It looks like engine penalty season is upon us – where drivers get knocked off the grid for exceeding their power unit component allowance. But what does all this mean? We break it down with this handy guide.
Fernando Alonso was the first 2022 driver to pick up an engine penalty, starting at the back of the grid for his home race, before Charles Leclerc and Yuki Tsunoda became the most recent demotions in Canada.
Drivers are essentially allowed three engines per season – each expected to last around eight weekends – but it’s a bit more complicated than that…
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What are the components of the F1 power unit?
Let’s start by looking at the F1 power supply and its various components. This generation of Formula 1 power units consist of seven elements, and drivers are only allowed to use a set number of each element of the power unit before receiving grid penalties.
When a power unit item is taken, it becomes part of a “pool” – parts from this pool can be exchanged without penalty.
These power unit elements and their allocations are as follows:
PU Component Allocation 2022
|Internal combustion engine (ICE)||3|
|Engine-heat generator units (MGU-H)||3|
|Motor-Kinetic Generator Units (MGU-K)||3|
|Energy Reservoir (ES)||2|
|Control electronics (CE)||2|
In the case of an exhaust, there are four elements that make up an exhaust system: right primary, left primary, left secondary and right secondary. Each rider is allowed eight of each exhaust element. Quite often these parts will be changed after a driver has an accident. Media and teams receive documents from the FIA detailing which parts, if any, have been changed, ahead of F1 sessions.
If a driver appears for more than one competitor, the FIA states that he will be “considered as the original driver for the purpose of assessing power unit usage” – the replacement driver inherits the count power unit components. The same rule applies to gearboxes.
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How are F1 engine penalties given?
So you’ve exceeded your allowance of one engine part. Now is the time for the FIA to hand out the dreaded grid penalties. It’s simple now – although a few years ago drivers could rack up huge engine penalties for a Grand Prix. Jenson Button holds the record with a 70-place grid penalty for the 2015 Mexican Grand Prix.
Penalties are given as follows:
- The first time an additional element is used, the driver receives a grid penalty of 10 places
- The next time an additional element is used, the driver receives a five-place grid penalty
- If a driver incurs a penalty greater than 15 places on the grid, he will have to start the race from the back
Qualifying performances still count – if many drivers suffer the same grid penalties, qualifying decides the order in which they start. Qualifying performances still count – if many drivers suffer the same grid penalties, qualifying decides the order in which they start. So in Canada this year, Charles Leclerc started 19th – reached Q2 – while Yuki Tsunoda, also penalized, started 20th, failing to make it out of Q1.
How are F1 gearbox penalties given?
But wait, there’s more. Drivers are also limited in the number of Restricted Count Components (RNCs) they can use during a championship. The RNCs, which are components that make up the gearbox, and their assignments are listed below:
Allocation of RNCs 2022
|MAKING UP||DISTRIBUTION IN THE SEASON OF 22 RACE|
|Gearbox and cassette housing||4|
|Gearbox driveline, shift components and ancillary components||4|
Teams have a ‘pool’ of four gearboxes for the 2022 22-race season, meaning they can swap them out without penalty. It is only when a driver exceeds his allowance from any of the above parts that he receives a grid penalty for the weekend Grand Prix.
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The penalty for exceeding the allowance of any of the two gearbox components listed above is five places, which means drivers can get a 10-place penalty for exceeding the allowance of the gearbox. In this case, it could also be useful to replace the engine and start in the background.
Gearboxes can be serviced or repaired between events if approved by the FIA, but “significant” part changes require express permission from the FIA.
Competitors may use a gearbox set outside the RNC allocation four times throughout the championship, during FP1 and/or FP2.
When is it worth taking a grid penalty?
Grid penalties are sometimes taken out of necessity: if a team is afraid that its driver will not finish the next race – either because of an accident in a previous event or because of an end-of-life engine – then she can take the hit.
Teams are also planning their engine allocations for the season, meaning they will aim to take grid penalties for events where they deem overtaking easier to give their driver a fighting chance from the back of the field. Grid. You’d rather take a penalty in Brazil, like Lewis Hamilton did in 2021, than in Monaco.
How does the FIA apply engine and gearbox allocations?
The FIA considers that one of the elements of the power unit was “used” when the car’s timing transponder showed that it had left the pit lane.
Every component of the power unit is ‘sealed’ by the FIA to ensure it cannot be rebuilt or replaced, while the exhaust elements are clearly marked, and the gearboxes are also given identification and numbers unique pieces, and placed in special containers to be “sealed”. ‘ between events.
The seals can only be removed when the FIA indicates so, therefore for approved repairs or modifications – which are largely registered by the FIA - or within the pre-agreed windows around free practice, qualifying, the Sprint and the Grand Prize.