collisions, their engines are suspected of having sustained critical or irreparable damage. What this means for the latter half of the season is that not only are they going to have one less engine to use in practice, but it’s also unlikely that the third engine will be competitive for the next 12 races. Therefore they are likely to have to take an engine penalty at some point in the season.
Now choosing when to take on an extra engine can give a strategic advantage. There are two main ways that teams can go about it, either take the penalty at a power/engine dependent track where overtaking is possible, or take the penalty at a track where the team’s direct competitors are sure to win. The second one may seem a little odd, but it’s almost damage control in a way; if a team knows that they aren’t strong at a particular type of track, it makes sense to take the penalty there, rather than damage their chances of a good result at a track where they are stronger.
Looking at Red Bull first, both cars may need to take on a fourth engine, which is quite a complicated situation. I doubt they would have both cars take a penalty at the same race, which throws up a few potential options. Power tracks that they can take a fourth engine at would be Monza and Spa, but as it looks like most of the grid will be taking their third engine there, it’s unlikely they would get an advantage. On the other hand, a strong Mercedes track like Sochi or COTA could be a good choice for taking a penalty.
For Ferrari, their main issue seems to lie with straight-line speed most of the time, so they wouldn’t necessarily get the same benefit of a new engine in that aspect. Their closest competitors are McLaren, who are very strong in a straight line, so it might make sense for Ferrari to bring in a fourth engine a little bit early at Spa or Monza to have it as an option to fall back on later in the season.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hi, I’m Alicia or Al. I’m 21 and an Aerospace Engineer in the UK. I got into motorsport young and actually karted myself for a few years but I soon realised I prefer watching the sport. I basically consume as much motorsport content as I can, whether that be single seaters, rallying, MotoGP, endurance etc.
I love the technical side of motorsport in particular and actually write about it on my tumblr blog @mclarenp1.
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