F1 Engine Upgrades & Penalties

What's inside an F1 engine?

Engines and Formula 1 racing go hand in hand. They’re like the heart of the machine, pumping life into the thrill of the race. But sometimes, engines run into problems, or teams want to upgrade them. And that’s where the F1 engine penalty system comes in.

Let’s dive in and demystify this somewhat confusing aspect of the sport.

How many engines do F1 teams get a season?

F1 teams have three engines per car each season. Exceed that, and there’s a grid penalty. These engines are high-performance machines, but they wear out after extensive use. Given their power and the stress they’re under, they need to stay hot.

But the hotter they get, the more they’re strained. Ideally, one engine should last about eight races in a 23-race season, but with the extreme demands, that’s a tough ask.

What's inside an F1 engine?
Source: MAXF1.net
What’s inside an F1 engine?

Nowadays, F1 engines are called a ‘power unit’ because it’s a hybrid. Well, it’s got a bunch of parts:

  • internal combustion engine (ICE)
  • motor generator unit-heat ( (MGU-H)
  • motor generator unit-kinetic (MGU-K)
  • turbocharger
  • energy store (ES)
  • control electronics (CE)
  • exhaust parts

For the 2023 season, a driver can only use:

👉4 of the ICEs, MGU-Hs, MGU-Ks, and turbochargers each

👉2 energy stores and control electronics each

👉 8 each of the exhaust parts

Why do F1 teams only get 3 engines?

Well, it’s mainly to keep things fair and costs low. Without limits, richer teams might keep using new engines, giving them an advantage over smaller teams. By setting a three-engine limit, everyone’s on the same page. Plus, it helps save some bucks for everyone involved.

Back in the day, the FIA allowed teams to use up to eight engines for 20 races. Even earlier than that, they could use more than that! But as times changed, the FIA tightened up on these rules to make the sport more affordable and competitive.

What are F1 Engine penalties?

The Basics: If drivers use more power units than allowed, they’ll get a grid penalty during the next race.


  • First-time overspend: 10-place grid penalty.
  • Every time after that: 5-place grid penalty.
  • If penalties total more than 15 places in a race, the driver starts at the back.

Positioning drivers with penalties:

  • If a driver’s penalties are 15 places or less, they get a “temporary” spot. For instance, if they qualify 10th but have a 15-place penalty, they temporarily sit at 25th.
  • If two drivers end up in the same spot, the one who did better in qualifying gets placed ahead.
  • After setting unpenalized drivers, those in temporary spots get rearranged to fill in the grid.
  • Any driver with more than a 15-place penalty starts at the back.

Other key points:

👉If a driver uses multiple of the same penalty-incurring part, only the last one counts for future races.

👉If a driver is replaced during the season, the new driver takes on the original’s power unit count.

👉Once a new power unit is taken, it’s part of that driver’s toolkit for the season. They can swap it in and out for different races without a penalty.

What are some historical F1 engine penalties?

The FIA has changed the F1 rules to clear up the confusion around grid penalties and starting spots. In 2017, at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza, nine drivers got penalties and had no idea where they were starting.

🤯 Here are the top 3 engine penalties:
  1. 2015 Belgian GP: McLaren’s Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button got a 105-grid position penalty – Read more
  2. 2015 Mexican GP: Jenson Button got a 70-grid position penalty – Read more
  3. 2017 Belgian GP: Stoffel Vandoorne got a 65-grid position penalty – Read more
Grid-place penalties for engine failures in F1's hybrid turbo era
Source: f1anorak.com


Why F1 teams take engine penalties on purpose?

When F1 teams push their cars super hard, they expect to swap out the engine at least once during the season.

If a team doesn’t switch out a tired engine, they ask for trouble. A worn-out engine can slow them down or even break down mid-race. Imagine racing for points and then – boom! – your engine gives up. That’s a racer’s nightmare. So, sometimes, it’s smarter to accept an engine penalty and then make a strong comeback during the race.

But there’s some strategy to this! Take 2021, for instance. Red Bull and Mercedes played it smart with their engine penalties. They chose tracks where overtaking was easier. Max Verstappen took his penalty in Russia and zoomed from the back to second place. Lewis took a smaller penalty in Brazil in 2021 and still won the race.

Is the F1 engine limit sticking around?

Yep, it looks like the engine limit in F1 isn’t going anywhere soon. They’re aiming to keep costs down, so it’s doubtful they’ll allow more engines anytime soon.

And get this: the FIA can’t reduce the number of engines either. Teams are already having a tough time with just three engines for the entire season. If there were fewer engines, teams would either have to boost their engine reliability big time or be super cautious with their usage.

We all love F1 for the intense competition, right? It’s more exciting when teams are racing at full throttle rather than holding back to save their engines. Plus, engine rules are locked in until 2026, so don’t expect big changes.